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Understanding high-dynamic range (HDR)

From: Shooting with the Nikon D800

Video: Understanding high-dynamic range (HDR)

Any scene that you look at has a dynamic range; that is, it has a range of brightness. One of the things that complicates the photographic process is that your eye can perceive a much wider dynamic range than your camera can. That is, it can see a much greater range of dark to light. So, while your eye might be able to see details in bright highlights and dark shadows within your scene, your camera will only be able to see detail in one or the other. In high-dynamic range imaging, or HDR, you shoot multiple frames, each exposed to capture a different part of the dynamic range.

Understanding high-dynamic range (HDR)

Any scene that you look at has a dynamic range; that is, it has a range of brightness. One of the things that complicates the photographic process is that your eye can perceive a much wider dynamic range than your camera can. That is, it can see a much greater range of dark to light. So, while your eye might be able to see details in bright highlights and dark shadows within your scene, your camera will only be able to see detail in one or the other. In high-dynamic range imaging, or HDR, you shoot multiple frames, each exposed to capture a different part of the dynamic range.

Then you use special software to combine these multiple images into a single final image that has detail across all of its highlights and shadows. Your camera has the ability to shoot and merge HDR images automatically in-camera. I've got a situation with a pretty big dynamic range here. Over there on the left, I've got a movie projector that's very dark, and then I have these flowers back here that are very light. We haven't yet covered Live View for the D800, but we'll be devoting an entire chapter to that later in this course. But it's going to be much easier if you can see what's going on in my viewfinder, so I'm going to go ahead and turn it on.

Here, you can see what my camera is seeing: very, very dark projector, very light flowers back there. I'm in Program mode right now. If I just take a picture, let's see what I get. I get decent exposure on the projector. There is a lot of dark detail in there that I can't see though, because the metering has opted to try to protect the highlights on the flowers. So let's say I wanted to brighten this up. What I might normally do is dial in some exposure compensation.

So I'm going to dial in, say, one stop of exposure compensation. Now, if I take my shot, I'm going to get much better detail on the projector. Look at all the stuff I can see in here now. But boy, the flowers have gone out completely. They are completely overexposed to white. This is a situation that HDR can really help you solve. Let me first turn my Exposure Compensation back down to 0, and them I'm going to go into the menu here. In my Shooting menu, a little ways down, you'll find something called HDR, High Dynamic Range.

It defaults to off of course. I need to turn it on. There are two different ons that I have access to. First is On single photo. This means that I'm going to take one HDR, which actually involves taking a few photos. Or I can set it on series. This means it's just going to stay in HDR mode till I tell it to turn off. So, if I think I'm going to need to work this a little bit and try a few different things, then I might want to leave it here; otherwise, I should put it here because it's the camera's way of protecting me from accidentally leaving the feature on.

I won't do this HDR, forget to turn it off, and end up screwing up the next thing I try to shoot. So, I'm going to set it there. Exposure Differential controls how much exposure change I want between each shot. HDR works by shooting a series of images, each exposed a little bit differently and combining different parts of each image. Auto works very well. It will automatically calculate a good exposure differential. If I want some more control, I can say give me one exposure value between each exposure or two or three.

You can think of that is the same as one stop. I'm going to leave it on Auto. Finally, Smoothing: smoothing controls how the different parts of the different frames are combined. And ideally, you want to keep your Smoothing setting as low as possible. You can see I've got three settings here. As they go higher, you're going to get more of a HDR look. It's going to look more processed. It's going to look more kind of hyper-realistic. So, my recommendation is to keep it as low as possible. I'm just going to go with the default there. So with those all set, when I come back out here, I will have an HDR icon in my status display.

I can also see an HDR icon down here. I'm ready to shoot just as I normally would. I'm going to meter my shot and focus. And now I simply press the button. It's actually shooting two images there. It does a little work, does a little processing. It merges them, and then it stores the file. So, I'm back to Live View here. This is not an imagery view. To see my final image, I need to go into Playback mode. And here it is! So, notice I've got all this detail over here, and I've still got detail on my flowers back there. By comparison, here is the overexposed shot.

So, you can see that, yes, I had detail in here, but I lost all this out here. The HDR image preserves that. Let me delete that image, so that you can see side-by-side the HDR version and the original shot. So, my flowers have actually even picked up a little detail in the HDR version that they didn't have in my normal shot. And of course, I've picked up a lot more detail here over what I had here. So, this is a great use for HDR, for times where you've got really dark things and really bright things in the frame and you want detail in both of them.

Now, of course you can also do HDR merges on your computer by simply shooting three frames each exposed, say, one stop apart, and then merging them using special software. Photoshop has HDR functionality built-in. What's nice about this is it saves you that postproduction step. Of course you're giving up some of the control. Note that when it's saved the HDR file, it did not save any of the original images that were used to create that HDR, so I do not have the option of merging this myself when I get home.

