Today’s post is about high dynamic ranging (HDR) photography. No, don’t leave, it’s interesting honestly! So what is HDR? In a nutshell, it’s a composition of three (or more if you are an expert) images taken at different exposure levels. What does this mean? Well, I must admit that I am not altogether sure. It’s not that I’m making this up as I go along, it’s just that somebody else could probably explain it better. To quote Digital Photo magazine:
“HDR allows you to seamlessly merge together a series of images taken from exactly the same location, but using different exposure setings”
I always looked at the HDR images in photography magazines and thought it was probably a step too far, an advanced technique that was beyond my limited capability but that was before I realised that my SLR camera had an automatic exposure bracketing (AEB) function. In other words, instead of taking one photo when you press the shutter release it takes three: one underexposed, one exposed correctly and one over exposed. Still with me? Now I might get this wrong (and I am sure someone will tell me) but as far as I understand the underexposed image captures a lot of more of the shadows and the overexposed image captures a lot more of the highlights.
Hopefully, it’s obvious that this technique is pretty impossible without a tripod and cannot be used on moving subjects. The subject has to be perfectly still – any slight movement between the three exposures and you will get the dreaded camera blur. This is why HDR is primarily used in landscape photography. Images need to be shot in RAW format too in order to capture as much of the image data as possible. Whilst, I suppose you could do it with jpeg, I’m not sure the result would be as good.
Once the image(s) has been taken you then need to merge the three images together using a software called Photomatix or Photoshop (sorry purists but no software, no HDR). What you get is a composite of the three exposures in which you can manipulate the elements (shadows, highlights, colours, etc) until you get an image that you like. The resulting image is almost hyperreal i.e. it has a depth and contrast that distinguishes it from a normal image.
Yesterday lunchtime, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try. I walked up to White Nancy, a 15-foot high stone landmark that stands at the top of Kerridge Hill, overlooking the village of Bollington which is where I work. I didn’t have much time and only managed to shoot 8 images (or 24 if you think about it). I composed the images into HDR format using Photomatix and I am pretty pleased with the result. What do you think?