Images by Lukas Kosslow
What is HDR photography?
Why are HDR photos necessary?
Certain types of scenes require HDR image capture and HDR image editing to appear in a photo the way they do to the naked eye. Cameras capture less tonal range or different exposure levels than we can see, so working with HDR is a great way to expand what we can create.
“The human eye has about 30 stops of dynamic range it can process, while your top cameras nowadays have only anywhere between 12 and 15,” explains photographer Lukas Kosslow. While the human eye can look at a scene and adjust very quickly as it looks into the shadows and brighter areas of that dynamic range, that adjustment is not something cameras can do.
When are HDR photos most useful?
The HDR workflow is common in landscape photography and architecture photography. The sky is often too bright to see when you take a picture of a building or a landscape on a sunny day. Similarly, when photographing the inside of a room with windows, the light coming in from the windows can blow out the photo. By photographing an exposure bracket and merging the frames, you can create a single image that shows both the interior of the room and the view outside.
How to shoot HDR images.
HDR image processing starts with a minimum of three photos of the same scene, photographed with different exposures to capture the midtones, highlights and shadows information. You will then merge these into one final image using photo editing software, like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom.
Take HDR shots automatically with bracketing.
Many cameras have a bracketing function, which you can set to take three or more shots automatically. “The camera will take a base image, then the next image (slightly underexposed), and then the next image (slightly overexposed),” explains Kosslow. “It will do all three in a row when you click the shutter button just once.”
Depending on its functionality, your camera may also allow you to choose how varied your bracketing shots are. For example, a 1.0 bracketing setting means the darker shot will have an exposure of -1.0 from the base shot, and your lighter shot will have an exposure of +1.0 from the base shot.
Things to look out for.
Your main goal in achieving a high-quality HDR image is to keep everything in your three exposures as consistent as possible. This way, your photos will merge more easily into a single image. Take your shots as close together in time as possible to help with this, and keep in mind the following issues:
- Ghosting: Anything that moves in your frame between shots — like clouds or trees on a windy day — will appear blurry in your merged image. You can also mitigate camera movement by using a tripod and taking your shots quickly. But some ghosting is unavoidable and can be corrected with editing tools.
- White balance: Set your white balance manually, to avoid color shifts between shots. You can fine-tune color with Photoshop and Lightroom, but you should try to capture the most consistent original files as possible.
- Shutter speed: To control the exposure of your photos for HDR merging, shutter speed adjustments are the way to go. Leave your aperture (f-stop) the same for each shot.
- RAW files: Shoot your photos in raw mode. These files contain greater tonal information and more accurate pixel values. After editing, you can convert your image into a TIFF, JPG (or JPEG), or other format as needed.
Use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom as your HDR software.
All HDR projects require post-processing tools to combine multiple shots into a final single photo. However, standalone HDR programs or plug-ins aren’t necessary. You can find the best HDR software options for most projects right in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
How to merge photos to create HDRs in Lightroom.
1. Select your images.
2. Start your merge.
3. Adjust HDR merge settings.
4. Finalize it.
How to merge HDR photos in Lightroom Classic.
1. Import your images.
2. Select photo merge.
3. Check the HDR Merge Preview.
4. Choose deghosting options.
5. Click Merge.
6. Fine-tune your image.
How to merge HDR photos in Photoshop.
1. Get started.
2. Adjust your merge.
3. Choose your bit depth.
4. Adjust tones.
5. Save your work.
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