Skip to main content

HDR photography guide for beginners

HDR basically stands for high dynamic range. As a beginner, you must have heard the term "HDR" being thrown around everywhere on the photography forums. With recent advancements in technology, HDR games and HDR TV units are also into the digital market now. HDR may sound complicated from the name itself, but to be honest it is a very straightforward and simple technique. Let's start with an introduction of dynamic range and why do we even need HDR photos.
Guide for HDR photos

Dynamic range
Dynamic range in photography is the difference between the brightest and darkest part of a scene that a camera sensor can capture. Let's keep it simple silly as the whole purpose of this post is beginner focused. The dynamic range of a given camera sensor becomes important when the photo has a major difference between the dark and bright parts.
Example: A room with a window during the daytime. When trying to take an indoor space shot, it would be super hard for the camera to capture everything in one shot. Digital cameras don't see the way human eyes do. Due to this limitation, the indoor will appear to be very dark when the exposure settings are dialled for the window. Try dialling the settings for indoor exposure, this time windows will get overexposed and turn white. In order to solve this problem and produce a photo with maximum details, HDR photography technique is needed. 

What is HDR photography?
The process of taking or producing HDR images is called HDR photography. An HDR image typically consists of 3 (or even more) images. HDR photography allows a user to see both darkest and brightest part of a given scene in the final image. In HDR photography, a user takes multiple shots (3 or 5 or 7) of the same scene by adjusting the exposure value. Most of the DSLR cameras allow automatic exposure bracketing which performs automatic changing of camera settings in between shots. Here is my previous in-depth post about how to do automatic exposure bracketing. Few smartphone and DSLR cameras process HDR images on the fly these days which is an extremely smart way of doing it. This technique is often referred to as in-camera HDR. 
Example: Canon 5D Mark III

Merging software
There are a lot of options to do HDR photography on both Windows PC and an Apple computer. Few of the well known and established product names include: 
-Adobe Lightroom Classic CC
-HDR Efex Pro (DXO Nik Collection)
-Enfuse GUI

Use of HDR images:
-Real Estate. A major application of HDR photography. 
-Night time cityscapes. 

How to do HDR in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC?
Step 1: Take automatic bracketed shots without moving your camera, a tripod helps a lot. The GIF animation below shows an example of 5 brackets shots using my Canon T5i camera. 

Bracketed shots for HDR
5 different exposure shots
Step 2: Import/Copy images to a computer. 
Step 3: Launch Lightroom and import photos in Lightroom.
Steps 4: Select all photos and go to Photo dropdown -> Photo Merge -> HDR. See screenshot below. 

Lightroom setting HDR photography
HDR Photography using Lightroom
Step 5: In the HDR Merge Preview window, select auto align to make sure all the selected images are aligned properly. If you notice a few unnatural transparent areas in the image preview, select the deghost amount value to low. Always start with low and adjust accordingly to achieve the best results. 
HDR photo preview lightroom
Final HDR photo preview in Lightroom Classic CC
Above screenshot shows the final preview of what the output would look like based on the images and settings selected. Honestly, I like the Lightroom HDR tool quite a lot for its ease of usage and simplicity.  

Why photographers despise HDR?
This is a very common and often misunderstood topic of discussion when it comes to HDR photography. What photographers actually don't like is poorly edited HDR images with oversaturated colours and nasty fringing. The strong abomination for HDR over the internet is present because a fair amount of those HDR images have strange colour casts. But why do consumers appear to be okay with any sort of HDR? Is it because photographers are critical about everyone's work including themselves? The second reason does hold true to some extent. Also, professional photographers view tons of images and their livelihood revolves around images whereas consumers get to see far fewer images. So there is a big possibility for them to look at an unnatural looking HDR photo and say "wow" instead of "no". 

Hope this guide helped you understand the basics of HDR photography and how to create HDR photos in Lightroom. Share the photography love by sharing this post. 


Popular posts from this blog

Canon CR3 raw format guide

A raw image file is like a digital negative without any lossy compression and minimal processing applied to it. A digital camera shooting images in raw format provides output in the best possible quality, which means files are larger in size and take more space. The benefits offered by shooting raw format overpowers the slight storage hassle though. Few of the well known raw formats include CR2, NEF, RW2, RAF, PEF, ARW, etc.  In this post, we will talk about the new compressed raw format introduced by Canon starting with its mirrorless series of cameras.

History of Canon raw formats
Back in the early 2000s, Canon cameras produced raw photos in CRW format. Cameras shooting in CRW include Canon D60, Canon D30, Canon 10D, and Canon EOS 300D. Most of the cameras released after the year 2004 shoot raw photos in CR2 format. Examples of CR2 format Canon cameras include 350D, 6D, 7D, 5D, 5D Mark II and many more.
In 2018, Canon introduced its new mirrorless camera known as the EOS M50.  This …

Relation between ISO, shutter speed, aperture and light in photography

Photography is a word having Greek roots, which basically means "drawing with light". When I started doing digital photography a few years ago, this did not make sense to me at all. How can you make a picture just using light? Only light matters? My pictures were either black or completely washed out all the time, but I didn't feel like giving up. It took me a fair amount of time to understand controls such as shutter speed, aperture and ISO which was the outcome of non-stop reading and a lot of mistakes. Coming back to the concept of light, it started to make sense after attending a film photography workshop. The dark room with very dim or near to zero red lights was a whole new point of interest. My partner and I made a pinhole camera out of a pumpkin. 
The workshop made me understand how important light is when taking pictures, and the rules apply to both film and digital photography. Basically, the value of shutter speed and aperture directly affect the amount of li…

F2.8 vs F3.5 vs F4 lens aperture comparison with examples

I started the exciting journey of digital photography with 18-55 mm kit lens as my first glass. Being a variable aperture lens, it has a minimum aperture of F3.5 at 18 mm. The lens saw its fair share of adventures and ultimately was replaced with a fixed aperture lens.   Value of aperture is a part of the exposure triangle, which means it affects the amount of light hitting DSLR camera sensor. In addition to light, it also affects the amount of area in focus which is often referred to as Depth of Field. An image taken at F8 will have almost everything in focus when compared to an image taken at F2.8. Before someone jumps on me with their DOF vocabulary, this post is not about depth of field (DOF) in detail discussion. It is a simple comparison post for beginners to understand how lens aperture impacts background blur and low light performance. 
DSLR used: Canon 6D Lens used: Tamron 24-70 mm F2.8 DI VC USD
Bokeh (background blur) comparison:

Comparison animation in the above photo show…