Ever shot a beautiful beach sunset and found out later that, even with your humongously-expensive Nikon, the picture wasn’t what you remembered the vista to be? That is because our eyes are much better, dynamically-speaking, of capturing light (and the brain in interpreting the vision) than a camera producing a flat 2D image record. When you actually behold that beautiful scene, your eye travels back and forth, the iris adjusting to the amount of light and taking in the details.
High Dynamic Range Imaging is a post-processing method of taking either one image or a series of images, combining them, and adjusting to show the details of the full picture that is virtually impossible with a single aperture and shutter speed with present-day cameras. Keep in mind that in order to do HDR post-processing, you have to shoot in RAW. RAW is an image format that contains the most-detailed image as captured by the camera and then processed minimally to the stage that it can be rendered as a color image by software.
The above picture is of Cape Saint Vincent in Sagres, Portugal, the south-western most point of continental Europe which I took in 2007 originally in RAW. Using Bibble 5 (a RAW converter that is less canggih, in my opinion, than Phase One’s Capture One 5 PRO), I converted the RAW image to 3 tif images in three exposure flavours – +2ev, 0ev and -2ev (dark, as-shot, and light). Why three? Well, the “dark” is so that the highlights are not blown, the “light” to elicit the details in the shadows, and the “as-shot” is the middling shot. I photoshopped a collage of the 3 exposures as below.
Now, all you need is an HDR imaging software, and for that you can not go wrong with Photomatix Pro (download fully functional trial). What Photomatix does is to take the 3 images together and allows you to decide on “tone mapping”,i.e., adjust the software to get more details in the highlights and shadows than you can with a normal photo, and then create an HDR photo. Tone mapping, when used carefully, can create natural-looking photos, or artsy-looking, if you feel so inclined. The picture below (from EasyHDR, another HDR imaging software) should explain this concept clearer.
Just so you know, the RAW picture was taken by a Canon 300D, a 7-year old DSLR model – a lifetime in digital camera technology terms. Still, as far as my memory serves me, the HDR pic (click on first picture) is as I saw of beautiful Cabo de São Vicente. I hope the old man did not jump off the cliff when I left.
One final note: HDR photography purists will argue that true HDR pictures must be made from 3 differently-exposed shots taken on site as opposed to using one RAW file. On this, let us just say, I will blog on that (and show the results) another day.