High-Dynamic Range

Normal Exposure (0)

Normal Exposure (0)

The human eye is truly extraordinary.

In daytime, we can easily  see details in BOTH the dark shadows and the bright sky, Take a photograph of it though, and we end up with either a blown-out sky, dark shadows with no detail or both.

This is not the fault of inaccurate meter-reading, it's simply a camera's inability to truly capture the full dynamic range of a scene. A visual range that you and I take for granted.

Again, we see everything in the brights and the darks, cameras don't.

Right from the very beginning of photography, it was obvious that a single exposure was just incapable  of capturing the entire tonal range of many scenes.

Often, we have to decide what we are prepared to sacrifice for the sake of the overall photograph: Will it be the sky or the shadows?

Enter: High-Dynamic Range  photography (HDR)

Few developments in the world of photography has ignited as much discussion, and inflamed such passions, as the emergence of HDR. 

Do an internet search for "Good HDR"  and "Bad HDR"  and you'll see just what I mean.

The process involves taking multiple photos of the same subject. One photo will have a normal (0) exposure. Others will be over-exposed by a stop or two to brighten the shadows, and also under-exposed by a stop or two to darken up a bright sky.

We can achieve greater dynamic range of a scene by combining only 2 exposures, but many people will shoot more so they have a greater palette to work with during processing.

Once in the computer, these different photographs are blended together to create one single image which shows much greater details in the highlights, the shadows and everywhere in between.

The new HDR image can be made into something which is either realistic-looking (where it looks like a regular image) OR it can be over-processed  into an image that borders on the surreal.

It all depends on the software being used and what we want our final image to look like.

In the slideshow example, I provide multiple images: the original exposures the camera recorded, an image a typical HDR-program might create on it's default settings and also what I blended myself (cropping included).

Personally, I prefer to do the HDR blending myself.

I find that often times an HDR program gives me too  surreal an image to work with, especially in this case. There's a heavy contrast to the image and a halo around the edges of the trees. As I work on this image, those are areas I will have to constantly monitor and repair.

It's much better to do it yourself and yet, there are times when I am having a particular problem blending an image, and the program actually does a pretty decent job with no heavy contrast our halos. Go figure.

Sometimes, only 2 photos are all it takes to provide the tonal range we're looking for, while other times it can take more: 3, 5, maybe 7 photos in extreme cases. It's always better to take too many photographs than to not take enough, especially when it comes to HDR.

In the slideshow example, I showed JPG versions of the original RAW  images, dust spots and all. RAW is the complete unprocessed image that a camera's digital sensor records.

RAW is a flat image, dull and rather devoid of color.

Don't be fooled though. Once we begin processing a RAW image, that's when we see all the magnificent detail and color. The downside with RAW is that it generates a VERY large file in comparison to a JPG image.

A JPG takes all the information the digital sensor recorded, throws a lot of it away, then it will compress the hell out of what's left and create a final, much smaller image file. 

Now, once this information is discarded... it's gone forever.

Since RAW keeps all the information intact, it can still be used as software capabilities continue to increase. Our RAW file is along for the ride, limited only by the original camera and lens we used.

A JPG is forever locked into the moment it was created, with little ability to be improved in the future.

"Remember, not everything is a picture. A good eye can edit before the shutter opens."

Craig Coverdale

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