BEFORE WE GET STARTED, WE NEED A COUPLE OF THINGS
HDR Photography can be a complicated or as simple as you like. I’ll break this into two sections the Hardware and the Software.
HARDWARE – THE ALL IMPORTANT CAMERA
You can take multiple exposures with almost all cameras however I highly recommend a camera that has Auto Exposure Bracketing. It will make your life so much easier. Depending on your camera make and model you can usually auto bracket anywhere form three (3) to nine (9) images. Unfortunately most Canon dSLR’s only allow a maximum of 3 exposures however you can still create amazingly beautiful HDR photographs using only 3 exposures. It is true you can my a decent HDR image from a single RAW file I prefer the bracket me shots to get as much information as possible.
The ability to shoot in RAW. The advantages of RAW vs Jpeg have been discussed on this site countless times before so it won’t go into specifics however the RAW format captures the images with as little information loss as possible. When your effectively trying to bring in as much information as possible into a shot starting off with the most is the way to go.
I also use a tripod. I know it’s annoying having to carry one around but I really does help you take amazing photos. Especially if you are shooting in low light. You can shoot handheld but using a tripod just increases the quality of your photos.
Quick note: The mirrorless or compact camera systems like the Olympus’s OMD, Sony NEX, Fujifilm X Series are awesome however their bracketing features are in some cases lacking. It sometimes takes a bit of creativity to get the required exposures.
This is where it gets a little interesting.
HDR SOFTWARE – REQUIRED
When I say required, I mean it is required for this tutorial. There are 1000’s of ways, ok maybe not 1000’s but there are a lot of different ways to creating a High Dynamic Range photo which we discuss in the video tutorial.
- Photomatix Pro – Probably the most well known HDR Software around. There is a free version but that leaves an ugly watermark.
OTHER HDR SOFWARE – NOT DISCUSSED IN THIS TUTORIAL BUT CAN DO JUST A GOOD A JOB
- Adobe Photoshop CS6 – Not discussed in this HDR Tutorial but of late I’ve been using CS6 HDR Pro, which I cover in length in the video tutorial.
- NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 – If you bought the NIK collection you already have HDR Efex Pro 2.
- HDR Darkroom – Is another peice of HDR software that is easy to use but powerful enough to customise the outcome as you see fit.
OPTIONAL EXTRAS – LIKE BUYING A CAR THERE ARE ALWAYS THE OPTIONAL EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT JUST THAT LITTLE BIT BETTER
- Adobe Lightroom – Great software that helps organise your files and develop your RAW images. It’s just been updated to version 5 you can see some of the new features in this recent video.
- Apple Aperture – If you use Apple you have the option to use Apple Aperture instead of Adobe Lightroom. They do similar things.
- OnOne – I highly recommend Perfect Suite 7 (A review coming soon) It’s a great package that can extend the functionality of Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture. If you have Photoshop the you’ll still want this as it speeds up your processing time.
- Topaz Adjust – Another one of my favorites that I use to bring some WOW and sharpness back into the final image.
- Adobe Photoshop – If you buy the OnOne Perfect Suite 7 you can actually get away without having to use Adobe Photoshop. Also if you have something else that allows you to work in layers you are already set.
- Tiffen DFX v3.0 – Another effects package that has some great features for adding a bit of interest to your images.
SHOOT YOUR HDR IMAGE
We’ve been through what you need to create a HDR photo but now it’s time to actually step away from your computer, put the iPad down or whatever device you are reading this on and head out a shoot.
There are various was you can do this. I recommend either setting your camera to Aperture Priority mode or if your a little more adventurous Manual mode. The fact is it doesn’t really matter. Turn on your Auto bracketing and set it up so it takes three photos from -2, 0 and +2. As I said above some cameras can take more but for this example we’ll just use 3 as most cameras are able to handle that pretty well.
OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER
- Make sure you are shooting in RAW. It will make your life so much easier in the long run.
- Use a tripod, especially if your heading out to shoot at sunrise or sunset. Photomatix can align Handheld images and it does it very well but I can’t recommend enough shooting with a tripod.
