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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.
When you encounter a scene with very high dynamic range, there are several different ways that you can choose to handle it. In Foundations of Photography: Exposure we looked at three ways of handling backlight situations. Fill flash, intentionally overexposing, or using a different metering mode. These options will help even out the exposure, so that your foreground element is well exposed, but they won't necessarily capture the full dynamic range of your scene. Depending on your image, you might still have an overexposed sky or an underexposed shadow area in your scene somewhere.
If you want to really capture more dynamic range, then you'll need to resort to one of these tactics. First, you can try to assess if there's really a picture to be had. There may not be, because it may simply not be possible to capture a usable image in some situations, especially if you're shooting into bright lights or something which can cause bad flare on your lens. Hopefully though, you'll find that one of these alternatives works. If you're shooting a landscape or another type of image where the very bright part of the scene is delineated by a horizon like line, then you can try fitting your lens with a Graduated Neutral Density filter or ND filter.
An ND filter cuts out light without altering any of its properties and a Graduated ND filter performs this cut through a gradient, so there's a lot of cut on one side of the image and a smooth transition through to no cut on the other. This will dim the brightest parts of the image, effectively reducing the dynamic range back to something that your camera can capture. Because it's a graduated effect, you won't see any kind of harsh dividing the line. Now what's tricky about a graduated filter is that it can be hard to get that boundary of filtration positioned just right, and anything in your scene that sticks up into the bright part of the image, or a building sticking up in front of the horizon for example, that'll also get filtered.
Still, if you shoot a lot of landscapes, carrying a Graduated ND filter is not a bad idea. Another option is to shoot the image like you normally would and then use your image editor to restore the part of your image that's beyond your camera's dynamic range. For example, here's an image we're going to work with later when we get to the postproduction portion of this course, wherein we darken the sky and make some other changes to fit the full dynamic range back into our image. If you're going to this, then you want to expose for the highlights.
That is, expose so that the highlights in your scene are not overblown. This means that the bright bits will look good so you'll be using your image editor to brighten the dark parts of the image. Doing this we require masking and an understanding of tonal adjustments in your image editor. Now the advantage to this technique is that you can shoot the way you always do, but disadvantage is that that masking bit can be tricky. If you need to mask around trees or flowing hair or something partially transparent or any other difficult masking subject. Any of that's going to put you into a lot of hard work.
Also, as we learned, because of the nature of linear image capture, really dark shadow areas often don't have much image data in them and they might be noisy. So you may only be able to brighten those areas so far before you exaggerate noise or introduce other visible artifacts of some kind. Another option, shoot two exposures, one exposed for the brightest part of the image and another exposed for the darkest, then you can take those two images into your image editor and composite them, so that you take the best bits from each.
This will allow you to have extreme highlight and shadow detail in a single final image. Now performing that composite is going to require masking to get the images to blend together. So again, if you've got difficult masking subject matter, leafy trees or hair or fluffy animals or waving wheat, you might have a difficult time creating an effective mask. Also, if there's something in your image that's moving, you want to make sure that it's not located on that scene where you're going to blend your images. These are all valuable techniques and we'll look at all of them in this course, but there is one more process that's significant enough that it gets its own movie.
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