HDR Photography

How High Dynamic Range Photography Works

HDR, as its name implies, is a method that aims to add more “dynamic range” to photographs, where dynamic range is the ratio of light to dark in a photograph. Instead of just taking one photo, HDR uses three or more photos, taken at different exposures. You can then use image editing software to put those images together and highlight the best parts of each photo.

When You Should Use HDR

HDR is designed to help you take better-looking photos, especially in certain situations. It needs to be used with care otherwise the resulting images can look too ‘extreme’ for some tastes! Here’s where you could try using HDR:

• Landscapes: Big landscape photos usually have a lot of contrast between the sky and land, which is difficult for your camera to deal with in just one photo. With HDR, you can capture the sky’s detail without making the land look too dark, and vice versa.
• Portraits in Sunlight: Lighting is one of the most important aspects of a good photo, but too much lighting on someone’s face—like harsh sunlight—can cause dark shadows, bright glare, and other unflattering characteristics. HDR can even that all out and make your subject look better.
• Low-Light and Backlit Scenes: If your photo is looking a little too dark—which often happens if your scene has too much backlight—HDR can brighten up the foreground without washing out the well-lit portions of your photo.

When You Shouldn’t Use HDR

There are times when HDR actually makes your pictures look worse. Here are some situations in which HDR is better off ignored:

• Photos with Movement: If any of your subjects are moving (or might move), HDR increases the chance of a blurry photo. Remember, HDR takes three or more pictures, so if your subject moves between shots, your final picture won’t look very good.
• High-Contrast Scenes: Some photos look better with stark contrast between the dark and light parts of the photo: for example if you have a dark shadow or silhouette you want to highlight. HDR will make this less intense, resulting in a less interesting photo.
• Vivid Colours: If your scene is too dark or too light, HDR can bring some of the colour back. However, if you’re dealing with colours that are already very vivid, HDR can wash them out.

Here is an example of what I’ve been describing:


There are 4 images in this series. The first 3 were taken with different exposure settings. The final HDR image which follows was produced by loading the 3 images into a software program called ‘Photomatix Pro 5’; this is published by a company by the name of HDRsoft. There are many HDR software packages, but this is my personal favourite. Here is a link to the site:


As far as suitable settings for this type of photography are concerned, once again there are many web sites that will provide tips and advice. One of the best is ‘Digital Photography School’ (http://digital-photography-school.com/setting-up-your-digital-camera-for-hdr-shooting/).

If you are interested in photography and haven’t yet tried HDR, why not give it a go. You may be surprised by the results!

16 thoughts on “HDR Photography

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