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Pursuing the Range of Light
on May 23, 2008
The human eye is so much better then a camera. It can see details in shadows and bright areas that would just be pure black and white to a camera, whether film or digital. Photographers have been trying for years to extend that range. High dynamic range photography (HDR) is the latest iteration of these efforts. It involves capturing a series of images at different exposures and then combining them in a computer to get a greater range.
Michael Freeman's work is a surprising volume on HDR because it reveals a far broader set of options for the photographer interested in HDR then one might have guessed existed. In the Photoshop-centric mind of many photographers, Photoshop appears to be the only HDR tool, but the author points out there are at least five different pieces of software to handle HDR, each with different approaches, and pros and cons. In fact Photoshop may be the weakest tool. Freeman lays down the basics of HDR, talks about capture and generation, describes the different software and then follows workflow for each. He even tells you when HDR will work, and how to deal with certain problems created by multiple exposures, like moving subjects, that might at first make a scene seem inappropriate for HDR.
Since I had none of the other software, I was primarily interested in Photoshop. Freeman not only told me which sliders in PS were of greater or lesser use, and how to use the useful ones, but also told me what other adjustments to make in Photoshop to make a better image once I had finished with the HDR facility. I examined several other general PS CS3 books and none of them included the follow-up steps suggested by Freeman. I followed Freeman's suggestions, and lo and behold, I was able to create HDR images with an extended range of light. What else can one ask for?
Some people suggest that HDR can be used to create images that go beyond what the human eye can see and create strange special effects. Freeman's approach is to use HDR to make pictures look more like what the eye sees.
Freeman suggests that HDR may have a short lifespan, since cameras will eventually be able to see the same range of light as the human eye. Moreover, I'm certain that over the next few years, there will be improvements in the HDR facility. In the meantime, however, Freeman's book will serve as a good introduction to this technique.