- If you have yourself a tripod set your ISO to as low as it will go. HDR can be quite noisy so start of with the cleanest image you can.
- If you are shooting into the sun you’ll want to take an image at -3 as well, cause that sun is just so damn bright.
HERE IS THE ORIGINAL EXPOSURE ‘0’ OR NORMAL EXPOSURE STRAIGHT OUT OF THE CAMERA
IT’S NOT REALLY AS WOW AS I REMEMBER IT, SO LETS PUSH ON
The more practice you have the faster you can get this done. This image is obviously cropped to a 16:9 ratio. The sky wasn’t that interesting that morning so I decided to focus more on the water and the rocks keeping just a bit of the sky for affect. This was shot at sunrise, before the sun had actually risen. When I first started creating HDR images it would take me 20-30 minutes if not longer but these days I can get through them in in under 10 minutes unless there is something really challenging. Not that it’s a race or anything but I know some people don’t like to spend a lot of time processing their photos.
STEP 1 – OK HAVE YOU GOT YOUR IMAGES LETS COMBINE THEM IN PHOTOMATIX PRO
Is this really Step 1? I sure technically shooting the images should be Step 1. Oh well anyway lets boot up Photomatix and merge these images.
This is the screen I get when I merge my 3 exposures from Lightroom. If you aren’t using Lightroom you’ll get something similar, without the Lightroom specific options. Even though I shoot with a tripod I always select Align Source images, and Reduce chromatic aberrations. If I’ve shot with High ISO I woudl select the Reduce noise option.
Once I press Export Lightroom and Photomatix will do it’s thing. If you are opening your RAW files straight into Photomatix without Lightroom you’ll click on a button called Preprocess.
This is what you’ll see or something fairly similar once Photomatix has does it magic. We have an options panel with a bunch of sliders. Another panel with a heap of presets and a histogram.
[quote style=”2″]Most of the presets are terrible so just stay away from them. Or even better close that panel.[/quote]
Remember from the previous page, the idea is to create something close to what the eye sees. We aren’t looking for psychedelic colours! There is no magic set of slider settings that I can give you that will make you the perfect HDR. I usually just play around with the sliders till it looks about right. What I can tell you in most cases I leave the Process set to Tone Mapping and the Method set to Details Enhancer.
As you can see there are lots of sliders with names that don’t necessarily make much sense. I’m going to run through the main ones that I use most of the time. I’ll post them in the order I usually use them in.
- Strength – As it suggests it’s the strength of the Tone Mapping effect. In most cases I push this to 100%.
- Black Point – This sets the black point. I can’t emphasize this enough, Black helps anchor all other colours. Even though we are trying to get as much detail in the shadows as possible there still needs to be some black.
- White Point – With all shade their must be light. So bumping the white point a little just helps to bring some brightness back in.
- Luminosity – This gives the that “painterly” effect. and changes the brightness a little.
- Lighting Adjustments – This changes where the light is on the image. You might want the foreground brighter than the background or vice versa. Don’t click the “Lighting Effects” check box and use any of the presets in there.
- Detail Contrast – This brings back some contrast in the image, making things stand out a little more.
- Color Saturation – We need to bring a bit of colour back into the image as it can get a bit desaturated when the exposures are combined. Don’t go overboard though.
If you think you’ve taken it too far with the above sliders, chances are you have.
If you’ve gone ahead and opened your images through Lightroom you can then Save and ReImport which will bring your HDR image back into Ligthroom. From there you can then play with the Lightroom sliders to fix it up a little more. Adding sharpening, contrast, etc… If went the other route and just opened your photos directly into Photomatix then you will be presented with another panel of options once you click the Process button. This panel will allow you to sharpen, adjust colour and contrast.
YOU’RE DONE FINISHED.
You’ve just finished creating your first HDR image. Simple wasn’t it? If you read this and it still doesn’t make sense then check out RAW Studio. There is countless hours of HDR photo editing, where I show you some of the tricks on how to fix some of the most common problems. If that isn’t enough there is also the awesome RAW Studio forums where you can ask questions and get feed back directly to the problems you are facing.
There is one more thing to do
It’s simple, get out and shoot!