HDR Photography Tips [Duel]

This week's theme is HDR.  Unfortunately, HDR has a very negative connotation among photographers because we have all seen so many poor uses of the tonemapping technique that make the resulting photo look unnatural, overcooked, and just plain nauseating.  In this post, we hope that we can show you two examples of how HDR can be used to show off texture, preserve exposure, and add an eye-catching effect.

New to the weekly Improve Photography Duel?  Check out this page, where we explain how it works.  A new camera duel will be released each Monday, and we're asking YOU to vote on the photos below.

HDR Photography Duel

Jim Here:  I spent this weekend in Utah for a funeral.  Salt Lake is an amazing city for photography, so I took advantage of the trip to shoot some of the beautiful gothic architecture that can be seen at many of the old churches and temples in the city.

The doorknobs of one such building caught my eye for the ornate detail, and I thought it would be an excellent shot in HDR.  Usually HDR is only used to capture tricky exposures, but this time I wanted to use HDR to bring out every bit of the detail in the doorknob and old wood.

These doorknobs are at the front entrance to a temple that took forty years to complete due to the intricate and detailed construction of the solid granite temple.  I thought these doorknobs were a detail that captured the thought and effort that went into every aspect of the building.

Jim's Process:  I shot three photos of these doorknobs hand-held.  Because the dynamic range was not difficult to control in this shot, I took a photo at -1, 0, and +1 EV in aperture priority mode.

I brought the photos into Photoshop and created a basic HDR photo without pushing any of the tonemapping sliders too far, which would make the photo look unrealistic.  Then, I processed that photo into one layer in Photoshop and overlayed the original photo on top of the HDR and set the opacity to 50%.  This created a blend of a normal photo and an HDR photo, which further reduces the unrealistic effect created by tonemapping.

Jim's Metadata:

Shutter speed: 1/25 second, Aperture: f/4.5, ISO 1000.  I would normally have chosen a higher f-stop, faster shutter speed, and lower ISO, but it was quite late in the evening.

Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8.

Lighting: Natural light

Salt Lake City LDS Temple doorknobs
Doorknob architectural detail

Dustin Here: For the last couple of weeks – I have been going on these walks along the New York Canal in Boise, ID and the sunsets have been absolutely amazing!! I've had a chance to discover and scout out some of the interesting man-made artifacts of the canal that I feel would add interest/depth to the photo. Taking an HDR of this was pretty much a no-brainer to me because I wanted to capture more than just the foreground or the background but the detail and the beauty of the entire scene.

Dustin's Process: I have started doing a new HDR process that I have come to like very much and has proven to have some great results. Here are the basic steps that I take:

1. Take your multiple exposure shot using AEB (Auto-Exposure Bracketing) settings on your camera.
2. Once you have selected the images you want to merge, go into Photoshop (I used CS6) and select: Edit > Automate > Merge to HDR Pro…
3. Load in the exposures you are going to use.
4. Change your bit-depth to 32-bit. You'll have different settings for this mode, leave everything at default.
5. Click “Ok” and let the images merge together.
6. Save the image as a TIFF file > Close.
7. Using Bridge, or Lightroom, load the new TIFF image into the CameraRaw (or Develop) mode.
8. Edit the image as you normally would. However, the difference now is that you have all of that data of the 3 images to adjust exposure, contrast, saturation, and any other edits you want. You can round-house back into Photoshop for final touches and then save your final HDR image as a JPG to share with others. 🙂

This process has been very effective in working with HDR images to avoiding the often over-processed tone-mapping that comes with HDR software. However – keep in mind that HDR comes with a lot of artistic preferences as there really is so much you can do to an image.

Dustin's Metadata:

Shutter speed: 1/3, Aperture: f/16, ISO 100

Camera: Canon 6D, 24mm, Lens: Canon 24-105mm lens

Lighting: Sunset – HDR

Canal Sunset - by Dustin Olsen
Canal Sunset – by Dustin Olsen

Let the Voting Begin!

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27 thoughts on “HDR Photography Tips [Duel]”

  1. I’m mainly an ameteu landscape photographer, so I really like Dustin’s photo. But having shot some photos recently in a church, and now knowing how difficult it can be to capture details in a church with low lighting, I can better appreciate Jim’s photo. I never even thought to use HDR for my church photos. So, if these duels have done anything, they’ve definitely expanded my creativity with which I look at lighting and post-processing.

  2. @Jim—Things looked slightly crooked to me too, and I was wondering if there were some sort of optical illusion going on. When I opened it up in Photoshop, I found many things perfectly vertical and horizontal, but there are also several things that are slightly off, such as the top and bottom points of the door plates and the bottoms of the door knobs. I chalk this up to it being a very old door. I still really love the photo though.

  3. I’ve read elsewhere about using HDR to increase detail, but still don’t get it. Wouldn’t you have done just as well with one well focused shot on a tripod?

  4. The landscape one is a little too oversaturated in the sky, and seems to have too many subjects in the photo – sunset, stream, clouds, the concrete thingies… individually they are all interesting, but all together my eyes just keep wandering. The grass/dirt road is especially distracting.

    So I picked the door knobs! I really like when HDR is applied to architecture details, it gives it a dreamy flowy effect, as if the details are moving.

  5. Josue Del Valle

    They are both great pictures but I love the sunset. Great site, great podcast!

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