About HDR Photography

What is HDR?

HDR is short for High Dynamic Range and it is a rather hot topic in photography circles.  I love it and find that many folks do too, though probably an equal amount do not.  That is ok - to each his own.  I fully understand that this can be a divisive topic among photographers.  With careful use, I feel that it brings interesting elements to the photo and certainly accentuates a greater level of detail than you can capture in a single image.  You can create exceptionally dynamic, exciting photos, and frankly, it's just plain fun to do so.

It also more clearly represents what you can see with the human eye.  We are capable of seeing and remembering a lot of detail about a subject, but when you see a photo it often seems flat.  I think HDR makes a photo come alive.  It’s almost like being there!

So, how does HDR work?

HDR is a process whereby you take multiple shots of the same subject, but at different shutter speeds (this is called bracketing your images). The slower shutter speeds allow in more light (because the shutter is open longer), making that image much brighter. The faster shutter speeds allow in less light (because the shutter is open a shorter amount of time) and result in darker images. I usually take 3 images per subject at various light levels (one lighter, one sort of medium, and one darker) and then combine them in Aurora HDR Pro by Macphun, which is a fantastic product.   

For example, if you took a single shot you often end up with parts of the photo that are “blown out”, meaning way over-exposed (too bright) and other areas that are way too dark.  It is often difficult if not impossible to capture the best of both worlds in a single image.  So, along comes HDR.  By taking all these shots and combining them into a single image, you get the best elements of all the shots.  It basically blends the images together and allows you to create an image with a more balanced distribution of light across it.

Now, within Aurora you can do a WHOLE LOT of stuff to the photo.  Some folks are very subtle in their application of HDR, and some are very aggressive.  It really doesn't matter, because it's up to you how you want to handle your own photos.  But I bring this up because you can create garish, almost cartoonish results if you aren't careful (or if you just feel like pushing the pixels around a bit), and those are the photos that people tend to use to define the entirety of HDR photography.  It's not that, but that's what people pick on.  

Anyways, after merging the photos together to create my base HDR image, I then take advantage of the built-in presets, layers and brush adjustments of Aurora to further refine my image.  While I vary things depending on the image and my vision for it, generally I spend about 15-20 minutes creating a photo.  That's usually about it.  I don't want to spend too long on any single shot, because I always want to create more.  

Anyways, you can find a lot of discussion online about HDR - just Google it or feel free to use the contact form here on the blog if you have any questions.  I'm here to help!

Some of my favorite HDR shots, taken at various spots around the world during my travels: 

leadenhall market in london, england

sunrise at trinity college in dublin, ireland

the guadalupe river in gruene, TX during the fall

a cozy little cafe near notre dame cathedral in paris, france

sunset in laguna beach, CAlifornia

last light in amsterdam