I recently completed some interior and exterior photography for one of my clients. I found myself in a situation where taking the time to setup my speedlights wasn’t really an option. So what was I to do?
I always shoot RAW as it gives me the most flexibility with my shots for both exposure and white balance, but it was around noon time and the sun was really bright. Any image where a window was in view would definitely be washed out. I’ve tried HDR photography before, but never really found a use for it in my normal shots. Now I found a reason. If you take a look at the example picture, you will see that the Non-HDR photo is exposed correctly in the shade but the background is overexposed. Enter HDR.
What is HDR ?
HDR is High Dynamic Range. Camera sensors (although getting much better) are limited in the range of tonal values they can pick up in a single shot. So naturally your lights will be light and the darks will be dark. With high dynamic range you will begin to notice less contrast and lights won’t be quite as light and darks won’t be quite as dark. It’s certainly not the best explanation, but it’s fundamentally what is going on.
So in practice, for my situation, HDR is perfect for those times when it’s really bright and you want everything to have roughly the same tonal value (no bright whites and no dark blacks).
How do you do it?
There are multiple answers here, but for brevity I’ll explain how I did it. I bracketed my shots. What this means is that I took one exposure at the correct exposure per my camera’s meter, one exposure 1 full stop higher and one exposure 1 full stop lower. Same aperture and ISO. Different shutter speeds. Those last two are key as otherwise you’ll end up with some strange results (although, it’s worth trying as it might create some cool effects).
You are not done. Now you get your pictures into your computer. I love using Lightroom so I load them there. Now you need some software to combine the 3 images you shot. I tried the following Photoshop CC, HDR Efex Pro and HDRtist. After some playing around I actually found the free HDRtist to be the easiest to use and yielded the quickest and best results. Sure, I could probably play around a bit more, but for realistic results I am sold. You take 3 jpg files, drop them into the program and you’re all set.
Some HDR tips/tricks
Put your camera on a tripod. This saves you time as the images are already aligned for later. Most software can do the alignment for you, but you’ll get better results.
HDR creates many different types of results. Keep playing around until you find one that works for you. I needed realism in my shots so I didn’t add too much and HDRtist did a great job.
A lot of cameras have built in HDR modes today. If it isn’t take multiple exposures, then it’s not going to give you the best results possible.
You can do some fake bracketing in Lightroom. Take a single image, edit and save, then edit the exposure to +1 stop and -1 stop, save each. Now you have 3 exposures to create a HDR.