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Making the best photography HDR images possible

Photographed in Seattle from Beacon Hill
Photographed in Seattle from Beacon Hill
Keith B Dixon

High Dynamic Range defined, “(HDRI or HDR) is a set of methods used in imaging and photography to capture a greater dynamic range between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than current standard digital imaging methods or photographic methods. HDR images can represent more accurately the range of intensity levels found in real scenes, from direct sunlight to faint starlight, and is often captured by way of a plurality of differently exposed pictures of the same subject matter.” (Source Wikipedia)

Now that we have established the definition, the key to a good HDR image is recording the best possible light in the scene. The best light could be a sunset or sunrise, late in the day light, or moments right after a storm when the sun “pops out.”

While making the images in this blog I met a fellow named, “Bill” a serious hobbyist, one the first “things” he mentioned to me was that he always makes his images based on the lighting in the scene, he was very adamant about it as I am about lighting my images. Therefore, If your goal is to reproduce a wide range of light look for gradual soft changes in the scene. Record those changes independently so that you can merge them into an HDR image.

HDR is not new, back in the day, when we photographed interiors we would make highs, mids, and low range images and then manually blend those captures in Photoshop. The key to making those images work in post was to create exposures as we saw them in the scene so that we could reproduce the scene as it appeared. Back then cameras had a tendency to record images on a 18-16% grey scale (as they still do today) which flattend out your colors, blew out your light tones, and darkens the blacks.

Now that camera technology has advanced most high end cameras can break down some of the most complex dynamically lit scenes and record a great images. In some cases Lightroom and a few adjustments will do. Because I make surreal style HDR cityscapes the most important element in my process is how I record the lighting.