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Why use HDR for black-and-white images?

From: Shooting and Processing High Dynamic Range Photographs (HDR)

Video: Why use HDR for black-and-white images?

HDR is a great tool for the black-and-white shooter. Now that may sound a little counterintuitive, because very often when we think of HDR images, the first thing we think of are those big juicy HDR colors. So what good could HDR possibly do for the black-and-white shooter? I'm going to show you three reasons why if you like to shoot black-and-white you're going to want to consider learning HDR techniques, and beginning to practice with them and work them more into your black-and-white vocabulary. The first, if you like to shoot landscapes, is clouds.

Why use HDR for black-and-white images?

HDR is a great tool for the black-and-white shooter. Now that may sound a little counterintuitive, because very often when we think of HDR images, the first thing we think of are those big juicy HDR colors. So what good could HDR possibly do for the black-and-white shooter? I'm going to show you three reasons why if you like to shoot black-and-white you're going to want to consider learning HDR techniques, and beginning to practice with them and work them more into your black-and-white vocabulary. The first, if you like to shoot landscapes, is clouds.

HDR makes the most beautiful clouds you're going ever hope to have in a photo, and you get all this wonderful detail, all this fine texture. So if you're a black-and-white landscape shooter having HDR at your disposal, it is going to let you add much more drama to your skies. The reason that skies look so good in HDR is that HDR is great at bringing out lots of fine detail in an image, and this is the second reason that as a black-and-white shooter you want to learn some HDR techniques. Black-and-white photography is very often largely about detail and about the really fine sharp textures that you can get out of an image.

And with the HDR techniques, you can really, really pull a lot of texture out of a scene, so it works right into a traditional black-and-white vocabulary. The third reason that you might want to consider HDR as a black-and-white shooter is that when you're working with black-and-white, you're working strictly with luminance. You're working just with light and shadow, just brightness and darkness. Because of the dynamic range limitation on your camera, it's going to be kind of tricky. Consider a scene like this. What caught my eye here was the vertical and horizontal trees making this perfect right angle, and the fact that the vertical tree could be, I knew, rendered in black-and-white as very dark.

This would be a nice counterpart to the very brightly lit horizontal tree, and so I thought, well, this is just an interesting play of geometry and light. But I also knew it'd only work if that light horizontal tree was up against something very, very dark which was that dark hillside, but I needed to be able to preserve this bright sky, so I'm facing a really critical dynamic range situation. I need to be sure that I keep detail on the sky, but that I've got the tonality that I want in the hillside to get it dark enough to make that horizontal tree stand up. It might have been possible to do that with a single exposure, but if you've ever tried doing black-and-white, one of the things you know is that it's difficult to see it perfectly in your head.

You like some latitude to experiment and play. You're not always sure where you want your tones. So I knew that if I shot this as an HDR, I would have enough tonal information to work with that I could really go to town, trying to figure out how dark should that hillside be, how bright does the horizontal tree need to be, and can I preserve all that nice detail in my sky. Here's another example. I wasn't sure when I shot this how much detail I wanted in the hillside. I was pretty sure it was going to be a black-and-white image, just because it's mostly about the shape of the contrail, but I wasn't sure if I wanted the hillside to be completely black or still have some detail in it.

I didn't know how much, and so I thought there is not that much moving in the frame, the plane isn't moving that quickly. I'll shoot this is an HDR and then I've got lots of tonal information to work with. Another relationship I wasn't sure about was the dark hillside to the light foreground. Another example, what caught my eye here was that one rock that's sticking up out of the shadow, and I liked the receding telephone poles, but I just wasn't sure how ultimately in a black- and-white image where I would want to place the different tones. So by choosing to shoot this as an HDR, what I was doing was buying myself a huge amount of tonal information that I could push and pull, that I could really play with to figure out exactly how I wanted different tones to be represented.

