If you’re a serious landscape photographer, chances are you’ve at least experimented with High Dynamic Range photography. In recent years, HDR has become a go-to technique for amateur and professionals alike because of the unique and stunning images it can produce.
In this post, we’ll go through some tips and techniques to help you harness the considerable power of HDR photography. And if you’re already shooting HDR, we’ll help you take it to the next level.
HDR: A Quick Overview
In a nutshell, High Dynamic Range Imaging is a process that involves taking multiple exposures of the same image and blending them together. Generally the photographer will take at least three exposures; one properly exposed, one overexposed, and one underexposed. Then, these are merged in post-production software that picks out certain elements of each to create one final image.
The benefit of this technique is it provides a much greater “dynamic range” (hence the name) of light and color than a single exposure alone. The overall goal is to make the image as close as possible to what the human eye actually sees; our eyes are fantastically equipped to handle a huge range of light, and thus are able to make out extreme lights and darks in the same scene.
Camera sensors – even the high-end, high-dollar sensors – simply cannot replicate this dynamic range, so we are often left with either underexposed shadows or blown out highlights, and are forced to choose one part of the image to expose properly.
With HDR, this problem is (nearly) solved; while exactly replicating what the human eye sees is an uphill battle, we can get very close. A properly processed HDR photo can include a full light spectrum, with perfectly exposed shadows, highlights, and of course midtones. The result? A whole new gamut of options available, and the potential to create some truly great images.
This particular post isn’t intended to be a step-by-step, beginner’s introduction to HDR photography. Instead, it’s meant as a collection of tips and tricks to help you improve your photos, and best utilize the high dynamic range tools at your disposal. We’ll assume the reader has at least a basic knowledge of DSLR photography and camera functions, as well as an understanding of the HDR process.
So here are some tips to help you in your HDR journey.
Use a Tripod
While a tripod isn’t absolutely, completely, 100%, totally necessary, it will make your life a whole lot easier and will most likely give you a better final image. I’ve taken numerous handheld HDR images, but my best are always those in which I had my camera secured with a tripod.
The reason, of course, is that you’re combining three (or more) images of the same scene, and you want them to be as close to identical as possible. When there are inconsistencies in the features (often caused by a slight camera move), it can create ghosting or blurry spots. And while most HDR software has tools to compensate for shifts, nothing is as good as getting it right the first time.
Plus, if you need to use a shutter speed slower than 1/60 – as you often will, especially for the overexposed image – the original image can get blurred as well, and fixing simple camera shake in post-production is nearly impossible. Using a tripod will give you a clean set of identical images no matter what shutter speed you use.