Although you do not know exactly what HDR is, or even if you have never heard of it, I assure you that you know it directly or indirectly, because you will have seen it in many images as a good photo-eater that you are.
The name may sound a bit like a foreign language. Normal, because the acronyms are for High Dynamic Range or, what is the same, high dynamic range. Don’t you know what I’m talking about? Do not worry, it is very simple, I explain below.
LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING … WHAT IS DYNAMIC RANGE?
The dynamic range is the ability to capture the detail in the highlights and shadows in a scene. Our eye, for example, has a great dynamic range, infinitely better than any camera that exists today.
In other words, we are able to see detail in both light and shadow in the same scene without any difficulty.
Instead, cameras have infinitely more difficulty in capturing details in scenes where there are different lights, surely you will have noticed, surely you will have thought more than once, how can that image that I have in my head is incapable of reproducing it in the image?
Simply, today and with the dynamic range that the cameras have, as good as they are, it is impossible to reproduce reality.
Now, we have techniques that help us get very close. One of them is HDR.
WHAT IS HDR?
HDR or high dynamic range said easily is the ability to have detail in both light and shadow. That is, a low dynamic range means that we will either forgo detail in the lights, or we will in the shadows. Instead, a high dynamic range will try to keep it in both.
HDR, therefore, allows us to get closer to human vision and, therefore, obtain images that are, in principle, closer to reality. And I say, in principle, because HDR should be used in the right way.
Abusing too much of it can take us to the opposite pole, to images far from reality, too retouched and exaggerated. For example this:
Of course, it is a matter of taste, some time ago was fashionable such as HDR exaggerated, but has been lost to find a more realistic effect, take advantage of detail in highlights and shadows without being so exaggerated. But what was said, about tastes, colors;)?
HOW TO GET A GOOD HDR IMAGE STEP BY STEP?
Nowadays, most smartphones have this option automatically, so it is not a mystery or you have to go beyond having it activated or not and, if appropriate, compare the image in HDR and the normal one, and choose the one that we like the most.
Now, in reflex / mirrorless photography, etc, which is the one that interests us, the one that requires work and gives us the best results, the one that we love and makes us lose our heads in equal parts … ahem, I deviate.
As I said, in this type of photography, in which we want the best results and the best quality in our image, the way to achieve an HDR step by step is simply as follows:
- Look for a preferably static scene, because we are going to take several photos with the same frame.
- Therefore, a tripod will be essential (as you are going to use it, remember to disable the image stabilizer because you no longer need it).
- If you have a remote trigger, use it.
- Set the camera to manual mode.
- Set a diaphragm aperture according to the image you want to take (lots of depth of field, closed aperture and the other way around).
- Set the white balance manually and don’t change it.
- Use as low an ISO as possible.
- Try to work in RAW.
- Set the focus point and don’t move it.
- We will make a total of 3 identical images in terms of composition because then we will stack them one on top of the other.
- Each of these photos will have a different exposure, for this, adjust the speed of each of them so that:
- The first image is correctly exposed for the light areas.
- The second image for the darker areas of the image.
- The third image for the intermediate areas of the image.
- If you want more precision, you can combine more exposures, but with 3 it usually works, at least to start practicing.
- With this, what we get for now is detail in each of the types of light separately.
- Once we have our images, what we do is overlap them with some editing programs such as Photoshop, Lightroom or Photomatix. Here you can see how to do it step by step with this latest program.
And that’s it, it’s very simple, right? By adding all the information from the different lights, it gives us an image where all the areas of the photograph have detail.
As you have already deduced, the main application of HDR is for scenes with a lot of contrast between light and shadow, in which it is impossible for us to preserve the detail of the different areas through our camera.
This situation occurs and obtains the best results mainly in:
- Landscapes: one of the most classic applications. It allows preserving information of the sky and the ground without having to give up the detail of either part. If the sky has clouds, better than better.
- Interiors with an entrance of natural light (interiors illuminated by the light of a window, tunnels with exit to the exterior, etc). In these cases, the light difference is also noticeable and an HDR will help you.
- Macro – Allows you to reveal and preserve image details that would otherwise be lost.
- Metal elements: cars, cutlery and, in general, any metal surface gives very good results in HDR.
- Night urban photography.
TIPS FOR MAKING A REALISTIC HDR
Ideally, for realistic results, don’t overdo the editing settings once you’ve done HDR. You already know that the more an image is retouched, the more artificial it usually seems to us.
- Don’t abuse color saturation. If you work in Lightroom it is preferable to play a bit with the Intensity that saturates the less saturated tones in a somewhat more subtle way.
- Be careful when adding texture or clarity to the image. In excess it will be a very artificial image.
- Do not abuse the contrast, it is preferable to slightly adjust the whites and blacks separately, which already generate contrast and give you more control over the result.
- Try to ensure that the colors are true to reality, however tempting it may be to exaggerate them, it does not usually give good results. It is better to work with the luminance and saturation of each color separately if you work with an editor that has this option.
In general, as you can see, it is simply about trying not to be exaggerated in the edition and staying true to our vision of the image. It is always good to go playing with the different settings to find the moment when the image that we have in our heads and that of our screen coincide.
Now, it is clear that you can use HDR as another creative function, so research, tinker, test, and stick with the result that you like the most, because perhaps you intend, precisely, to obtain an image far from reality 😉