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  • Writer's pictureJohn Patota

HDR Explained

High Dynamic Range is a technique used by photographers to simulate the human eye’s ability to see a greater range between light and dark than a camera can. The best cameras today can capture 10 to 14 stops of light, while the human eye can do much better, at 20 stops.

Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in HDR

The eye can see details in the shadows and highlights that cameras are not able to capture using a single exposure, such as in the HDR image above taken of the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium just after sunset in December of 2019. That is why sometimes you look at your photo and think it was not the way you remember the scene to be.  By taking multiple bracketed exposures of the same scene and combining them either in-camera or post processing with LightRoom or PhotoShop, we can begin to make our photos more realistic.

Here is a link to the individual images that I took and used to make the single HDR. Some important things to consider before deciding on using HDR.

• Your subject must not be moving, otherwise your final photo will be blurred. • Use a tripod and shutter release to stop camera shake. Just a tiny little camera movement will ruin it. • Avoid a subject with bright colors. Landscapes and building make for better HDR images. • Shoot in RAW at ISO 100. Remember, you are on a tripod, so get the exposure you need with a clean ISO. • Experiment with the number of brackets, and the stops between exposures. Start with 3 exposures - 1 stop over and 1 stop under. Move up to brackets with 5 or even 7 exposures. Try varying the stops in your bracket to see what works best. • Set your camera to Auto Exposure Bracketing. Make it easy on yourself and let the camera do the work • Use Aperture Priority Mode to lock in the aperture, and let the camera vary the shutter to get your brackets. If you varied the aperture, your Depth of Field and focus could change. • Use Auto Focus to lock in focus, then turn AF off. You don’t want the camera to change the focus point during the bracketed shots. My HDR image above was composited in LightRoom from a 5-step bracket. The exposure varied from 2 stops under to 2 steps over, -2, -1, 0, +2, +2.

Sunrise Theatre DHR
Sunrise Theatre HDR

Here is another example of an HDR image. This time at the Sunrise Theatre in Southern Pines, North Carolina. For this one, I also took a 5 stop series of photos and composited them in LightRoom. See the individual images on my website.

On my website, you will find more of my images, and keep up with photo walks, classes and workshops. Looking at these photos makes me want to go on another HDR photo shoot soon. Let me know if you want to join me!

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