HDR Tutorial I

Last Sunday I promised you a HDR tutorial to create the photo you see in this post. For my Graveyard Art series together with Debbi of Twistedpixelstudio I took a lot of photos during winter and got lucky enough to see some snow in New Jersey at the time. Well, until a few days ago we still saw it and did not feel so lucky about it anymore. Anyhow, let’s delve into some HDR.

First of all HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. What is high dynamic range? Simple – imagine yourself on a sunny day, surrounded by snow looking at a house or, as in our case, gravestones. The white of the snow reflects the sun and makes it very bright for our eyes and our camera’s eyes i.e. sensor. Same on the opposite end of the light spectrum with the dark of the house, gravestone or shadows. Making it… a very broad range (a – ha!).20130210-076_HDR

Our eyes can cope with this amazingly well. They adapt dynamically to incorporate all the different shades of light, from brightest to darkest. So, does the camera, but… Both our eyes and our camera ‘see’ the light and measure it. However, the difference is, our eyes then interact with our brain and senses to ‘see’ a scene as we perceive it – subjectively. A camera will measure the amount of light that hits it’s sensor and then, taking the given absolutes and given programming, it will show us the scene.

Essential to know is every camera is programmed to see the world as middle grey a.k.a. 18 % grey. Simply put it means that the camera’s programming will try to average any light that hits it’s sensor to a middle grey. So, with everything set you will get averagely, correctly exposed images all the way. If that is working for you – fantastic! If not, try the manual mode on your camera or playing with the +/- button it may have or read on. Because you may also try some post-processing e.g. HDR to incorporate all the finer details in a scene and to give the image your personal perception.

So, here we go. What do I need for a HDR image? Two or more photos of the same scene, exposed from too bright to too dark and everything in between. It is essential that you keep your camera steady. A tripod is recommended. Oh, and try this with non-moving objects (tree and wind are always a bad mix), because in the photo editing software of your choice you will stack one image on top of the other. From brightest to darkest or the other way around.

HDR, gravestone HDR, gravestone HDR, gravestone

In the first picture you can easily see that the snow and sky are way overexposed, almost blown out. Even the gravestones are too bright. In the second one snow and sky look much better, but the gravestones are already too dark. And in the third one the sky is gorgeous, but the gravestones are too dark, beyond rescue.

The picture in the middle is the one your camera would have given you without any mingling or manual exposure adjustments. Not quite how you saw the scene, right? So, here is how you get to that with a little HDR. My photo software are Lightroom and Photoshop CS6, but any editing software supporting layers and masks will do this. Obviously you can work around masks, but it makes it easier to re-do or un-do things. Click on the pictures of this HDR tutorial to be able to see them larger and scroll through them:

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And then you will get this as a result:

HDR, tutorial, CS6

But it still doesn’t quite look like the one I presented in my Fine Art Friday post last Sunday.

And that is because of additional tone mapping and, of course, the texture I added. But that and a little more to other software and things to keep in mind I will show you in part II of my HDR tutorial. This here should keep you busy for the moment.

So, tell me. What do you think? Any questions? Let me hear it in the comments!

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12 thoughts on “HDR Tutorial I”

  1. Wow, Claudia, thanks for this. I have not done much with layers and this breaks it down very nicely for me. I want to try this with a couple of old photos I took some years ago. I usually do several shots of the same thing before I move on so it will be interesting to see how they mesh!

    • You’re welcome, Debbi. Let me know if you run into any questions once you started. I agree sometimes it is nice to re-work old(er) photos with newly found skills.

  2. Great tutorial! I’m usually not a big fan of HDR photos, but when done well, they can look amazing. I really like the one you did of the grave markers – very subtle but the HDR gives it an aged quality while keeping the full range of colors.

    • Thanks, Jamie. I know where you’re coming from. HDR can be horribly overdone, in my opinion, too. But when you see a picture and have to ask yourself ‘is it or isn’t it’? Then it is a work well done.


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