Here's another example. In this situation I knew I was facing a somewhat high-dynamic range situation, because I'm standing under this tree and I'm shooting silhouettes into bright sunlight. I wasn't sure how much detail I wanted beneath the tree, and so by shooting this HDR I had enough tones to work with that I can really play with the stuff directly beneath the tree I was standing under. Now these last few images, these last ones we've been looking at, they are not things that you would necessarily identify as HDR images. This one maybe if you know how to recognize an HDR sky.

So what I'm getting here is not buying myself some wild out there surreal HDR black-and-white stuff, and of course you can do that too. What I'm buying myself here is a safety net and flexibility for when I'm doing my black-and-white editing. I've got all of these tones to work with and it's giving me a lot of options as I'm doing my black-and-white conversion. So three reasons to be considering HDR with your black-and-white shooting: the ability to get nice skies, the ability to capture tremendous amounts of detail, and the ability to capture a huge tonal range. That gives you a lot of options when you are doing your black-and-white conversion and toning your final image.

In the next movie we're going to look through the entire process of starting with an HDR merge and turning it into a black-and-white image. If you don't know much about black-and- white shooting, if you don't understand black-and-white conversion or if you're even maybe not comfortable with black-and-white aesthetic, if you wonder why would I shoot black-and-white when I have a color camera, take a look at my Foundations of Photography Black-and-White course. It will work you through the entire background that you need to possibly get a little bit more out of the next movie.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Shooting and Processing High Dynamic Range Photographs (HDR)
 
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  1. 6m 46s
    1. Welcome
      2m 0s
    2. What you need for this course
      2m 37s
    3. Using the exercise files
      2m 9s
  2. 24m 55s
    1. Dynamic range defined
      4m 31s
    2. Understanding bit depth
      3m 37s
    3. Image sensor and shadows
      2m 38s
    4. Three methods for capturing more dynamic range
      3m 56s
    5. HDR shooting and processing
      4m 40s
    6. Single-shot HDR
      2m 43s
    7. When to use HDR
      2m 50s
  3. 19m 59s
    1. Finding HDR subject matter
      4m 38s
    2. Shooting HDR
      9m 45s
    3. Workflow and organization
      5m 36s
  4. 17m 52s
    1. Using gradient masks to improve dynamic range
      3m 56s
    2. More dynamic range masking
      8m 57s
    3. Masking with brushes
      4m 59s
  5. 1h 35m
    1. Creating an HDR image in Photoshop
      12m 15s
    2. Creating an HDR image in Photomatix
      22m 5s
    3. Creating an HDR in HDR Efex
      11m 47s
    4. Merging in Photoshop and processing elsewhere
      3m 51s
    5. Using Tone Compressor in Photomatix
      4m 25s
    6. Using Exposure Fusion in Photomatix
      7m 35s
    7. Single-shot HDR images in Photomatix
      4m 18s
    8. Single-shot HDR images in HDR Efex
      1m 3s
    9. Single-shot HDR images in Photoshop
      5m 32s
    10. Ghosting and Photoshop
      2m 51s
    11. Ghosting and HDR Efex
      2m 47s
    12. Ghosting and Photomatix
      6m 36s
    13. Batch processing in Photomatix
      10m 51s
  6. 2h 9m
    1. Reducing noise and correcting chromatic aberrations
      13m 33s
    2. Finishing an image
      8m 42s
    3. Handling HDR images that are "flat"
      13m 37s
    4. Combining HDR and LDR
      19m 40s
    5. Selective editing with HDR Efex Pro
      9m 42s
    6. HDR that doesn't look like HDR
      12m 42s
    7. Tone mapping troubles to watch for
      6m 46s
    8. Why use HDR for black-and-white images?
      5m 26s
    9. Black-and-white HDR
      12m 39s
    10. Panoramic HDR
      12m 3s
    11. HDR time lapse
      4m 24s
    12. Processing the trestle image
      10m 1s
  7. 37s
    1. Goodbye
      37s

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