HDR – High Dynamic Range photography

The human eye is an amazing and in many ways unparalleled feat of optical engineering and computer like image processing. As such it can cope with a high dynamic range of contrast e.g. light and dark.

Great as they are, cameras can’t cope with such a wide dynamic range, at least not in a single image with one set of settings for image capture defining how much light hits the camera sensor. By that I mean the settings for: aperture (amount of light let in), shutter speed (length of time aperture is open) and ISO setting (sensor’s sensitivity to light levels).

Together, aperture, shutter speed and ISO are known as ‘The Exposure Triangle’.

For scenes where there is a high level of contrast – too great for a single image to capture – there is a solution. It is called ‘bracketing’. This is where your camera takes several (usually 3) images, at different settings (typically different apertures). These images can then be blended together in different ways to create one new image that has captured and depicted a greater dynamic range of contrast.

The most common method for blending such images is called HDR – High Dynamic Range. This can be done within Lightroom 6 or CC (software from Abobe), or via software applications such as Photomatrix Pro, NIK HDR EFEX or Topaz. There are many HDR software options; I use Photomatrix Pro, which works as a plugin from Lightroom.

The HDR effect can be applied using different techniques and settings within the HDR software. These range from subtle to quite extreme, or even ridiculous. For an example of a more extreme look, see the House of Horror image below. HDR, especially when more extreme isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Some purists and/or traditionalists don’t like it. That said, I do like it! Most of my landscape photography has low levels of HDR applied (such as the Glencoe image below), simply because a single image cannot represent what the eye sees. The tone mapping that is applied creates a more pleasing level of definition to an image, without having to over sharpen or use lots of clarity in Lightroom.

Most of the images I have shown below have a reasonable level of HDR effect applied, taking them beyond a natural look.