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Editors' Picks: HDR Photography

photo.net members' bestJune 2009 (updated July 2009)

HDR (high dynamic range): surreal colors, vivid expanded range of lights and darks, eerie landscapes with saturated hues, still life images with processed appearances, intensified levels of dynamic density…

The Photo.net editors selected a handful of images highlighting talented HDR photographers on photo.net. There is a collection of photographs of HDR landscapes, architecture, and still life. Many of our talented photo.net professional and enthusiast photographers have experimented and perfected their skills with post-processing images using HDR. This is not a technique that appeals to everyone, but when used correctly, can yield some interesting results. We invite you to discuss these selected HDR Photos in the comments section below.

More on HDR Photography

The photos in this article have been selected by a team of photo.net editors. All photos are copyright the photographer, and may not be used without written permission.

Article revised July 2009.

Readers' Comments

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Doug Williams , July 02, 2009; 12:48 P.M.

These are great images. I have been wondering how this is done for some time. Can anyone give me a quick explanation and can I do this using Photoshop Elements 6?

Thanks, Doug

Martín T , July 02, 2009; 02:24 P.M.

I am sorry, but cannot say about PS Elements. However, I can recommend you Photo Dynamic HDR 4.31, which I think is the last version. Easy to use, astonishing results. Just remember that HDR is a technique and, as such, sometimes can be missused. Good luck!

John Coldwater , July 02, 2009; 04:47 P.M.

Doug I use Photomatix Pro. It is remarkably simple to use, which is part of the problem. I recommend you have a look at the Flickr Group "Naturalistic HDR Photography" to see which end of the HDR spectrum I am coming from. I follow their philosophy for its use: I don't want my HDR imagery to look like I am both colourblind and high on drugs when I take my photographs. If you are scarcely able to tell that my images have been taken through multiple exposures and processed with Photomatix Pro, I consider I will have succeeded. "Much of the crispy, crunchy, cartoony, ultra-thick clouds, overly saturated, flat, halo-ridden images you see around (admittedly some of them look kind of cool) are the result of dialing values up or down to extremes, often with only a single RAW image", is how the founder of the Flickr site describes the opposite camp. Take a look at hdrcreme.com for some examples of the extreme. I also contribute to them, but more in the guise of an evangeliser. There is a novelty to the technique for newbies that propels them into these extremes - some grow out of it, whilst others seem to get hooked on the wild side of HDR. Take your pick, and I look forward to seeing your work. Dan Norcott's tutorial at http://dannorcott.co.uk/hdr-tutorial-part-2-things-to-beware/ I found quite useful background material when I was starting off with it.

Zogy The K-vm[n] , July 02, 2009; 05:01 P.M.

Hey, yes, u can do that with Photoshop, but i wouldn't recomend. It-s not that fully featured yet. Maby CS4 has what it takes, i don't know. The software that i would recoment is Dinamic Photo HDR too. It's very cheap and has amazing capabilities. Now, for what HDR is, u must know it comes from High Dinamic Range. To be able to make a hdr image, u need to take at least 2 (but i recomend at least 3) photos, at diferent exposures. What the program does is laying these photos one over another and (not so simple as i explain it but this is the main idea) and making a final photo, that takes out the best of the loaded photos and leaves the bad out. Of course, u can set the amount of artificial detail and contrast but...this is about it. U can realize amazing results and usaly with photos u don;t expect :). Sorry for the bad language but i tried to explain pretty short and simple. U can find more info on the internet about HRD images. I tried making a hdr image out of a RAW image. I didn't had very satisfiing results. I still recomend taking more pictures at different exposures. Don't mind about a tripod. Usualy most HDR software offers very good help in aligning the pictures one over the other. :) Hopefully u don't leave this topic even more confused than u where before :p

Charles Carstensen , July 03, 2009; 09:47 A.M.

Tomichi Point Black Canyon National Park

Merge to HDR is fascinating to say the least. These are all great images. Photomatrix Pro is very simple and fast. You get two merge methods so try the one which works best for the originals you have. One question for the group, how many images do you use, on average to make the final file?

Zogy The K-vm[n] , July 03, 2009; 11:37 A.M.

