So you'd like to...

start taking HDR pictures.

A guide by Lrn2Go (Oklahoma City, Ok)

So... you've heard this new "buzz word" floating around when the talk turns to photography. HDR. HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range". Basically, to keep things simple, I'll break it down for you real quick like this...

Digital camera's capture a specific "tonal range". This means, in terms of the grey-scale colors, how "dark" of an area the camera can photograph before it just looks totally black with no detail, up to the brightest "light" area it can capture before it looses all it's detail and becomes solid white. Those are "tones"... and from one end to the other is it's "range". Tonal-Range. Get it? Good.

Anyway, in HDR photography, the idea is to take several exposures and combine them to make one with INCREASED tonal range. The concept, to keep it simple again, is to take 3 or more pictures of the same thing at different light levels. You shoot one image that is dark (this one's tonal range, because it's dark, captures more detail in the bright areas, like the sun or bright lights, but is too dark to see shadows at all), one that is average/normal (this one is a good "base" image... one you'd normally shoot if you just wanted to take a picture of your subject), and one that is very bright (this one captures the detail in the shadows, but it's tonal range, since it's so bright, will make the bright subjects far too bright and turn out mostly white). Some camera's have a "bracketed" or "AEB" (which stands for "Automatic Exposure Bracketing") mode. Using those modes makes this pretty simple. Check your user manual for your camera to see if this is possible and how to set it up. Still with me? Let's hope so.

So... how do we do it?
First, I recommend you check out this book by Trey Ratcliff, A World in HDR. In it you'll find an excellent tutorial on the programs you need, how to capture the images, and some basic settings to get you started. He's one of the true "masters" of this genre. However... moving along with the basics...

So... we've got our 3 images, now what do we do? We need to combine them, via software, to make an HDR image. There are a ton of options and I simply cannot list them all, nor do I have experience with all of them. What I can tell you is that the basic "standard" (I love quotations... can you tell that yet?) for HDR photography is a program called "Photomatix" (Photomatix Pro 5) You can also do this in Photoshop (at least CS4 has it, I can't speak for previous versions) (Adobe Photoshop CS4 - Old Version) with a "merge to HDR" function. Anyway... so we load our 3 images into our selected software and there are a ton of sliders and values. I have the most experience with Photomatix, so I'm going to use it as my example.

After we've loaded the 3 or so files, we now have an image that will, usually, look really funky. This image has WAY too much digital information in it for our monitors to show... so we have to "tone-map" the image. There's a "tone map" button on the lower left in Photomatix, click that. Now we see our image and a bunch of sliders. This next step is all experience. I recommend you play around with all the sliders and values on your own and see what each one does. Again, Trey's book will help you with more "basics" here. (He also has another free version of his tutorial online... might want to google that. *wink*)

After that, the image will look pretty neat. We need to port that over to our standard image editing software. Lightroom, Photoshop, GIMP, Elements, whatever. If you're this far... you probably at least have some mild experience with editing photographs. Apply your knowledge to finish touching up the print... and viola! You're done! Congratulations! It wasn't as scary as it sounded or you thought, was it?

Products mentioned include:
1.  A World in HDR  by Trey Ratcliff
Used & New from: $5.98
3.9 out of 5 stars   (75)
  See buying options  Add to wishlist
2.  Photomatix Pro 5 [CD-ROM]  by HDRsoft
$99.00 Used & New from: $45.00
4.6 out of 5 stars   (192)
Add to cart  Add to wishlist
3.  Adobe Photoshop CS4 - Old Version [DVD-ROM]  by Adobe
2.9 out of 5 stars   (36)
Add to cart  Add to wishlist

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About this Guide



Lrn2Go (Oklahoma City, Ok)
Qualifications: Photographer, Traveler, Camera Geek
Last updated: 3/22/10
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