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Playing With HDR Photography

Over the last couple of months I’ve found myself playing with HDR photography more and more. Inspired by Trey’s work at stuckincustoms.com as well as plenty of other examples over the web, I’ve been giving it a try.

Quickly explained (in a probably poor and inaccurate manner), HDR photography is a technique that allows for a larger dynamic range between that lightest and darkest areas of an image. This is often achieved by taking photos of the same scene at different exposure settings, then merging the resulting images together. The final image is often a more accurate representation of the light levels in the real-world scene, than can be achieved in a single exposure image.

There’s a lot of information on the web about HDR, including a free HDR tutorial from Trey Ratcliff. I’ve also made use of a few books including Trey’s ‘A World in HDR‘ and David Nightingale’s ‘Practical HDR‘ – both have a good mix of tutorial information and inspiring shots. I’m also wanting to get my hands on Rafael Concepcion’s ‘The HDR Book‘.

When do I use HDR Photography?

I seem to be using the HDR photography technique as much as I can at the moment, but mainly when I’m in one of the following situations:

  • There is a lot of detail present that I want to capture
  • There is a mix of shadow and bold colour to capture
  • When I don’t want a blown out sky, but want to still be able to see what’s in the foreground

I’m sure there are better solutions (especially for the last), than using HDR, so feel free to share them in the comments section.

When I go to take the shot, it is then when I decide if I’m going to use HDR or not and configure my camera as such (to get three different exposure levels). More often than not, the resulting image seems to work out, though not always.

I had quite a few RAW shots from my recent Thorpe Park trip, so I’ve also been playing with creating HDR photos from a single raw shot. However, I am yet to come out with a result I’m pleased with. I’ve found that the resulting image seems to be extremely noisy – has anyone else had this issue?

What do I use?

My photos are taken on my Canon 500D, normally using my 28-135mm or 50mm lens (both of the examples below are taken on the first).

For software processing, it’s into Lightroom, exported to Photomatix, back into Lightroom, into Photoshop if required (the two examples below weren’t although the one of the Guildhall probably should have been to get rid of some of the ghosting of people), then back to Lightroom for final touchups/enhancements.

Here’s a couple of example shots from the last month or so.

Example 1 – Bath Guildhall

Bath Guildhall Lit up for Party in the City 2011

This photo was taken during the Party in the City event in Bath in May 2011. I’ve gone for a slightly unrealistic representation of the scene, but like the way the building looks as a result of it being lit up and how it contrasts with the sky.

Example 2 – Saw Alive at Thorpe Park

Saw Alive at Thorpe Park

This photo is taken of the side of the Saw Alive boat at Thorpe Park and using HDR really helps bring out the wood effect on the side of the boat.

So you can see the difference – here is one of the original shots at the middle (almost normal) exposure:

Saw Alive at Thorpe Park

As you can see, it lacks a lot of the details which can be found within the HDR image, especially in the sky, which just appears white in this image. In actual fact, it was a slightly grey day and although not quite as extreme as can be seen in the HDR photo, I quite liked the look that it gave.

What do I need to improve?

A lot.

  • I’ll mainly improve through practice and trying out different techniques in Photomatix, which is why I’m trying to process some HDR photos as often as I can.
  • The biggest issue – I really need a tripod. Really Really. I’ve got reasonably stable hands, but they just won’t do and a lot of the poor results I’ve got have been as a result of shooting handheld. I’ve got some money aside to get myself a tripod, so suggestions for sub £200 tripods (and preferably sub £150) in the comments please.
  • I need to improve the masking out of objects and people. I’m still new to Photoshop, but I’ve certainly been improving as I’m using it more. The main issue I’ve found is that I can get impatient – I want to see it finished, which means some of it can be a little sloppy.

So that is a brief look at some of my early HDR photos. Work I like I post up on my Flickr Page as and when I take and process. Time depending though, I may occasionally share some shots here.

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