Visual Arts Journal

HDR: Saving Detail With Difficult Exposures

by mmdpStudio Artist on Sep.21, 2009, under Intermediate, Photography / Videography

PhotoPlaceholder_118x150I went on a studio tour recently and struck up a conversation with the photographer about achieving the perfect exposure for a difficult scene. It could be a outdoor scene involving both sunlit and darkly shadowed areas; interior architectural shots with overexposed windows or any scenes that have two or more dramatically different lighting conditions. High Dynamic Range photography (HDR) captures the scene in a series of photos with different exposure values, from under to over exposed and combines them into one perfectly exposed photo with much greater detail and much closer to what the human eye sees. This technique is deferent than the typical compositing or masking techniques that are familiar with most Photoshop users. HDR photography requires Photoshop software (not Photoshop Elements) with HDR capability (CS2 or later) or other third-party software.

Camera Equipment and Settings

  • This technique does require that you maintain the exact same composition between shots or motion blurs will be visible in the final image, so you’ll need to use a tripod or similar support.
  • If your camera has an automatic “bracketing” feature then set it, otherwise you’ll have to manually change the exposure value before each shot.
  • You also need to be able to set specific exposure values (manually or via an automatic bracketing feature), and many fixed lens cameras can’t be used for this technique. One school of though says you’ll need at least three images at 1 exposure value (EV) intervals, such as: -1, 0 and +1.
  • Five such images from -2 to +2 would give a much better result. Other more complex formulas have been published and you can research and employ them as you see fit, but for people initially discovering this technique, the above settings will give pleasing results.

Specialty Software Designed for HDR Photography
One software program that comes highly recommended is Photomatix by  HDRSoft  at The company has a collection of examples to demonstrate the concept and their programs capabilities. It is truely worth employing, as the results are fabulous. Some say it yields better results than Photoshop, but I’ll leave that determination up to the reader to decide.

Related Links:
A comparison of Ps vs Photomatix presented by HDRSoft:

Examples of HDR Photography:


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