I’m still learning the art of HDR. Ever since I first stumbled upon this process of photography I’ve become addicted to it. And it makes me do more and more of HDR photography. Every HDR image that I work on is a learning step for me. What I’m writing here is not exactly a tutorial, more of what I usually do when working on HDR images. I learned it from hunting for tutorials on it on the internet. I learnt a little bit from here and a bit more from there, and some more from the others, but the best that I feel is the website http://www.stuckincustoms.com. This site is owned by a guy called trey ratcliff, and by now I’m a fan of this guy. He’s a master, a genius, when it comes to HDR photography. Go thru his site and you’ll know what I’m talking about. This site also contains a HDR tutorial that helped me a lot.
Here are some of my HDR shots. All have been done using Nikon L120, jpeg images.
Oh by the way, what you’re about to read is my general technique of HDR photography and how i go about it. There’s no one straight-forward method of doing HDR photography. No set of rules or a rule book that says “follow these steps an you’ll get pretty HDR pics”. Different pictures taken in different light situations require you to improvise with your processing technique. if you are looking for a sample processing that i did, you can skip all the reading below and jump here.
Choosing the subject:
This plays a very important role because not everything looks good with hdr processing. Dim light conditions can leave grains, smudges, smears and all other kinds of noise. I usually do HDR’s on frames when
- Back Lit: The light source is behind the subject and is falling directly on the camera lens.
- Too much of light: Situation where there is more than enough light and you can’t do much about it.
- Dim Light: When the there’s not much light and you want to make the most of every little light source available in the frame.
Think of it this way, when you’re looking at the sun at a horizon (let’s say, a sunset landscape), the human eye is capable of seeing every detail at it’s best but that’s not the case with a camera. A camera has only one level of exposure at a time and can properly expose only selective subjects like the sun, or the sky, or the trees depending on how you adjust the focus and the exposure in your camera. If you set your exposure to the sun, trees go dark. If you set the focus for the sky, the sun goes over exposed. And if you set your exposure to the trees, all that you will see in the BG is a bright sheet of light. This is where HDR comes in.
HDR is a process where one frame is captured at different exposure levels and only the best exposed parts of the images are combined to form one single image. That is, we get the sun, the tree, and the sky all together at the right exposures levels in one single frame.
Shooting the frame:
Like I said before choose a subject that’s back lit or where you have a lot of harsh sunlight. From my experience with hdr, sunlight falling thru tree leaves, early morning, twilight or a busy street at night with a lot of lights make very good HDR.
Tripod is a must. Yes, it’s very much needed to execute a hdr image. I look at a tripod as a tool for HDR and also sometimes it comes in handy around annoying people. So do carry a tripod with you when you are executing a hdr shot. Along with the tripod if you have a remote, use that as well for fine precision.
As for camera, well there are a lot of new DSLR’s that have the auto bracketing feature. You can use them to shoot your bracket images. Nikon D7000 and the higher models there on are all good i guess. I’m not really sure about it as i don’t use DSLRs. All the images that you see here on my web site are shot using Nikon L120. Life’s been much more awesome for me in terms of photography since i got this camera. And a very few images are shot using my sony ericsson C510. I’m not doing much of shooting with my mobile phone now. I carry my back pack almost everywhere i go. And my back pack always carries my nikon l120. When even i come across something interesting i stop, take my camera out and start walking towards it to do my thing. Ok… so lets come back to HDR.
Mount your camera on the tripod and set the frame that you are going to click. You don’t have to worry much about exif settings with HDR, atleast I don’t. All you need to check is the exposure level. I usually click for HDR at 5 different exposure levels, -2,-1,0,1,2 ev. These are called bracketed images. Do not change the position of your camera or the tripod untill you’ve taken all the 5 shots. If not all you’ll have in your HDR images are ghosts every where, and I’m sure no one wants that.
Once you’re done shooting your images load them out in your computer and have the following tools ready to begin working on your hdr image.
Nik HDR Efex (Must): I’ve tried a lot of softwares. Just google for them and you’ll find tons. I mix and match the out put from different softwares. The one that i use the most is Nik HDR efex. This is one software that tries to minimize noise such as ghosts, chromatic aberrations in the generated image to the maximum best possible. It’s a photoshop plugin that you can find it as a package in the Nik software collection or buy it alone from the Nik HDR Efex link.
Adobe Photoshop (Must): The HDR image generated from photmatix or any other software will contain a little or a lot of noise. The layer masking technique in photosop is helpful to remove the noise.
Nik color efex (Optional): I use this to give finishing touches to my HDR image. This software contains 1000’s of filters that you can use on HDR or even your normal single images. Too many options can make one get a brain freeze but if you’re like me, you’ll feel like a chef in a kitchen who’s trying to invent something new and unique with different spices, vegetables and other stuff given to him. Like the other nik plugins you can find this one too separately in the Nik Software collection.
Nik silver efex (Optional): Normally i do not go for grey scale conversion in HDR. But for some special images, this might come in handy. Like the other nik plugins you can find this one too separately in the Nik Software collection
Topaz Adjust (Optional, but do use it, if you ask me): I use this to add a little special finishing touch to my HDR images. Does not work on all of them though. You can find it here.
Now that we have the tools and the images ready lets load them up and proceed to processing them.