Home Photo Tips What is HDR?

What is HDR?

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

HDR refers to High Dynamic Range. Dynamic Range is the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of photographs that still show detail. For most people that probably doesn’t mean much. It will help you to see the difference:

no hdrhdr

The image on the left is a sunset photograph with normal dynamic range. The image to the right is a sunset with high dynamic range (HDR).

The image to the left  wasn’t edited at all while the photo to the right was highly edited in order to have the high dynamic range, or the high level of detail throughout the photograph even though shot has a high range of lights and darks. In fact, the photograph wasn’t even one photograph. The reality is it took many photographs to make this one photograph.

Realistic HDR Photography video

Photo Editing to Achieve a High Dynamic Range (HDR)

The way that photographers achieve photographs with a very high dynamic range such as the one above is by combining different exposures of a photograph where the detail can get captured at each exposure and then the best of each photograph is combined. Sound like a lot of work? Luckily we have computers to do most of the heavy lifting, and new gadgets such as the iPhone 4 do all the merging within the device.

Or, if you can prefer you can use your favorite photo editing software like Photoshop. In photoshop you just go to File > Automate > Merge to HDR.

It used to be when moving from film to digital your camera automatically looses a few stops of dynamic range because the digital sensors are not as capable of capturing the details of the brightest and darkest parts of the photograph as film. Although digital had once lost the battle of dynamic range, it’s now only because of digital technologies we can achieve photographs like the one below.

hdr photo

ISO and Dynamic Range

A lower ISO sensitivity provides a higher dynamic range. In other words an ISO 0f 50 provides more detail throughout the photograph than an ISO of 400.

HDR Mimics the Eye

The thing that makes HDR so wonderful is that it get’s photographs closer than they’ve ever been before to being what we see. Our eyes instantaneously refocus as we look from a dark area to a light, and we see an incredible amount of detail. HDR allows cameras to match that ability and even move beyond it.

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  1. I do HDR all of the time. I mostly use Photomatix when it won’t butcher the image and force me to do it manually. One thing I can say for tips is if you have the time to do a double bracket. Some cloudy days and some situations with the lights in all the wrong places will make even a properly bracketed set of images come out bland. I take two triple sets most of the time for 6 total pictures to merge. You’ll need a tripod, of course. Take the -3,-2,-1,0,1,2 and if your camera lets you do it, grab that way overexposed +3 if you can. When you get back to the computer, look through them and see what you get in terms of details. You may want to use just a few, or all of them to merge. Another tip is for night shots. If you need to capture lights grab an exposure that has just the brightest lights in it with the rest being black. When merged you’ll get alot of the “sparklies” that your eyes see from the lights at night.


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