Aside from being beautiful, the above photos are all excellent examples of HDR photography. In plain terms, High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is the practice of creating an image that has a broader range of lights and darks than a normal picture could have. The result is a photo that more accurately depicts what it was like to view the scene in person.
There are many ways to accomplish this both in the dark room and on the computer. A popular HDR technique is to take multiple exposures of the same scene and use a process called tone mapping to combine the best parts of each into one image. In 1856, Gustave Le Gray created the first known HDR image (above) when he combined the bright sky from one negative and a long exposure of the sea below from a separate negative onto a single print in the darkroom. In the mid-1900’s Ansel Adams (above) was dodging, burning, and similarly tone mapping his work to help it communicate the grandeur of Yosemite. Now photographers, such as Trey Ratcliff (above), use a gamut of HDR software such as Photomatix and Photoshop’s HDR Merge to advance these technique in the digital frontier.
For tutorials about how to make HDR photos using tone mapping software like Photomatix and Photoshop, here are links to several HDR tutorials I can personally vouch for:
- HDR Tutorial at Blame the Monkey by the incredible Elia Locardi
- Full 11.5hr Video Tutorial by Trey Ratcliff (I bought this and watched all 11.5hrs. It’s really all you need.)
- Free Video Tutorial by Trey Ratcliff
- HDR Photography Blog by Scott Kublin (I only watched the free video)
- RC Conception’s HDR Hangout on the Vid Cast Network
Advantages of HDR
The truth is that your eye is infinitely more perceptive than a piece of film and especially more than a camera sensor. This being the case, when you take a photo, a lot of information is lost in the dark and light areas of the shot. HDR techniques preserve allow images to retail some of this information and also enhance the shot to better reflect the relative intensity levels of the scene.
These techniques take time to get good at. Don’t give up if your first attempt isn’t the best. Here’s my first HDR photo ever if it’s any consolation.
Disadvantages of HDR
Most of the disadvantages of HDR arise in the process of producing the image, although the style itself is sometimes criticized. To take multiple exposures of the exact same scene often requires a tripod or stable surface and also a camera with bracketing capability. Post production is more usually more involved and requires specialized HDR software.
Visual preferences aside, earmarks of HDR photos are their saturated colors and overly luminescent lights and dramatic high contrast. Also, they tend to have more noise when magnified to 100%. Most of these negatives are linked to specific techniques and can be corrected. Often we see properly processed and edited HDR photos in commercial media without realizing it.
Is HDR Photography Fake?
Yes, it is. Just like “regular” photography. When you make a copy of real life, that imitation of reality will always be “fake.” However, I believe that when used to bring out details of a scene that were originally lost, HDR photography is less fake than regular photography. HDR is definitely an aesthetic style that not everyone appreciates, but I don’t think it’s less valid.
Current HDR Photographers
There are literally thousands of practicing HDR photographers out there. Many have made themselves accessible and are desperately waiting to connect with you on Google Plus (shameless… I know). Below are three of the forerunners who I highly recommend you check out (tell them I sent you too).