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In this course, photographer Ben Long describes the concepts and techniques behind high dynamic range (HDR) photography, a technique used to create images that have a wider range between the lightest and darkest areas of a scene than a digital camera can typically capture. The course begins with some background on dynamic range, on how camera sensors detect shadows, and on the kinds of subjects that benefit from HDR. Ben then describes and demonstrates several methods of generating HDR images, starting with single-shot HDR, which relies on masking to subtly enhance the dynamic range of a shot. Next, the course covers multi-exposure HDR, which involves shooting several photos of a scene, each at a different exposure, and then combining them using software tools. Ben demonstrates how to use Photoshop and the popular Photomatix software to process HDR images whose appearance ranges from subtle to surreal.
I am out here on this old railroad trestle to do a little HDR shooting. And before we get started on how I am going to do that, I want you to notice something. The light is beautiful. I am out here in the late afternoon/early evening because that's when you-- and the plants are getting closer-- because that's when you take good pictures. Just because I'm shooting HDR, just because I am going to have this tremendous amount of dynamic range and color to work with, doesn't mean that I don't have to worry about good light. HDR is not a substitute for good light. I still want the long shadows, I still want the rich textures, I still want the deep color, I still want the nice tone that I get from afternoon light.
You don't go out at noon and because you are shooting HDR, suddenly I have this magic bullet for bad light. So I've waited for the light to turn good, I've looked for subject matter that's going to work well in the good light and here I am. Why did I choose this location? A couple of reasons. It's got all this colored graffiti on it and one of the things that I can do with HDR is really play up those colors. So I think that that colored stuff might look pretty cool-- These plants are just, like, friendly. It's also got all of this rusty texture on it, there are things about to fall over, and I think a lot of that rusty texture is going to get really interesting once it becomes more detaily and kind of crunchy.
HDR is very good for those kinds of effects. What I don't have here is a really high dynamic range situation that I couldn't handle with a normal single exposure. I could shoot the bridge this way. HDR is going to give me this extra color. I'm not having all this overblown highlight or deep dark shadow problem. So this is the case where I am doing HDR just for these more stylized reasons. So I got to get my camera ready before I can do anything. Now as you know, for this to work, I need to shoot three images bracketed one stop apart and those images have to be as identical as possible.
So there are few settings that I need to make. First of all, I need to turn on auto exposure bracketing. Setting auto exposure bracketing varies from camera to camera. On this camera, I go into the menu, I look for AEB, Auto Exposure Bracketing, and I activate it and I am just dialing in the bracketing that I want. I have got -1, 0, and 1. I am going to hit SET and my bracketing is ready. Now when I do that, what's going to happen is when I press the button down the first time, it takes as shot as metered. When I press it the next time, it takes the shot one stop under because of the way that I configured my auto bracket.
When I press it again, it takes a shot one stop over. That gives me three shots bracketed one stop apart. Now I got a lot to do. I am a busy guy. I don't have time to be on my own pressing that shutter button over and over. So I am also going to turn on Drive mode. When I do that, as long as I hold the shutter button down, it will continue to shoot. Because auto bracketing is turned on, it will also automatically bracket those shots. The real reason that I'm doing this, I am actually not that busy of a guy. I have got time to press the button three times, but I need those shots to come as quickly as possible, because when they are composited, they need to be registered as well as they can be.
With Drive mode on, it's going to knock them off pretty quickly and so there's less chance that I am going to suffer from camera shake. Also, it's very windy out here. The plants are blowing around. I want the shots taken as quickly together as possible so that there's less movement. There still might be some ghosting from the movement, but we will try and deal with that later. So I have auto exposure bracketing turned on. I have got Drive mode turned on. If your camera has multiple drive mode speeds, some have a fast and a slow, put it in the fastest mode you can. I have only got the one drive mode speedso I have set it there.
Let's think for a moment about this shot. It's a long railroad trestle. I would like it to all be in focus. That means deep depth of field. That means small aperture. That means I want aperture control. So I put my camera in Aperture Priority mode. When I am in the priority mode and I'm using auto bracketing, the camera will still respect that priority. So I have told it aperture priority and I have dialed in F11. Now when it's bracketing, it's only going to achieve those exposure changes through changes in shutter speed, so I don't have to worry about my depth of field changing from shot to shot, which would look weird when I try to do a merge if far-away stuff is a little bit soft focus.
