HDR Photography – The Basics

hrd photography

High-contrast images are some of the most impressive examples of photography in recent years. Having recently become popular in the field of nature photography, high-contrast pictures have long been mainstays in landscape photography. Providing a depth of tone and color that is truly magnificent in its detail, these vivid images are all made possible with the use of an ingenious technique called HDR photography.

WHAT IS HDR PHOTOGRAPHY

HDR or High Dynamic Range is a photography processing method that expands the dynamic range of a photograph. The dynamic range is the range of tones in a photograph, from the lightest light to the darkest shade. Photography has traditionally been limited with regard to the dynamic range possible in a single image. There is always a bit of a tug-of-war involved when shooting high contrast images, with highlights and shadows wrestling for equal dominance. In many photography workshops, students are often taught to focus on one or the other, since it is always difficult to accommodate both extremes of the dynamic range. Attempting to bring out the detail in the shadows will likely wash out the highlights of the images, while downplaying the highlights will likely murk up the shadows.

But not anymore. With the development of modern photography techniques and technologies, it is now possible to produce photographs with a depth of clarity and vivid dynamic range that blasts through the limitations of traditional photography. This technology is HDR, and it is definitely changing the world of photography in significant ways.

HOW DOES IT WORK

HDR is actually a pretty simple concept. Since each shot is capable of handling only a limited dynamic range, the process actually involves taking multiple shots of the scene at different levels of exposure. Some HDR photographs are comprised of only two or three individual photographs, but some may be processed from up to nine individual photos. All of these shots are then composited into a single HDR image.

Photographs can go beyond this basic process and vary not only the exposure time, but the shutter speed and aperture settings as well. This makes it possible to capture images with different levels of luminosity and different depths of field. It can help create richer and more detailed photos once the different layers have been combined into one HDR image.

HOW TO USE HDR PHOTOGRAPHY

You don’t need a lot to be able to create your own HDR images, but you must use the right tools:

  • camera with Auto Exposure Bracketing or AEB
  • tripod
  • HDR photo compositing software

Almost any camera should be sufficient for basic HDR applications, but having one with an Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) feature will make your life a lot easier. With AEB, you won’t have to adjust the camera setting after every shot. This will allow you to keep shooting continuously, making for a more consistent sequence of images. A tripod is also handy to have around, as it will save you the trouble of having to align your shots manually later on.

These are only the barest basics of HDR photography and there is a lot more to discover and learn from various photography workshops and even (online) photography courses. If you are looking for a new challenge in your photography, HDR might just be worth checking out!

About Peter Manning

Photography instructor, camera guru, avid tennis player and family man; Peter shares his vast knowledge and a passion for teaching photography skills to all levels of photo enthusiasts.