Adventures with HDR

Sometimes it seems that a new idea sweeps across the landscape, somehow making its way into every photography magazine and website I read. Lately, I haven't been able to avoid the term HDR. From at least some of what I read, high dynamic range is going to replace megapixel count as the new holy grail.

A recent trip to Joshua Tree, California, gave me a good chance to experiment with HDR. The results? I'll stick with a good single exposure and a few adjustments, thank you very much.

Here's what I did: While in the desert, I bracketed quite a few shots, using a tripod to make it easier to align the images. Back at home, I tried PhotoShop's HDR automation, spending quite a bit of time tweaking my curves during the process. I was moderately happy with the results, but I decided to try adjusting the shadows and highlights in my original exposure (the one that seemed to capture the best range of tones). In every case, adjusting one exposure was more useful for me than the automated HDR process.

My conclusion from this experiment is NOT that HDR isn't important and useful. I've read enough to know that the issue is that I need to get more experience in this technique. There are lots of promising guides out there, and I am looking forward to another chance to put them into practice. For now, though, I'll stick with trying to capture the best exposure, then adjust it as well as I can.

Photo credits: Charles Sichel-outcalt.

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April 07, 2008


Mel, how did you get the tonality in this image? It's amazing--is that the light, or PS/Plug-In, or both?

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April 01, 2008


I tried some HDR editing about a year ago and had pretty good results using the PhotoMatrix plug-in that Anthro mentioned. I tried to do the same in CS2 with less control and it was a lot more time consuming. Tone mapping and HDR make for some breathtaking images but they are far from being realistic. I'm with you on this one, thanks.

March 13, 2008


Thanks for the tip. I'll look into this.

Irisangel, your images are terrific, too. Thanks for the nice words, especially from someone with such talent.

March 13, 2008


Did you work with a Tone Mapping plugin like PhotoMatix at all? Without tonal adjustments all Photoshop HDR really does is provided you with an extended range of potential exposure adjustment (ok - that's a really broad/rough definition). With Tone Mapping on an HDR image you can bring it all together. A good video overview can be had here:

March 13, 2008


Just when I think I am beginning to really understand something about Photography, they throw in something new. Oh, Boy, HDR, I am clueless, guess it's time to do some studying. Thanks.
P.S. Your images are amazing!

March 13, 2008


I hadn't thought of searching on HDR as a keyword. Excellent idea!

Glad you liked the Joshua Tree photos. I have quite a few more in the 'waiting for review' queue, so I'm hoping to add more to my collection soon.

March 13, 2008


I agree with you on the uses of HDR. The more "unreal" effects are more interesting but probably not too useful in stock. There are quite a few photos with that keyword, though. Coincidently I just checked that out a couple days ago!

I've been enjoying your Joshua Tree shots...

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