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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

High Dynamic Range Done Naturally

Explore the basics of HDR to get details in shadows, highlights and everywhere in between

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Shoot In The RAW And Expose To The Right
This probably will seem obvious to many photographers, but over the course of five years running location workshops, I’ve encountered many photographers who don’t shoot or understand the benefit of capturing images in the RAW format. The tremendous amount of information contained in a RAW file still blows my mind to this day! I’ve photographed many scenes in the past four years since switching to digital capture for which it would have been impossible to retain highlight and shadow detail in a single exposure on transparency film.

The key to shooting in RAW is to check your histogram often and expose to the right (toward highlights). It’s not reliable to look at the image on the LCD for confirmation as to whether you nailed the exposure, and often shooting to the right will produce an image that seems to be too bright and washed out. That’s okay! We can use the Adobe Camera Raw converter in Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture or any other program that allows for RAW conversions to bring back the contrast, saturation and drama of the image. By exposing to the right, without clipping highlights, you can retain a tremendous amount of midtone and shadow detail in the image without the risk of introducing unwanted noise or grain when processing your shots.

HDR In Yosemite
By Rob Sheppard

One of the challenges we face as photographers is finding unique images in popular locations such as Yosemite National Park. There’s no question that Yosemite is a remarkable place, but it’s photographed a lot! The whole valley is photographed a lot—photographers practically line up for the best views, with tripods everywhere. Frankly, the best views of many of the falls are available only from certain, limited locations. So how do you take a picture that’s not duplicating everyone else?

There I was, photographing Yosemite Falls from across the valley floor, looking at reflections, looking for frames—all the standard stuff—but nothing really was working for me. They all looked like subjects I had seen before in photographs. To top it off, a man passed by, and seeing my camera and tripod, said, “I bet those falls have been photographed 20,000 times.” I was thinking that was probably on the low side, but it didn’t help.

I looked around for something else to photograph. The falls just seemed so derivative. Then I looked over and saw these wonderful trees. The Yosemite Valley once was pretty open, but today, it has a lot of trees, so this was certainly an integral element. I thought about including them with the falls, but they were in total shade. There was no way to photograph them, include the sunlit falls in the distance and keep the trees in any condition other than silhouette. Yet, these trees with the falls and the rock cliffs really said Yosemite.

HDR, of course! I never would have thought of taking such a photo in the past, so I still don’t always think of it immediately, even though I do like HDR and shoot it when appropriate. I locked the camera down on my tripod and shot a bracketed series of images (five total, each one stop apart), then checked them to be sure the darkest one had good detail in the falls, while the brightest one had good detail in the trees. I processed the images slightly in Lightroom to ensure the detail looked good in each bracketed shot and put them together using LR/Enfuse. While technically not a true HDR program, I like the way LR/Enfuse works with such images and with the Lightroom workflow. The result needed a little tweaking in Photoshop, but I was pleased with the results.

No, I was amazed! I was thrilled to be able to get this shot. This is exciting for photographers, as we’re now able to take the kinds of photos that were impossible before.


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