HDR, or high dynamic range, photography, is a technique that attempts to recreate the dynamic range of human vision (or at least a seemingly close approximation) by combining multiple, bracketed, exposures of a scene into a single image. It involves creating a 32bit HDR image and then using a technique called tone mapping, to fit the dynamic range of the image into a 16 or 8 bit space that can be interpreted by monitors and printers. Using HDR techniques it’s possible to create photo real images capturing detail from the lightest highlights of a scene to the darkest shadow details where traditional photographic techniques would not be able to handle the exposure latitude required to reproduce the entire range of values.
I started becoming fascinated with HDR photography a while ago, as an offshoot of seeing HDRI techniques used to create environment-based lighting for 3D scenes at work. It’s pretty cool stuff. So with newly-acquired advanced DSLR in-hand, I was eager to try some HDR techniques to see what kind of hyper-real imagery I might be able to create.
My first few attempts at creating HDR from bracketed sequences in Photoshop didn’t work out too well … and by that I mean they pretty much looked like ass. 🙁 It was time to seek some advice from the pros, so I picked up a copy of Practical HDR: A complete guide to creating High Dynamic Range images with your Digital SLR, by David Nightingale.
This book is a great place to start … Short, to the point, and loaded with how-to’s that demonstrate techniques for creating both photo-real and hyper-real HDR images in a few of the most popular software packages available. The software and techniques discussed include Adobe Photoshop Extended CS4, Photomatix Pro, and FDR Tools.
The book also has a lot of high-quality photos of both the practical examples and other stunning images that illustrate the range of possibilities for using HDR in your own photography … Something that I find key in any “how-to” kind of book.
As previously mentioned, this book is a great place to start … It’s strength, in giving you a quick selection of how-to’s in specific software packages is also its weakness. You’ll get started quickly with a basic understanding of the mechanics of HDR, but there isn’t a broad foundation in theory or in-depth, general knowledge. For that you may (and I am) want to pickup a copy of Christian Bloch’s, The HDRI Handbook: High Dynamic Range Imaging for Photographers and CG Artists +DVD, a much broader treatment of the subject.
So what did I learn? Well, a lot … Basically I’m throwing in the towel on using Photoshop to generate the HDR image, and picking up a copy of Photomatix Pro instead. I can use the Photomatix Lightroom 2 plugin to create the HDR and tone-mapped images, then use Photoshop for post-processing. There’ll be a blog entry further down the road with some of my own images. Stay tuned. 🙂