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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.
Taking a picture involves answering a lot of questions and solving a lot of problems. How should I frame my shot, how can I frame all those power lines, do I want motion to be blurry or frozen, do I want deep depth of field, how can I work around that backlighting, how can I preserve detail where I want it? HDR techniques are just another set of tools that you have at your disposal for addressing all of those various problems. HDR techniques will not help you with every image. On some images they'll have no effect at all. But as we've seen and as we'll be exploring throughout this course, for certain situations HDR techniques give you another way to solve particular photographic problems.
For the entire history of photography, photographers have been dealing with the fact that that their cameras cannot capture the full range that they can see with their eyes. Because of that limitation, photographic vocabulary developed around the ideas of light and shadow and their interplay. And so, as photographers, we frequently choose to plunge shadows into darkness or choose to let highlights blowout the complete white. As viewers and even just as people who shoot snapshots, we've all become used to photographs that look like, you know, photographs.
We're used to not seeing detail in every shadow and highlight. HDR changes all that. Suddenly we have the ability to have perfect exposure throughout our image. This has a few impacts on our jobs as photographers. First, it can make an image look really flat. Your main job as a photographer is to ensure that the viewer understands what is the subject of your image and what is the background. But if everything is exposed equally, the viewer can get lost in an image of flat even tones. As an HDR photographer we have to think even harder about what detail should be visible in our scene and how to bring focus to our subject.
As a viewer, people often recognize an HDR scene as being manipulated, even if they don't quite know how or what it is that they're recognizing as a manipulation. With image editing you never want your edits to upstage your image. A good edit is one that the viewer never recognizes, and HDR is often very recognizable. So as we work through this course, we're going to be trying to address these questions. While we will go over how to create extremely surreal processed-looking images, my goal is usually to create HDR images that don't look like obvious HDR images.
I try to continue to use the same photographic vocabulary that I use in my normal non-HDR shooting. And so I aim for nice interplay between shadows and highlights and always try to figure out how to better reveal my subject. Thanks to HDR, I have more flexibility and, if I want it, more detail and tonality at my disposal as I try to solve those problems.
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