What is an HDR image, and how does one take and create them?
These are great questions. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. A HDR image is an image that one creates to show for both the detail in the shadows and the highlights. A normal image is either set to expose for one or the other, so an HDR image can be very impressive to see.
How to make your own HDR images.
HDR images are created by combining two or more images that are captured with a resulting HDR image in mind, using software to merge them. The images must be taken in a certain fashion, and the same is true for the editing procedure.
What gear should you use?
Creating your own HDR image is simple, once you understand what you are after. What I mean is that once you understand that you need three images to combine (an image that is exposed for the highlights, one for the shadows, and one overall proper exposure) in order to get one HDR image, you will be further along. These images need to be as close to the same point of reference as possible, so use a tripod. Try to choose a subject that does not move, or make sure that the wind is not blowing things around too much. Any sort of movement will show up as you begin to merge these images.
Secondly, if you have a remote shutter release, now is the time to use it. If you don’t have one, try using the self timer in your camera. The idea here is to get as little camera shake as you possibly can.
Bracketing for exposure.
Next you will need a way to quickly obtain three different exposure values of the same image. The easiest way to do this is by using bracketing. Bracketing is commonly known as “photographers insurance” because some pros use it to make sure that they never miss a shot exposure. Dig out your cameras manual and get bracketing turned on.
The bracketing that you will want to use is “Exposure Bracketing”. Other types of bracketing are white balance bracketing and flash bracketing. Neither of these applies to our quest for an HDR image, so forget about those for now. With your exposure bracketing it is paramount that you make sure that the shutter speed is what changes, and not the aperture. You do not want three images, each with different depth of view in them. I found that a bracketing of 1 stop works fine but you will want to play around some. Read the other tutorials (below) that I supply links to as they discuss some great bracketing procedures more in depth. Bottom line is to use bracketing to get three different images with the same depth of view. I found that putting the camera in manual mode and changing the shutter speed settings myself (as I shot) took too long and supplied way too much unwanted camera shake.
I have tried out several different online tutorials in order to obtain several different looking HDR images, all of which are from the same three RAW/NEF files. These three images will become jpegs and will be used to create three HDR images. I just did three different methods. Here are the three images that I am going to use to create my first ever HDR images.
Then it was time to edit.
I found several promising online tutorials for creating HDR images to choose from, and each one that I have listed (in order) seemed to take an increasing amount of skill. I love the fact that Photoshop allows so many different ways to get to the same place. Try them all, and see which one works best for you. You might find that certain methods work better or worse than others for the images that you are trying to convert.
This first HDR image was made using the tutorial found on this site. It seemed to be the most basic and the easiest Photoshop CS2 HDR tutorial out of the bunch that I tried out. However this HDR image seems to lack a lot of the elements that I was trying to achieve.
The second HDR image merging tutorial that I used can be found here. This seemed to be a little bit more precise, and allowed for better control as it employs layer masks in the process. I like this fact because layer masks give us better control of where to edit and to what degree to edit it. If you ask me, the results are far superior when compared to the first tutorial, but it took twice as long to execute. Plus, it demands a better understanding of working with layer masks.
The third tutorial that I used can be found here. There are three choices of editing for an HDR image on this site, and I went with the second. Once again it employs the use of layer masks. However this certain tutorial was like none other that I had read up to this point. This tutorial is very creative, and comes with some great shortcut keystrokes included. It also uses only the lightest image and the darkest image of the three that you may have shot.
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