Monday, April 5, 2010

Master The Art Of Subtle HDR—04/05/10

HDR doesn’t have to be used to create only surreal, candy-colored scenics

This Article Features Photo Zoom

High Dynamic Range photography, or HDR, has gained wild popularity over the last few years because of the dramatic image effects it can deliver. The problem is, many photographers take the good thing that HDR provides—increased dynamic range that reveals image detail across the brightness spectrum including dark shadows and bright highlights in a way that mimics the human eye—and they take it too far. They create candy-colored surreal images that, while often stunning, striking and even beautiful, aren't terribly natural. They certainly look like nothing your eye has ever seen. These over-the-top HDR images aren’t "wrong" per se; it’s just that they’re not always the right answer either.

In an effort to rescue your opinion of HDR from the trash heap of overdone effects, allow me to introduce you to something you may not have considered before: subtle HDR. Applying HDR subtly does what photographers have always sought—to control the range of contrast within a scene, sacrificing neither shadows nor highlight details. And with a little restraint, the images need not transform into comic book illustrations.

True HDR photography is based on combining multiple exposures in the computer through a technique known as "tone mapping" with software like Photomatix and FDR Tools. But the localized tone-mapping power that these programs provide also can be responsible for that overdone, "unreal" look that is often associated with HDR. But if you take another approach, rather than relying on automated tone-mapping software, and instead combine images manually for more subtle control, you can create higher dynamic range without the cartoon effect.

When the range of a recording medium is more limited than the broader range of brightness the human eye can see, as it is in photography, a single image is incapable of delivering all the detail the eye can see. Delivering this detail photographically requires combining multiple bracketed exposures, utilizing the detail from each exposure from highlights to shadows, to create a single seamless image with more detail across the spectrum—a higher dynamic range.

To create subtly improved dynamic range, start as you would to create a candy colored HDR image—with three exposures of a given scene. With the camera on a tripod, expose correctly, then a stop under and a stop over. Better yet, shoot even more exposures to +2 and -2 stops.


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