If I want to do that, then I need to go back and separately shoot three images on their own. If you'd like to learn more about HDR, you can find out everything you need to know in my course Shooting and Processing High Dynamic Range Photographs.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Shooting with the Nikon D800
Shooting with the Nikon D800

107 video lessons · 13352 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 9m 28s
    1. Welcome
      2m 16s
    2. What is an SLR?
      5m 18s
    3. Using this course
      1m 54s
  2. 30m 59s
    1. Exploring basic camera anatomy
      6m 34s
    2. Attaching a lens
      3m 28s
    3. Inserting media cards and a battery
      6m 14s
    4. Powering up
      2m 8s
    5. Working with menu navigation and factory defaults
      3m 1s
    6. Setting the date and time
      1m 50s
    7. Setting the language
      1m 20s
    8. Formatting the media card
      2m 15s
    9. Holding the camera
      4m 9s
  3. 26m 35s
    1. What are shooting modes?
      2m 11s
    2. Exploring the viewfinder display
      4m 41s
    3. Using the LCD screen protector
      46s
    4. Autofocus basics
      2m 42s
    5. Metering basics
      1m 31s
    6. Reviewing images
      2m 21s
    7. Working with image playback
      7m 16s
    8. Adjusting beeps and timers
      1m 52s
    9. Changing button behavior
      2m 2s
    10. Using screen tips
      1m 13s
  4. 26m 58s
    1. Exploring Program mode
      50s
    2. Working with exposure compensation
      4m 16s
    3. Changing ISO
      2m 30s
    4. Using auto ISO
      4m 25s
    5. Exploring Flexible Program
      2m 49s
    6. Exploring image format and size
      6m 18s
    7. Setting a virtual horizon
      2m 17s
    8. Setting the color space
      1m 22s
    9. Configuring multiple media cards
      2m 11s
  5. 12m 49s
    1. Exploring focus modes
      2m 6s
    2. Exploring autofocus area modes
      4m 50s
    3. Using focus points
      1m 57s
    4. Using manual focus
      3m 56s
  6. 9m 57s
    1. Using auto white balance
      1m 1s
    2. Working with white balance presets
      3m 8s
    3. Adjusting white balance manually
      5m 48s
  7. 11m 54s
    1. Exploring Continuous mode
      5m 56s
    2. Exploring Quiet mode
      53s
    3. Using the self-timer
      3m 26s
    4. Locking the mirror up
      1m 39s
  8. 34m 40s
    1. Exploring metering modes
      3m 4s
    2. Using the auto exposure lock
      4m 35s
    3. Exploring Aperture Priority mode
      3m 3s
    4. Using depth of field preview
      2m 50s
    5. Exploring Shutter Priority mode
      2m 32s
    6. Working in Manual mode
      2m 40s
    7. Exposure bracketing
      6m 40s
    8. Using Active D-Lighting
      1m 19s
    9. Using the Vignette Control feature
      1m 6s
    10. Using the Auto Distortion Control feature
      58s
    11. Using long exposure noise reduction
      1m 41s
    12. Using high ISO noise reduction
      1m 22s
    13. Using the Bulb setting in Manual mode
      1m 2s
    14. Using the Info button
      1m 48s
  9. 19m 54s
    1. Adjusting LCD brightness
      2m 31s
    2. Protecting and deleting images
      4m 43s
    3. Hiding images
      1m 35s
    4. Toggling the Rotate Tall feature on and off
      50s
    5. File naming
      1m 21s
    6. Creating a file number sequence
      2m 35s
    7. Creating storage folders
      2m 3s
    8. Adding copyright info
      1m 50s
    9. Using in-camera retouching
      2m 26s
  10. 7m 14s
    1. Using the fill flash
      1m 48s
    2. Using Flash mode
      3m 18s
    3. Working with flash exposure compensation
      2m 8s
  11. 22m 25s
    1. Understanding high-dynamic range (HDR)
      5m 38s
    2. Creating multiple exposures
      3m 38s
    3. Using the interval timer
      5m 42s
    4. Shooting time-lapse photography
      1m 19s
    5. Working with the image area
      4m 25s
    6. Using the remote control
      1m 43s
  12. 8m 33s
    1. Defining picture controls
      2m 7s
    2. Selecting a picture control
      1m 38s
    3. Modifying a picture control
      2m 38s
    4. Using the monochrome picture control
      2m 10s
  13. 15m 42s
    1. Activating Live View
      8m 9s
    2. Focusing in Live View
      5m 27s
    3. Reviewing some Live View drawbacks
      2m 6s
  14. 17m 27s
    1. Configuring and activating video
      4m 34s
    2. Focusing and working with exposure
      7m 11s
    3. Using Playback mode
      3m 17s
    4. Customizing movie controls
      2m 25s
  15. 12m 44s
    1. Using menu banks
      3m 31s
    2. Using the My Menu feature
      2m 12s
    3. Customizing controls
      4m 0s
    4. Autofocus fine-tuning
      1m 25s
    5. Saving and loading settings
      1m 36s
  16. 14m 5s
    1. Working with custom settings
      51s
    2. Using the Focus Priority feature
      2m 15s
    3. Using the AF Activation feature
      1m 34s
    4. Controlling the number of focus points
      36s
    5. Using ISO sensitivity step value
      1m 8s
    6. Working with EV steps for exposure control
      1m 7s
    7. Using exposure flash compensation step value
      1m 1s
    8. Turning on easy exposure compensation
      1m 31s
    9. Using Exposure Delay mode
      1m 20s
    10. Using the Assign FN button
      2m 42s
  17. 6m 45s
    1. Camera sensor cleaning
      3m 29s
    2. Exploring operating conditions and temperatures
      1m 57s
    3. Getting firmware updates
      1m 19s
  18. 15m 43s
    1. Exploring focus and composition
      4m 55s
    2. Using an exposure strategy
      6m 50s
    3. Controlling exposure through Program mode
      3m 58s
  19. 22s
    1. Goodbye
      22s

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