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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.
If you're interested in HDR, I'm assuming this because you're a somewhat experienced photographer. And as a somewhat experienced photographer, there should be some postproduction habits that you already have. Things that you just do without even thinking once you get into your image editor. For example, worrying about overexposed highlights, checking to be sure you got the detail that you want in your shadows, paying attention to the overall contrast in your image and making sure that it's correct. If you're working in color, checking out your white balance, making sure your image doesn't have any color cast problems.
All of these things are the normal work of a good photographer and they all apply to HDR images also. But HDR images have their own set of additional concerns on top of those normal photographic concerns, and we're going to look at those real quick in this movie. Before we do though I want to show you an image that we're going to be looking at in a minute in terms of some HDR issues it has. But first I want you to take a look at this. I shot this image of moving subject matter as in HDR with the intention of it ending up all blurred and smeared like this.
I intentionally waited until there was movement in the frame and I purposely did not turn on any anti-ghosting features in my merging software, because I knew that sometimes it's cool the way that HDR does produce ghosts. So this is something else you can play with, when you're out looking for HDR subject matter. Here's another example. Again, shooting this with the idea that it would be merged and ghostwritten by the time that I was done. So, that's something you want to experiment with. Let's go back to this image though. I liked all those movements down here, what really bugs me in this image is up here these power-lines.
These are what are powering the streetcar. They've got this weird kind of halo around them. Notice how they look like they're actually kind of pushed into the clouds. It's because there are dark and light lines on either side. You can also see a little bit of haloing around this building. Haloing is something you really want to keep an eye on in your HDR Merges. Now I'm going to be honest with you, haloing is not nearly the problem that it used to be if you're using the latest version of a modern piece of HDR software. Doing this same merge that produced this image in the latest version of Photomatix won't produce these halos.
If you're using older software, there's a better chance that you're going to see haloing. Also, if you push the settings too far in the HDR software you're using, you might get some halos. The point here with this lesson is watch for these. If you're starting to see a halo developed, you need to back off your settings. Also haloing really varies from one image to another. I want to show you another example of haloing, and again, honestly I had trouble finding halo examples with the latest Photomatix, because it's very, very good. This is a much older version of Photomatix.
This is version 2-point-something, and this is a more typical form of haloing that you're going to see. Notice around these posts, there is just this lighter halo, this white fuzzy area around it. This is one of the first things that you'll notice in bad HDR here. You can see it over here. It's just every area of sudden contrast change gets this bit bright halo around it and you just really don't want that. Let me get zoomed in into a little bit more. You can really see that in there. So watch out for halos when you're doing your merge.
If you want to try to get them under control in Photomatix that's going to be the smoothing controls that we looked at earlier and you had several of them that we can work with. But again, hopefully, if you're using good modern HDR software, you're not going have to worry too much about that. I want to talk about color and detail. Here is an image that looks really HDR-y. It's got all its detail in it. It's got all this color. These greens are really saturated, these yellows are really saturated, the sky is really saturated. Here is another example, lots and lots of detail and color throughout.
And this is an image that you'd probably immediately recognize as an HDR for those very reasons. Lots of detail, lots of color, lots of really good exposure. It's also what makes these images look inherently unrealistic, because the fact is our eyes do not see the world this way, particularly in a landscape. Largely because of atmosphere. These colors out here should not be as saturated as these colors up here, because there's a lot more atmospheric haze even on a clear day between me and these distant objects, compared to me and these close-up objects.
So when you're looking for how to improve your HDR images, if you're feeling like, boy, this looks too manipulated and HDR-y, then you want to think about backing off on your color saturation, backing off on your detail, because something else that's happening is I'm getting lots and lots of detail, even in things far away. And in the real world again, haze and poor eyesight and lots of other things compromise my ability to see detail in things that are far away. So I'm going to want to play with my microcontrast and detail controls in my HDR merging software.
I'm using those terms in a somewhat generic way. Depending on what software you're using, those will be called different things, but there will be controls and a good piece of HDR processing software to handle all of those things. One last bit, let's go back to this image. There is something else in this image that is actually just outright wrong, and by wrong I mean something that doesn't occur in the real world, and that is in bright sunlight the bottom of the cloud being completely black. That just doesn't happen. And this was shot in Oklahoma where you get weird weather and weird clouds and sometimes the sky turns green, but you never get dark black on the bottom, so that something you want to look out for.
And in Photomatix, you're going to be able to control that. I mentioned this earlier, again with highlight smoothing. You're going to be able to reduce the amount of contrast in the highlights between the lightest and darkest place. So keep an eye out for those three things as you're assessing your HDR images: halos, black bottoms on clouds, and the overall amount of color and detail you have in your image. A lot of times in classes I know that students get frustrated by is there is so much I can do in my image editor, I don't know what I should do, I don't know if I should add this feature, I don't know if I should add that effect, I don't know if I should push an edit this far.
It can be overwhelming, and it can lead you to just feeling stuck and lost. One great way to put some limits on the huge amount of possibilities in your image editor is to understand that sometimes if you push an edit to a certain point, you end up with visible artifacts, where things that simply don't look real. For example, in this image I know I need to back off on this darkening. I need to back off on some of the color adjustments, I need to back off in the amount of detail. While it may sound limiting to say I have to back off on these things, sometimes it can be very liberating to know that if I keep an eye out for halos, color, and detail problems, it's going to help me have fewer options and that's going to make it a little bit easier to not get overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of image-editing power that I have.
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