Falling Down the HDR Hole – by Tours Departing Daily
HDR photography may be one of the greatest revolutions since the beginning of the digital age of photography. Although the concept of HDR has been around since the mid 1800s, its application has reached astounding heights with the creation of post-processing programs that allow users to create breathtaking photos of high contrast scenes.
During the rise of its popularity, HDR has received harsh criticism from people of all backgrounds, hoping it to be a passing fad. Because of the large flexibility of settings in post-processing, users can create images that range from realistic to ultra-surreal. That means that photographers have the freedom to make the scenes they shoot look identical to what they saw, or process them in a way that looks like an oil painting, or a computer animated film. And just like any form of expression, artists, in this case photographers, are bound to face criticism. HDR is no exception.
There are all sorts of misconceptions about how one achieves an HDR image. If you’re a novice photographer, you may think HDR is an “in camera” function or one click post-processing magic. If you’re the general public then it’s frequently defined incorrectly as “high definition resolution.” If you’re a hardcore medium to large format film photographer, HDR doesn’t exist. If you’re a teenager with an iPhone, it’s a cool setting on a new camera app. HDR is none of these.
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It literally means the technique used to capture the range of light present in a scene by using the combined exposures of different images, i.e. one that captures the highlights, one that captures mid-tones, and one that captures the shadows. The spacing and number of these exposures matter based the scene’s level of contrast and are measured in E.V. (Exposure Value). Once the light information present in a subject has been captured in these exposures, they can be combined in a program employing complex algorithms to create the scene you saw and then some.
When tackling this process, it really helps to have a camera with auto-bracketing or AEB as a feature. This setting will allow you to automatically capture multiple images at different exposures. The number of images and the E.V. spacing will vary between cameras. Even a handful of point and shoot cameras have this function. We use Nikon D90s and a Nikon D7000. Both models allow us to take up to 3 pictures at up to 2 E.V. spacing, which seems to be enough for most scenes we encounter. A situation you might need more than this range would be if you were shooting directly into the sun. It’s also a great idea to use a tripod. Not only will it help you produce crisp images, it will make it easier for whatever program you use to align and combine your images.
While there are many programs that will merge HDR images for you, including Photoshop, we use Photomatix Pro. It’s a fast working program with plenty of sliders to play around with to achieve a myriad of different looks with an image. Often the result achieved from Photomatix can use a little refining, such as selective sharpening, sky masking, color correction and/or noise reduction, for which we use Photoshop.
One reason it seems that people have apprehension towards HDR is that the process comes off as intimidating, learning a new technique. While the artistic freedom HDR allows at times feels like a rabbit hole without end, it’s really not as difficult as you might think. Sometimes we hear the question, “Why HDR?” Why not HDR? It seems we are always in search of new ways to create an interesting image, whether it be as simple as screwing on a neutral density filter to capture the silky flow of water or as intriguing as a tripod head that follows the stars. The depths of our curiosity knows no bounds. If HDR doesn’t interest you, then by all means don’t do it. Don’t waste your time, because time it will take. A small amount to learn and a lot more once you’re hooked because of the fun you’re having.
We primarily take pictures of Disneyland and the neighboring Disney California Adventure. They are playgrounds filled with amazing and inspiring subjects. Scenes shift dramatically from day to night and it seems there’s always something new. Even with frequent visits we constantly discover new things, which feeds our hunger for adventure. HDR allows us to capture not only what we see, it allows us to convey how we feel when we’re there.
Expression comes in many forms. Pencil to paper. Paintbrush to canvas. Carving tools to wood. The most wonderful thing about artistic expression is that its only limit is imagination. We don’t have to love every form of art for it to have value. Artistic value is a highly subjective thing. As photographers we are spoiled by the number of tools we have at our disposal. HDR is simply another tool in the grand objective of sharing our own vision.
About Tours Departing Daily
Michaela Hansen, Matthew Hansen and Kevin Crone are close friends who enjoy hanging out at Disneyland. They have a blog called Tours Departing Daily that features daily HDR photos and occasional film projects from Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and the greater Disneyland Resort. Their hope is to take visitors on a daily photo adventure, sharing the magic of Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom.
Learn More About Tours Departing Daily Here: www.toursdepartingdaily.com