Photography News

HDR Photography

April 9, 2012 by David Lye

Brilliantly coloured photographs often leave viewers feeling like the scene appears too good to be true. More often than not (especially in this age of digital photography), these photos actually are ‘too good.’ In other words, digital images are often altered in order to draw out the most dramatic elements (colour, lighting, shadows, etc.), and the most common way of editing photographs in this manner falls under the category of High Dynamic Range (HDR) photo editing. HDR techniques have been in existence prior to the boom of the digital photography industry, but the almost overwhelming use of this technique really bloomed once easy editing software became more accessible to the general public.

HDR photography, if used properly, can help artists create fairly accurate representations of scenes that cameras’ light sensors are typically unable to fully capture. For example, often certain areas of a photograph are either too light or too dark, even though they do not appear this way to the naked eye. However, camera’s sensors are far more limited than the human eye and are therefore unable to fully capture such scenes. This is where HDR techniques can save the day.

Ultimately, HDR photographs are compilations of several different exposures of the same scene that are ‘layered’ on top of each other in order to create the complete scene that offers the greatest dynamic colour/light range possible. It is crucial that all photographs used for a complete HDR project capture exactly the same scene, since without this constancy compiling a believable rendition of the scene is fairly impossible. Therefore, the first step to any successfully compiled HDR photograph is to snap the necessary multiple exposure photographs at the location of the desired scene.

Next, these photographs should be combined into one image file. Theoretically, any quality digital image processing program should be able to perform this function, but realistically, some of these programs are more easily to manipulate than others. Regardless of the program chosen, the basic concepts for HDR photography remain the same. The base image should be chosen so that the largest area of the scene is already most desirably exposed, and other sections of the scene should then be cropped and pasted from the photographs in which they are properly exposed; these cropped parts should be layered onto the base photograph. The resulting image should be one that combines the clearest exposures of each segment of the photograph and thereby shows the widest range of deep colors.

Overall, HDR photography is an excellent way to bring an otherwise dull scene to life. However, artists must be careful when manipulating series of images for HDR pictures; using extreme combinations of photos will leave scenes feeling unrealistic and ‘too good to be true.’

David Lye is co-founder of, keen amateur photographer, and avid blogger.

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