How to Create a High Dynamic Range Photograph

Learn to overcome the limits of your camera sensor’s dynamic range with HDR techniques

© Richard Cox

For any given exposure setting, your camera’s sensor is capable of capturing only a portion of the color and brightness information visible to the human eye. HDR techniques increase the amount of detail visible in a single image by merging the information gathered in multiple shots taken at different exposure settings. If your camera has a built-in HDR mode, it will typically merge two shots: one exposed for the highlights and the other exposed for the shadows. You can do HDR with any camera that allows you to change exposures and then use post processing software to merge the images.

In the field

  1. Choose an appropriate subject. The technique works best for photos where there is a wide range of contrast between the highlights and shadows and where there is little movement in the scene.
  2. Use a tripod. This will facilitate the process of capturing nearly identical shots of the same scene with little camera movement.
  3. Bracket your shots. If you use your camera’s automatic bracketing you will usually be able to automatically shoot at least 3 exposures around your chosen exposure setting. Set the camera for the mid-tones and it will choose settings a specified amount of stops (usually a maximum of 2) above and below your setting to capture the highlights and shadows. If you don’t use automatic bracketing, you can simply take as many shots as you like at as many different exposures as you choose. This will give you more options during post processing, which can be helpful because different scenes work better with different settings and you are not limited by the camera’s bracketing feature.

 Create the HDR image

  1. Select software to perform the tone mapping? of the pixels to produce the HDR image. Photoshop can be used for this along with special purpose software such as
  2. Import your bracketed photos into the software.
  3. Experiment with different settings. If you have taken more than three images, experiment with different numbers of images at different settings.
  4. Select the finished image that you find most pleasing.

Related links

  1. Photomatix
  2. Merging HDR in Photoshop CS3-CS4 Tutorial
About Valerie Whittier

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