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How to Take HDR Pictures

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How to Take HDR Pictures

Lets us recall from our previous post what exactly HDR Photography is:

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography is still in its infancy as an art form but is becoming more and more popular everyday. The reason for its increasing popularity is because never before has an image on your computer ever been able to compete with the imagery in the human brain. Now, of course, I am not saying that this high dynamic range photography is better than being there on the scene with your own eyes and the emotions you feel but it is a step in the right direction. As we explore this high dynamic range process, these images will start to rise those deep memories, emotions and deceiving the mind into much more than just a normal photograph. Read More about it.

Lets Now Talk About How To Take HDR Images

Here you are at the community of HDR photography. HDR is not going to suit all pictures but is incredibly powerful in enhancing the highlights and shadows within a picture. To process an HDR picture applying this tutorial you’ll need Photoshop (or comparable) editing software, and Photomatix (or comparable) HDR software.

hdr photography tutorial

1. Take numerous pictures of the exact scene

To achieve an HDR look you’ll need at least 3 pictures:

Normal exposure
Ideally to begin with you should have a picture of -2 exposure, one exposed correctly, and something of +2 exposure.

2.Merge the pictures in Photomatix

Open Photomatix and select Generate HDR Image.

Select your three jpeg or RAW files and press OK.

A new window will show up with options to align the pictures, reduce noise and try to match any moving elements – choose accordingly for the picture. Press OK.

A merged version of the picture will show up which appears highly unrealistic – the reason being standard monitors cannot display all of the detail properly therefore we must further Tone Map the picture.

how to take hdr photos

3. Tonemapping

Having pressed the Tonemapping button next on the merged picture, a whole new, more realistic picture will show up with lots of options. This is where you’ll be able to alter the picture to your desired look.

Photomatix will automatically go back to the Default setting, although it also has some Presets as well as the option to save your settings for future use (when you get the hang of it!).

These include the settings offered:

  1. Strength: This is key for the final look of the picture, a higher setting will heighten the “cartoon” look
  2. Colour Saturation: Increase the dynamics of colours throughout the picture
  3. Luminosity: A increased setting will enhance the shadows and brighten the entire picture.
  4. Microcontrast: Boost the contrast around the details in the picture
  5. Smoothing: This is key for the final look of the picture, change this to alter how dynamic the plethora of highlights and shadows appear. Stay away from setting this on it’s maximum setting where the picture can look highly unrealistic. Change to your taste
  6. White, black and gamma points: Alter these according to the histogram to make sure it meets either side equally within the graph.
  7. Temperature: Increase or decrease the overall temperature of the picture.
  8. Saturation highlights/shadows: Raise or reduce the saturation of the highlights and shadows in accordance with the saturation point you determine for the picture earlier.
  9. Micro smoothing: Decreases noise but take care not to lose all the detail.
  10. Highlights/Shadow smoothness: Raise this to create some of the all-natural highlights/shadows for the picture, particularly useful when keeping an all natural look to the sky in the picture.
  11. Shadows clipping: Adjust simply how much of the shadows is trimmed, proceed meticulously to lessen noise within the shadows

When you’re pleased with the appearance of the picture press Process, and save the picture which shows up.

hdr night photo

4. Masking ghosts and retaining an all natural look

Finally, open Photoshop or similar software and open your tonemapped HDR picture.

Add several of the initial exposure images as new layers in the file and make use of Layer Masks allowing original areas to show through. For instance when the blue sky in your original picture was perfect, make use of a layer mask and brush to mask out that area on the HDR, allowing excellent blue sky within the original shot to appear through.

sunset photo hdr

This can also be especially helpful for HDR images with movement, for instance trees blowing in the wind involving the original pictures, or people moving.

For samples of HDR images do some searching online, it is the enormously growing part of photography as there are some wonderful work to be viewed.

Lucy Hill.

Visit our Online Photography School Again for better understanding of photography. You will again fall in love with what you love doing.

Let us know what do you think about the article in comments section below. If you like the article then make a effort to share. Thanks

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4 Responses
  • Bob
    March 14, 2013

    The article explains HDR photos very well but it could have been improved with some ‘before and after’ examples.

    • admin
      March 14, 2013

      Thanks for bringing it forward. We will do it the next time

  • Saichovsky
    June 15, 2013

    Thanks for this article. I recently bought a D3200 and I am so excited to start learning photography. According to Wikipedia, the D3200 lacks automatic exposure bracketing, but “the very high dynamic range of the Nikon D3200 makes it possible to shoot high dynamic range images […snip…] with one shot especially when using Raw image format”. Could you kindly do a tutorial on how to do this with one image? Been searching for a HOWTO on this without success.

    • Mark
      February 28, 2014

      If you shoot in raw format then you can use the Nikon software to save one shot at normal exposue, one -2 and one +2 and then merge via photomatrix.

      There is software available that will tone map a single image too.

      Hope this helps

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