Tom Till is a master of Southwest landscapes. Recently, he’s been using HDR software to overcome some of the challenges of these high-contrast scenes without generating the bizarre-looking, hyperreal effect that’s objectionable to many nature shooters
1 If there’s any movement in your image (usually foliage or clouds), the bracketed photos must be shot very quickly.
2 Images with a large dynamic range may require seven brackets to work well in Photomatix.
3 Even if you’re not doing HDR now, it doesn’t hurt to shoot brackets for use later on should you decide to pursue the craft. Remember, to learn, you’ll need lots of images to practice with.
4 Shadows sometimes are good things. They help turn a two-dimensional scene into an approximation of a three-dimensional one. Some images won’t benefit from HDR, and in some cases, may lose some of their punch.
5 Always shoot at the lowest ISO possible to avoid noise, an artifact of the HDR process.
6 Southwestern scenes that have been shot countless times can take on a new life in HDR. I can think of dozens of great scenes in the region where shadows were a major problem for film, but now they can be shot without worries about excess dynamic range.
7 Water, a favorite subject in the desert because of its rarity, and especially moving water, can look great in HDR. It’s hard to predict exactly how it will look, but most times I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results.
8 After a while, you’ll have a set of control settings that get you what you’re after. Like photography itself, though, there are always surprises, and some images will require a lot of experimenting and postprocessing work in Lightroom or Photoshop.
9 Photoshop CS5 has a lot of great new features, but in a quick trial run with the HDR program, I found it wanting. The promised magic bullet for moving objects wasn’t effective, and I miss all the controls of tone mapping and the details enhancement of Photomatix.
10 Here’s a technique I’ve seen no one else suggest: Use grad filters with HDR to get a full 10 or more stops of dynamic range. It works well. Also, try scanning old film brackets to create an HDR image from them. I’ve had mixed results so far, but I intend to keep experimenting with the idea.