Professional quality HDR Photography is hard to find, as it's relatively new in the marketplace.

In itself not a new concept, HDR has recently come to the fore thanks to new software that simplifies the process.

So read the article below and view our HDR gallery, then imagine what it could do for your new product or ad campaign.

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So what exactly is HDR Photography?

high dynamic range

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HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is a tool we photographers can use to depict a scene in a way that looks more like our eyes would see it.

As wonderful as today's cameras are in features and functions, they fail miserably in capturing the entire range of tonality present in a typical photograph. The moment you encounter a significant degree of contrast the camera will either a) over expose the background or b) under expose the foreground. It is simply impossible for a camera to do both, even if it possesed a hundred million mega pixels sensor.

Human eyes, on the other hand, have no problem doing this. Our eyes will adjust until we can see details in both the shadows and the brighter areas of whatever scene they are looking at.

More HDR samples

HDR is a way of getting around that problem, and it's done by taking multiple exposures of the same scene, using different exposure values, then later recombining the images by means of specialised software, such as Photomatix Pro, HDR Expose or even Photoshop CS5's built in ' Merge To HDR' function. Theoretically then, the result is a closer approximation to what that scene would actually look like, as seen through human eyes.

Types of HDR Photography

natural vs. surrealistic

There are two main approaches to HDR, the photorealistic and the surrealistic . The former uses HDR to enhance a photograph in such a way that you can hardly tell that HDR was used at all. Surrealistic HDR is a much more artistic style and it's easily identifiable, as the image will take on an almost painterly or illustrative look.

Some people love surrealistic HDR, while others hate it. There is much debate on the Net about the pro's and con's of both , but I for one believe its a subjective thing and each person is entitled to their own opinion. I love doing HDR because it allows me to be artistic without the need to be an artist. I cannot draw or paint, yet through HDR I can produce unique works of art, and get an immense amount of satisfaction from the results.

If you are new to HDR then I would suggest you give it a try and see for yourself. It is not as difficult as some would have you believe, and if you follow my instruction you too will soon be producing your very own HDR works of art.

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For starters, you need at least three exposures to make a successful HDR image, although you can use 5 or even 7 images. You then have to take the sequence of images through some HDR software and play around with the settings.
Usually, it will take several different filters and adjustments in photoshop to get a really nice result, but, although it is a bit of work the results are worth the effort.

How to shoot for HDR

remember to use a tripod

OK, so how is it done? First you should use a camera that has separate shutter and aperture controls, which means you should try to get your hands on a Digital SLR, preferably on that has a auto bracketing function. For the sake of this article I will assume that you have a camera with the above features, although you could change your exposures manually if you have to. Avoid shooting outdoor scenes if there is any kind of wind, as this will cause your photos to be blurry.

Once you have decide on a suitable scene, mount your camera on a tripod or somewhere stable and set your auto bracketing to either 3 or 5 shots with the EV(exposure value) set to increments of either 2 or 1 respectively. As an example, if you were shooting a 3 bracket shot you would end up with three images, one that is 2 stops under exposed (EV value = -2), one that is 2 stops over exposed (EV value = +2), and one that is normally exposed (EV value = 0).

More HDR samples

Remember to shoot in RAW format as this retains the most information in the exposure. HDR from jpegs is a waste of time, and I suggest you avoid shooting in jpeg mode at all costs. Next, switch to Aperture mode, and use a fairly high aperture, around f8 to f16 should do fine. Set your ISO as low as as possible, and remember to check that your Auto ISO function is turned off. Focus on your subject, then switch your auto focus off, (to prevent your exposures from having different focus points).

Because these settings will result in a longer exposure time it is important to use a remote release cable if possible or else use the self-timer function to prevent any vibrations from blurring the shot. Also disable any image stabilization on your lens or camera. Take the 3 exposures as rapidly as possible, then download them to your computer.

Workflow & Processing HDR

photomatix pro to photoshop

You will need several pieces of software, starting with a RAW format editor, like Capture NX for Nikon users, Capture One(supports most DSLR's), or else Adobe Camera RAW (comes with Photoshop).
Next you need an HDR program, and there are many to choose from, NIK HDR Efex Pro, HDR Expose, Artizen HDR, Dynamic Photo HDR or some free ware HDR programs like easy HDR or essential HDR. After much experimenting I have found the best results from a program called Photomatix Pro and you can download a trial to try it out before you buy it.

My workflow is as follows:
1) Use Photoshop's Bridge to sort and stack the series of exposures.
2) Import the photos to Photomatix and adjust to suit(there are many tutorials available online to teach you how to use the software)
3)Save the result as a 16bit .tiff file and open that file in Adobe Camera RAW for further adjustments.
4)Import the file into Photoshop and do any final effects or adjustments there, before saving to an 8bit Jpeg for distribution. You may also like to save a .PSD version for later re-editing.

Final Thoughts

keep on shooting...memory is free!

HDR is definitely here to stay and is a new and exiting part of modern digital photography. Try your hand at it, but be warned, it can become an addiction!
If you need any further advice you may e-mail me at: or if you would like to see more examples of my HDR work check out the HDR section of my photography portfolio.

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