ABOUT HDR PHOTOGRAPHY
The acronym HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and refers to the post-processing technique that merges a series of images into one. This process yields an ability to adjust the color and contrast ranges far beyond that of a single image. Although it is possible to create an HDR “look” from a single exposure, a true HDR image and best results are obtained from multiple exposures.
In most cases, an HDR image is created by capturing 3 exposures of the same scene, each with different settings. For instance, one shot will be properly exposed, one underexposed and one overexposed. Using this process allows you to extract the best details from the shadows and highlight areas, making photographs look balanced, bold and creatively stunning.
As humans, our eyes allow us to see things in a manner that exceeds the ability of cameras in terms of dynamic range. HDR photography helps to close the gap, although not completely. HDR is however, an outstanding art form and a great way to view this wonderful world we occupy.
Below are two examples.
The image on the left is right out of the camera, unprocessed. Many would be happy with this… until you see what’s possible.
The image on the right is an HDR image that has yet to be adjusted to take full advantage of the dynamic range now available, and it still shows far more vibrance than a standard digital shot.
From this point you can allow your creativity to flow, which is what I love about this process.
WHAT’S NEEDED TO CREATE THESE TYPE OF IMAGES?
A digital single lens reflex (DSLR) is required, one that is capable bracketing, and most have this feature. By the way, bracketing is a function where the camera takes multiple images in rapid succession but at different exposure settings. In a 3-shot bracket one shot will be it’s regular exposure, one overexposed and one underexposed. For HDR bracketing, you can set the camera to shoot 3, 5, 7 or more images.
Back to the camera. DSLRs can run in price ranges from several hundred to several thousand dollars. You want a really decent quality camera but there is no need to spend large sums of money to start out. I recommend that you get a name brand like a Canon, Nikon or Sony, proven products that perform as advertised. These are the top brands in the industry, used by many professional photographers.
I started shooting HDR with a Nikon D5000 camera, which has many of the same features of the more expensive Nikon D90. One point about cameras: these are hand-held computers with lots of processing power and if you tweak the settings on most name brand models, you can get images right off the camera that are better than most others. Invest in a nice model that you can afford and learn how to program and use it.
A quality camera lens can easily surpass the cost of the camera in many cases. Don’t skimp on lenses, buy good quality lenses that 1, are made to operate with the brand and format of your camera, and 2, realize that this is an investment into your successful future. I am a strong believer that if you buy a Nikon camera, you should buy Nikon (or Nikkor as their lens brand is known) lenses. They are perfectly matched to the product that you have already invested in and will provide years of dependable service and above all, great results. Mixing brands of lenses with cameras can be very successful, but some research should be performed BEFORE you purchase.
Minimally, you can get away with a couple of lenses like a Nikkor 18-55mm (often packaged with a kit camera) and a Nikkor 18-200mm zoom. A similar configuration will serve you well if you go the Canon or Sony route. This arrangement provides a good all-around lens in the 18-55mm and the reach for those things that are in the distance with the 18-200mm. There are a ton of lenses on the market, be sure to match the format with your camera (Nikon DX – use DX lenses / Nikon FX – use FX lenses) for best results.
Other lenses may be needed, depending upon they type of photography you decided to pursue.
Listen, if you are thinking about taking the plunge into serious photography, you’ll need a tripod, and a really decent one at that. To produce top quality images, you’ll need to mount your camera on a tripod and eliminate as much camera vibration as possible to get tack sharp images. Think about this for a second, do you really want to mount $1000 (or more) worth of equipment on a $50 tripod?
Get a lightweight carbon fiber model that you can afford, preferably with a ball head.
To create the magic that is HDR photography, you’ll need tools. Can’t create an artful painting without some brushes, canvas and easel, right?
During post-processing (that period of time after you capture the image and before you make it available for public consumption) a host of tools may be needed to keep things organized, sharpen your images, add the desired effects and a boatload of other issues that will make your final product unique and appealing to the eye. Below is a short listing of some of the tools I use to accomplish the tasks. Most of these are industry standard and many are must-haves if you really want to elevate your brand.
Now before we get off in the weeds let me say this, obtain what you can and master each and every one of them for the best results possible. Other than what I have marked as “Must-have”, you can consider them optional, although if you’re like most photographers, you’ll want them all.
Each tool has a specific purpose and I would not list them if they were not worth having in your arsenal.
A word of caution: Many of these products have a 30-day trial period. Yes, you can try them with full functionality for 30 days. The reason they do this is simple. They know that after using these awesome tools for that period of time, you’ll do whatever you can to secure the final purchase, because they truly are that good. You’ve been warned!
Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2
Photomatix by HDR Soft
This is one of the most popular HDR processing software packages on the market, so I have to give it it’s props. I used it when I first started my HDR journey. Check out the product page here.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4
Not every image I process is an HDR but this software can help you with regular images and HDRs as well. Lightroom 4 is a very powerful package for organizing, processing and a host of other features. Visit the Lightroom 4 product page here. Remember, you can try before you buy for 30-days.
Adobe Photoshop CS6
This, in my opinion, is a MUST HAVE. Photoshop Creative Suite is the most powerful image enhancement and processing software on the market. There is an entire industry built around this tool. It is expensive if you have never owned it and are unable to upgrade, but once you have this and educate yourself in it’s usage, you will never look back. I think it’s just short of magic.
Visit the Adobe Photoshop CS6 page here.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 11
A far less expensive alternative to Photoshop CS6 is Photoshop Elements 11. Now this has nowhere near the amount of features but remains a powerful tool and a great alternative, particularly if you are just starting out. Check out this Adobe Product Comparison Page for more information. It’s a very nice buyers guide.
Topaz Labs Plug-ins
Plugins are small software programs that integrate or “plugin” to larger host applications like Photoshop, Lightroom and others. They have a specific capability that they perform and can shorten your time in the “digital darkroom” where you process your images. Topaz Labs is one of the many software manufacturers that create plugins that work as a part of the Adobe family of products. They have a ton of packages and you can see and read about them on the Topaz Labs Product page.
I could easily double the size of this list but you have more than enough to consider here already. Each of these products I highly recommend, but you will have to decide what you need and what you can do without. I use all of these, depending on the type of image, and can tell you that you would be happy with any or all of the above.
To start, I recommend that you get a copy of Photoshop CS6 or Photoshop Elements 11.
Acquiring any of these tools is only part of the battle. Again, learn to master them and the power they possess. That will bring you a tremendous level of satisfaction.
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Thanks for your interest!