7 Steps of High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography
by Steve Rich
combines details from 3 or more separate exposures of the
One exposure is “normal” (0 compensation) to capture details
in the mid tones.
One exposure is “underexposed” (for example, -2 f stops
compensation) to capture details in the highlight areas.
One exposure is “overexposed” (for example, +2 f stops
compensation) to capture details in the shadow areas.
combines details from all three exposures. That’s where the
Here's a normally-exposed
image of the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
It' OK, but notice that the sky is completely "blown
out" - so over exposed that no detail is visible.
This photo is underexposed by
2 full f-stops. There is detail in the sky and in a
couple of highlights, but nowhere else.
Now here's another shot that
is over exposed by two full f-stops. Plenty of
detail in the shadows but even the mid-tones are too
light or totally blown out.
Here Steve has taken the
highlights from the underexposed image - the
midtones from the normal - and the shadows from the
overexposed image and combined them.
Step 1 – Pick your shot
HDR allows you to see
into the shadows. To do this you need a subject that
typically has a good amount of contrast between light and
dark. HDR draws out the details that you would normally not
pick up on with the naked eye. So it is also good to have a
subject that does have small details like wood, stone,
antiques, and/or clouds to name a few.
Step 2 Tripod and Camera setup
If you desire sharp
and clear images with HDR, you NEED a tripod or something
stable to have your camera mounted on. Ghosting can occur
when a camera shakes or movement occurs. Final images are
Camera setup: Some
cameras (not all) offer a setting called Auto Exposure
Bracketing (AEB). Read your manual to see if your camera has
In AEB mode the
camera takes 3 or more photos in a row; one normal, one at
-2, one at +2 (you can change the amount of compensation and
maybe the number of exposures taken). These photos will be
taken quickly and you might be able to manage holding the
camera by hand. If not, you can make the multiple exposures
manually; the tripod would REALLY be required.
I use these settings
on my Canon DSLR
AV mode/Aperture Priority
AEB -2/0/+2, and set the aperture to f11.
I set the self-timer to 2 seconds to minimize shake
A shutter trigger release is also a good option instead of
Step 3 Check the Scene
Check the ENTIRE
scene carefully. Initially, you might think you have a great
shot. But, be sure to look all around the entire scene
before you take your shot(s). Watch out for the neighbors’
bright blue kiddy pool behind that old barn. The last thing
you want is a great subject but the surroundings or
background detracts from your focal point.
Step 4 Take the shots
Once you are pleased
with your subject and surroundings... Take the shot(s)! I
typically shoot 3 exposures (-2/0/+2) outside. Inside I will
shoot sometimes 6 shots. Windows need more images taken
because the difference in brightness from the interior is so
Step 5 Load the images to the computer
Load your photos onto
your computer - specifically, the multiple exposure AKA
"bracketed" images onto your computer. Raw images take up
more room on your computer.
Step 6 Bring images into Photomatix Pro or an equivalent HDR
Select the multiple
exposure images you just loaded on your computer and now
load them into
Either "Browse" for
your images, or "Drag & Drop" the images into the window. I
select all of my images and then "drag & drop" to the
Photomatix Icon on my desktop. This opens/activates
Photomatix with my images already selected. Once your images
are selected, click OK.
Step 7 - Tone Mapping Details Enhancer Settings
• Strength: Affects the degree to which
contrast and detail are enhanced in the image. A value of
100 gives the maximum amount of enhancement. To get a more
natural effect, move the slider to the left. The default
value is 70.
• Color Saturation: Controls the saturation
of the RGB color channels. The greater the saturation, the
more intense the color. Move the slider right or left to
change the setting value of 0 produces a grayscale image.
The value affects each
color channel equally. The default value is 46.
• Luminosity: Controls the compression of
the tonal range, which has the effect of adjusting the
global luminosity level. Move the slider to the right to
boost shadow details and brighten the image. Move it to the
left to give a more “natural” look to the resulting image.
The default value is 0.
• Detail Contrast: Controls the amount of
contrast applied to detail in the image. Move the slider to
the right to increase the contrast of the details and give a
sharper look to the image. Note that increasing the contrast
also has a darkening effect. Move the slider to the left to
decrease the contrast of details and
brighten the image.
• Lighting Adjustments: Affects the overall
'look', controlling the extent to which the image looks
natural or surreal. When the Lighting Effects Mode box is
unchecked, move the slider to the right to make the image
look more natural and to the left to make it look more
'painterly' or 'surreal'.
• Lighting Effects Mode: The checkbox lets
you switch between two modes for the Lighting Adjustments
setting, where each mode produces slightly different
results. Checking the box tends to produce results with a
type of Magic Light' effect. Note that finer control is not
possible in Lighting Effects mode.
• Smooth Highlights: Reduces the contrast
enhancements in the highlights. The value of the slider sets
how much of the highlights range is affected. This control
is useful for preventing white highlights from turning grey
or uniform light blue skies becoming dark blue-grey. It is
also useful for reducing halos around objects
placed against bright backgrounds. The default value is 0.
• White Point – Black Point: These sliders
control how the minimum and maximum values of the tone
mapped image are set. Moving the sliders to the right
increases global contrast. Moving them to the left reduces
clipping at the extremes. The White Point slider sets the
value for the maximum of the tone mapped. The Black Point
slider sets the value for the minimum of the tone mapped
• Saturation Shadows: Adjusts the color
saturation of the shadows relative to the color saturation
set with the Color Saturation slider. Values higher than
zero increase the color saturation in the shadows. Values
lower than zero decrease it. The default value is 0.
• Shadows Smoothness: Reduces the contrast
enhancements in the shadows. The value of the slider sets
how much of the shadows range is affected. The default value
• Shadows Clipping: The value of the slider
sets how much of the shadows range is clipped. This control
may be useful to cut out noise in the dark area of a photo
taken in a low-light situation. The default value is 0.
• 360º image: Checking this option
eliminates the seam between the left and right sides of a
panorama viewed in a 360º panoramic viewer. The seam would
otherwise show because Details Enhancer takes into account
local contrast, assigning different tonal values to the
right and left parts of the image. The default value is
unchecked. Note that this option is not enabled when the
image is in portrait mode, as the option is intended for
panoramas. The default value is 0.25% for the White Point
setting and 0% for the Black Point setting.
• Gamma: Adjusts the mid-tone of the tone
mapped image, brightening or darkening the image globally.
The default value is 1.0.
• Temperature: Adjusts the color
temperature of the tone mapped image relative to the
temperature of the HDR source image. Move the slider to the
right to give a warmer, more yellow-orange colored look.
Move the slider to the left for a colder, more bluish look.
A value of 0 (default) preserves the original color
temperature of the HDR source image.
• Micro-smoothing: Smoothens local detail
enhancements. This has the effect of reducing noise in the
sky, for instance, and tends to give a “cleaner” look to the
resulting image. The default value is 2. Important note: The
Loupe may not properly show the effect of the
Micro-smoothing setting when the area magnified is uniform.
If you want to see the effect of the Micro-smoothing setting
at 100% resolution on a uniform area such as the sky, you
will have to select an area that contains an object in the
scene in addition to the sky
• Saturation Highlights: Adjusts the color
saturation of the highlights relative to the color
saturation that was set with the Color Saturation slider.
Values higher than 0 increase the color saturation in the
highlights. Values lower than 0 decrease it. The default
value is 0.
Resources: Steve has posted links to the software we have
demonstrated most – and use the most – on his site:
Photomax is “standalone”. If you order be
sure to use the coupon code for a 15% discount on
Photomatix Pro Aiken HDR