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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 can create a single shot or faux HDR Efex in Photoshop rather in the way you would think I would, by simply taking a RAW file, processing it in three different ways, and then merging the results. If you were to sit down and just try and think your way through this problem, you'd probably have no trouble figuring it out, but let's walk through it anyway. Let's say that I had only shot one image of this car instead of the full bracketed set and I had shot it as metered. So I am going to open that image up in Photoshop and of course, it's a RAW file, so I get my RAW dialog box.
Now normally when I am passing the RAW files off to another HDR program, I don't worry about any RAW conversion parameters. In fact, I am not even given the chance to adjust RAW conversion parameters. I want to simply hand the full data set from each file off to the RAW converter. Here though I do need to think about things that I might want to do in the RAW converter. If I had overexposed highlights, I would want to recover them. In this case I think I might want to make a white balance adjustment, because that's not something I can do very easily after the fact. So I am going to warm that up a little bit.
In addition to being easier than trying to warm an image up in Photoshop, it's also a free edit. It doesn't use up any of the edit ability of my image, meaning I am not going to lose data, I am not going to possibly run into tone breaks. So that's pretty good. I think I am going to leave that right there. I am going to check my exposure. My exposure is set at 0 and this was the image that I shot as exposed. So I don't want to do anything else to this. I do want to remember white balance adjustments that I made. Fortunately that's going to be stored in the XMP file that gets saved alongside the RAW file.
I am going to hit Open and let it process and making sure that it's coming in as a 16-bit image, and now I am going to save it. So I may go up here and choose File, Save As, and I have a folder out here on my desktop. So I am just going to call this exposure value 0 and I am going to save this as TIFF file, and say OK. I could save it as a TIFF or PSD. It doesn't really matter which I am saving as a TIFF file just in case I decide to go take this to some HDR processor that doesn't support Photoshop documents, although I am actually going to end up processing this back here in Photoshop.
Now I am going back to Bridge and you can see that my thumbnail has updated with that white balance change that I made. I am going to open the image again. Everything is right where I left it last time, so I don't need to fiddle with any of that. I am just going to put in a +1 Exposure and open that image. I lost my sky here, picked up some detail here. Go to Save As, and go back to my single shot folder, and now I am going to save a same file named ev+1. You can name these whatever you want.
I mean you could name them Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, if you want to. I am just trying to keep track of which is which exposure. I am going to close that and now my thumbnail updates here. Open that again and I am going to dial in a -1 Exposure. My white balance is still where it was before, open that, and I am going to save this as ev-1. Obviously if this was a bigger bracket, if I shot 5 or 7 images, I would need to go through and continue to process and save these stepping that Exposure value out by 1 stop in each direction.
Close that up and now in Bridge I am going to navigate up to my desktop to this single shot folder. Well, look-y here. It has got me a bracketed set of images. Although not really. As I mentioned in Chapter 2 there is a difference between lowering the exposure of an image that you already have and actually lowering the exposure and shooting. Photoshop cannot create data. Ys, it can do that to a degree when it does highlight recovery. But it's not the same as actually capturing it the same, because remember, your camera has a limited dynamic range, and so when I take that dynamic range and point it at a lower end of the photographic spectrum, if you will, I am going to capture a different set of data.
So I am going to select these three images, Tools > Photoshop > Merge to HDR Pro, just as I would do with any other bracketed set. First thing it does is it give me this warning that I am not working from the original RAW files. It's worded a little strange, but I am just going to say OK, I know what I am in for and it goes ahead and does its normal merge. Layering all of the images together into a single 32-bit file and then it's going to give me my normal Tone Mapping dialog. And just as in Photomatix and HDR Efex, my controls will work the same but they are not going to have the same latitude that I would get if I was working with a true bracketed set.
Now I am going to switch over down to 16-bit here and I've got all my usual controls that I had before. So I am going to try to put some contrast back in the image by increasing the Shadows and remember again, that means I drag Shadows to the left, decrease the Highlights some and just try to get this back to where it was, and it is always interesting how sliders have a feel in your hand as you move them around and kind of feel the change that happens in. Right away I am feeling like, Wow! These aren't doing anything.
Again, it's what you would expect and it's what you get again with Photomatix or HDR Efex. They just don't have the latitude, they don't have the effect. You can't get the sky looking the way that I did before. Still, this is a nice alternative for times when shooting a bracketed set isn't possible, but if you are going to do a lot of single shot HDR, you are going to do far better using Photomatix or HDR Efex.
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