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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.
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