7 Tips for Better HDR Photography

I originally wrote this article for HDR One and published it there a while back.  Thought I would share it here too!  Thanks for taking the time to check it out, and let me know if you have any questions!

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7 Tips for Better HDR Photography

I love shooting in HDR and take every opportunity to practice, whether at the camera or the keyboard.  It’s a journey for most of us, and practice makes perfect!  Here are some things I have learned over the years that helped me improve my HDR photography.

Shoot more

The standard rule for photography is that your first 10,000 photos are your worst.  It’s the same for HDR (just like anything in life really) – the more you practice, the better you get.  But with more time in the field you do begin to “see in HDR” as I discussed in a previous article.  With frequent practice you learn the best settings for your camera in different situations, which helps you produce a better HDR photo when it’s time to process.

Shoot at various times of day

If you are sunset person then try shooting at sunrise (Note to self: put the coffee maker on Auto.)  It pays to mix things up because the light really is different depending on where you are and what time of day it is.  It’s good practice to get accustomed to various light situations, because at some point you will likely have to shoot at the one you are least comfortable with.  Practice ahead of time so you are ready when the moment presents itself.

Last light in Tampa.jpg

Process more

Similar to the first point, except this time you are behind the keyboard, instead of behind the camera.  Get familiar with the software tools that you have.  Practice all the various settings and see what you get.  Try the presets, but don’t hesitate to customize and experiment.  There are a million little micro decisions you can make along the way, all of which will impact your photo in some way or another.  Try a bunch and see what you get.  This has the added benefit of being incredibly fun!  (Note to self: cancel any upcoming appointments.)

Meet the locals

HDR is so prevalent these days that there are folks everywhere doing it.  Go meet some of them.  Go on a local photowalk.  Ask those folks who are already doing it how they do things.  Every photographer I have met is willing to discuss tips, tricks and little nuggets of wisdom, but you have to get out there and get engaged.

Glasgow Central Station.jpg

Read more

There is an incredible amount of content out there about HDR photography.  In addition to great sites like HDR One, many HDR photographers have blogs where you can read reviews and tutorials, and some have video trainings too.  Find the ones you like, and learn how they do it.  Don’t hesitate to ask them questions either. 

Go somewhere new and do something different

Change is good.  It forces you to adapt, and when you adapt, you learn and grow.  So go shoot things you wouldn’t normally shoot, even if you have to leave town.  If you are a landscape person, try some architectural shots.  If you prefer cityscapes, take a drive in the country or head out to the beach.  If you always shoot wide angle, put on a zoom.  Stretch your creativity by forcing yourself to do something you aren’t comfortable with.  This has the added benefit of being fun too!

KC train reflection HDR - Version 2.jpg

Don’t stop at Photomatix

Photomatix is the first step, not the only step. (You can substitute your HDR processing software of choice in here – it doesn’t matter.)  When I first started, my HDRs were very bland and were definitely lacking any real punch.  Everyone I knew was using Photomatix, and so did I.  But I had stopped there.  What I didn’t realize was that Photomatix is just the beginning.  The output from Photomatix is never ready for primetime.  There are other products you should add to your software collection that will help you put the finishing touches on your photos.  You’ll be glad you did!

Hope this helps, and have fun out there firing some brackets!