HDR is a subject that polarises people pretty clearly into one of two camps – “Love it” or “Hate it”. It is possible to use HDR tastefully, but amongst the challenges faced by landscape photographers wanting to extend the dynamic range of their photographs is how to deal with movement.
The traditional approach to HDR has the photographer take a series of, usually three or five, bracketed shots, combining them in post processing to gain a larger dynamic range than would be possible with one shot. The way this usually works is one shot is taken at 0, one each at + and -1 compensation and optionally, one each at + and – 2 compensation. In this way, in a typical landscape consisting of a bright sky and a darker land mass, the detail of the sky can be retrieved from one of the – frames and the detail of the land from one of the + frames. Combined you get something equivalent to what the eye sees. Of course a moving object such as spray in the photograph above, causes problems because of the time lag between the three or five shots.
There are a couple of ways of dealing with this. With something like spray, because it is so fine, I used Nik HDR Pro. I took one photograph and made two virtual copies in Lightroom. I adjusted the exposure on the two copies to bring out the dynamic range I wanted – this was taken during the golden hour, on Brighton beach, and then combined them using the HDR software.
This picture of the Peace Angel was done differently. Because the elements I wanted, Sky and Statue were graphically easy to define, I opted to use a technique called double processing in Photoshop. I processed one layer with an eye on the sky, ignoring the fact the statue was in silhouette by the time I’d got the sky looking the way I wanted it. I then created another layer, from the original, and worked on the statue. To complete, I combined the two shots, adjusting the opacity until I got the right blend.
I like to think both of these images are pretty close to how I saw them when I took the original shots. Both have that little bit of extra drama that we associate with HDR, but hopefully neither could be classified as HDR Horrors!
The annual obsession with poppies very nearly passed me by this year, in fact it would have done had I not been asked to join a meeting in Portsmouth on Wednesday.
As I drove west on the A27 from Brighton, I saw the most amazing field of poppies, at least a quarter of a mile square, absolutely wall to wall. Naturally it was on the other side of the dual carriageway and I was already running slightly late. I filed it away for later.
On the way back, the weather started to deteriorate and rather gloomily I started to work out the possibilities of catching this field in the early morning. A few spots of rain duly appeared, as if to mock me as I approached Shoreham.
To cut a long story short, the rain stopped and so did I, right next to the field. Jumped over the fence and followed a well trodden path into the centre of the field. Given the weather and the fact I only had my Canon G1X to hand, I decided to bracket the shots and try to make something of them later in HDR Efex Pro. All of the shots were taken three times at normal exposure and + – 1 compensation. The idea was to get the detail in the sky as well as the texture of the flowers. No tripod, very steady hands!
This is my favourite from that mini-shoot because the inclusion of the green field on the left gives shape to the poppies and a sense of depth. Some of the other shots had more dramatic skies, but it’s a subjective choice.
Tomorrow, I’m off on my travels again. First stop Arles for the photography festival, second stop Spain. Watch this space for a big announcement in three weeks time!
The technique involves exposing a range of identically framed shots at shutter speeds calculated to expose for points between the darkest and lightest parts of an image. By default, where an image contains extremes of light and dark, cameras only expose perfectly for a part of the picture, whereas the naked eye is quick enough to compensate for the variations in light reflecting from the various surfaces included in the field of vision. The picture here for example might have been challenging because the sky is much brighter than the tree so a choice for a single exposure would be to expose for the sky, leaving the tree as a silhouette, or to expose for the tree, leaving the sky to be blown out. With HDR I take a range of shots at different shutter speeds and build a composite in software to get the optimal exposures combined in one image.
I’ve used Nik Software’s HDR Pro 2 for these shots, partly because I’m a big fan of Silver Efex Pro, their essential Black & White plug in for Lightroom & Photoshop, and partly because I’m trying to achieve results that are on the lifelike end of the scale, something that Nik advertise as a strength of their software. This is an entirely subjective decision, I like drama in a photograph, but like Techno or Heavy Metal, it can be wearing if it’s applied indiscriminately. Objectively, I decided that using realism as a yardstick would present a measurable and repeatable test of the software.
Those familiar with Nik Software will know that the user is presented with a range of presets, choose one that is close to what you want to achieve and fine tune it. All of the presets are achievable from the default image in any case, and some people prefer to start with the default and add to it selectively.
I use Adobe Lightroom to organise my pictures, here the original images are exported to HDR Pro. Note that the behaviour of other Nik plug ins is different, the user chooses “Edit in….”. This is slightly confusing, but makes sense since this is not an edit, but a composite of multiple images. The images are automatically aligned, but that doesn’t mean that you can throw random images at it. Ideally, the shots should be taken using a tripod so they match pretty exactly. I separated the images by one half stop, so in this case from -1.5 to +1 on the meter, giving me six images ranging from darkest to lightest. They don’t have to be in order, I shot the dark darler images progressively from 0 and then shot the lighter images. The software loads the images, aligns them and produces (in time) the default HDR image.
HDR Pro 2 does not work with presets from HDR Pro which may disappoint some people. The reason is the software has been radically overhauled, using new tone mapping algorithms and bringing the user interface into line with Nik’s other programs so legacy presets are now deprecated. It won’t take long before new presets are available, but for now, including the default rendering, there are 28 presets ranging from the realistic, through black & white to the properly hallucinatory. The screen can be split showing both the default and the edit in progress and the controls offer Nik’s proprietory U-Point technology to work on sections of the picture and a range of generalised controls allowing the user to adjust tone mapping, colour, contrast etc across the whole image.
I’m beginning to like this software, it achieves what should be the aim of all software; it allows the user to get on with the creative work rather than wrestle with obscure and obdurate user interfaces. I’m not a massive fan of the overblown school of HDR Photography although the results are undeniably impressive, however HDR is an interesting branch of photography. The software, be it Photomatix, HDR Pro or Photoshop itself is getting more sophisticated and it certainly has a place in the kitbag.