So once again, Auto Exposure Bracketing, Drive mode, Aperture Priority at F11. Those are a lot of settings to make. I've configured them all. I am ready to start shooting. I want to give you a little hint though. There's an easier way than doing it this way. If your camera has the ability to store custom mode settings and this camera does. On my Mode dial, I have got Program and Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority and Manual. I've also got C1, C2, and C3. Those are custom modes that I can configure any way that I want. I've configured my camera so that when I go to custom mode, I automatically get Aperture Priority at F11, one stop, Auto Exposure Bracketing with three shots, and Drive mode.
So I am ready to go just with that one switch. If you're walking around and you're mixing it up, you are shooting some normal and some HDR stuff, having a custom mode is a really speedy way to work. So with all those settings done, I'm ready to start shooting. How does shooting work? It's pretty simple. I frame and shoot just the way that I always would, but I take extra care to be really stable in my shooting. I keep my arms tucked into my sides. I have got my feet shoulder-width apart. I have got my neck straight. I am pulling my camera all the way to my face and I am just going to be really, really stable to try to ensure that those three shots are as close together as possible.
One other very critical detail if you are using a camera with a very, very high pixel count on its censor. This is a 21-megapixel camera. I have found that when you are shooting handheld with a camera above much more than 15 megapixels, there's a good chance that your software is not going to be able to register your images. I am shooting in RAW mode because we always want to be doing RAW mode if possible for HDR. Fortunately, this camera has something called sRAW mode which cuts the resolution in half. I am set on sRAW so I am actually only shooting at 12 megapixels because I am shooting handheld.
That's going to greatly improve my chances of registering the images. If I was shooting on a tripod, I could put it in full RAW mode at full resolution, but because I am shooting handheld, I cut the resolution down just to help ensure that I am getting better merging. So now I am going to do a little shooting. So I've stabled myself up. I framed my shot. I have very gently squeezed the camera and knock off those three images in quick succession. Bracketing mode is automatically bracketing them for me. I am trying a few different things here.
I want to go a little bit wider on my shot to get more distortion of the structure. So I am moving in closer. And I'm just trying a few different framings. I am not really sure what the keeper is. I like these shadows on the ground. I want to keep them in play here. And that's good, but I also like the symmetry of this thing. So I am going to come out here to the middle and see what happens if I just frame the thing up in the middle of the frame. A lot of times people are afraid to just put something in the middle of the frame because they are afraid that's too regular and boring.
Regular and boring is often very good. Sometimes if you get too fancy, you are just trying to look clever. So I am going to take the boring shot here. Unfortunately, my shadow is in the image. So I am going to come back here and zoom in and see what I can get. I have gone low just to mix it up, just to try different things. I'm working the shot. I'm taking as many different frames as I can think of. It's very, very, very rare that when you're walking around the world and you see the interesting shot that you just happen to be standing in the best location in the world to take that shot. No one goes into a scene, takes one picture, and then goes home with a good image.
Okay, maybe some people do, but it's very, very rare. You have got to work the shot, you got to try everything you can think of, you got to try and mix it up. Now, this blowing grass is a drag. It's moving a lot. It's moving a lot between frames because the wind is really blowing hard. There's a very good chance that that's going to show up as little ghost grass images in my final composite. There's nothing I can do about that short of getting a machete and chopping it all down and I just don't have one in my bag. So my only options are processing options. I can choose to try this as a single shot HDR. That is, to take one image, save out different exposures from it, and try and merge those.
I don't need to go back and shoot separate single-shot images because those bracketed sets that I have shot all have a regularly exposed image in them. There are going to be times when you're out shooting, when you think "While I like this scene, I am not sure if it should be a regular image or an HDR image." Fine! Just shoot the HDR set because you're getting the regular image for free, unless you really, really need to do some special weird metering to get the normal image. For the most part, you can shoot an HDR setting at what you want. Does that mean you should just shoot HDR all the time? No. Some things just don't lend themselves to HDR at all.
Fast-moving subjects. People don't work very well. Their skin tends to turn crunchy and weird. So no, you shouldn't shoot HDR all the time or else you are going to end up with a mess of images that are drag to work with. It's good to get out and experiment and see what kind of affects you can get from HDR. The obvious ones are landscapes. Skies always look great in HDR. They're typically high dynamic range scenes that really benefit from HDR. Objects can look very interesting because they pick up lots of texture. People can look interesting. Interior shots are very good because you can still see things out the windows, shooting objects.
Don't just get fixated that there's one type of image that's good HDR. Go out and experiment, try shooting lots of different things. But then remember that as you learn more about it, that there are times when HDR is a good tool and times when it's not, and as you do this some more, you are going to learn how to mix it up and when it's appropriate to use one or another. Hopefully, what you realized here as the important thing is you got to get out and practice.
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