I use usually 3 images. My canon 400D has the ability to shoot 3 images at three different exposures. It's called AEB, i dont't remember right now from it comes this abbreviation :p I recomend 3 images at least. I tryed with 4 and 5 images and indeed u can see some better results due to the more information gathered by the software regarding the lighthness of those pictures. It's allways better to exepriment. Depending of the effect that u what to acheeve, the more dramaticaly u what the picture to look, the more info about the lighting u must have. So... more pictures=better results. Of course, a tripod would be wery helpfull when experimenting with more pictures, because...u will see, the software doesnt allways do a great job aligning so many pictures.

John Coldwater , July 03, 2009; 12:15 P.M.

Brodie Castle (18 exposures' HDR)

Charles, The Canon 50D has an Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) facility, which will take up to three exposures with EV separation possible up to 2EV per exposure.I tend to use the manual setting (M) with ISO set to 100, and aperture to f22, for landscape work, and of course a tripod, triggering the whole series with a two second delay self-release on the shutter to avoid shaking the camera. I have taken up to 18 exposures for one image setting the exposure times entirely manually, using an Angeniuex 35-70mm lens with the Canon and an adapter collar. The RAW image resulting is startling, although one loses something in the conversion to jpg. See http://photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=9148989 CWJ

Charles Carstensen , July 03, 2009; 01:00 P.M.

Zogy, thanks, yes, am familiar with auto exposure bracketing. I shoot with a Leica M8 or a Hasselblad so it is all manual and tripod for me. AEB is really nice. How many ev do you set your exposures apart. Do you use a light meter? John, excellent image with 18 exposures I am amazed that the tree leaves are so sharp. What software and what settings did you use. Also, how much of an ev range was there? Thanks, guys.


John Coldwater , July 03, 2009; 01:57 P.M.

Charles The wall facing you was in darkness - deep shadow. From memory - and it was a while ago that the photo was taken, at f22 and 100 ISO, the longest exposure was probably 30 seconds or thereabouts, and the shortest probably around 1/250th. I just clicked my way through the exposure times until I went from a grossly over-exposed image to a completey black image...there was nothing very scientific about it, but I was curious to see what range of exposures Photomatix Pro would handle.

Zogy The K-vm[n] , July 03, 2009; 02:38 P.M.

Charles, i allways use +/-2 EV. This way there's a bigger difference between the ilumination of the photos and the program can calculate better contrast and dramatical effect. I would use +/-3EV. but my canon cannot do that. Maby my next camera will :D hi hi

John, why do u use ISO 100? It's because the less amount of noise? Do u think noise could get you bad results in creating a HDR image? I ask u, because i never thought about this problem before. I will experiment tomorow with this problem :)

Doug Williams , July 03, 2009; 03:45 P.M.

Thanks guys, this is great info and will give me a good start.


John Coldwater , July 03, 2009; 04:53 P.M.

ISO 100 and f22 is almost standard for my landscape imagery. If you are hoping to capture good images, capable of being enlarged beyond A4, a tripod is almost compulsory to cope with the slower speeds that both the film speed and the small aperture setting forces on you. Noise is reduced, the slower the ISO setting you can achieve. The smallest aperture setting is to provide the greatest depth of field possible. Of course if there is going to be movement within the image - branches waving or sheep moving, you need to compromise to avoid ghosting. Photomatix can cope with very slight movements, but to try and take HDR without a tripod relying on the software and image stabilising lenses, I believe is asking too much of them. I cannot emphasise enough what a huge difference a tripod can make to photo composition and output...

Wick Smith , July 03, 2009; 05:43 P.M.

The Photomatix Pro is great software but a bit intimidating if you don't know what all the settings are. You can download it for free from hdrsoft.com. The only issue is that the free version uses a watermark on your final prints - so at least you can play with it until you are ready to pay. To learn how to use it, Tony Sweet has a fabulous video on HDR photography for $25 that walks you through all the settings. It's at www.tonysweet.com. I got the software and the video & most of the mystery is now gone! The combination of the two can't be beat!

Charles Carstensen , July 03, 2009; 05:47 P.M.

HDR and a tripod go hand in hand. The stronger the better. I REALLY like Really Right Stuff for both heads and feet. I have a Gitzo tripod and am saving up for a RRS head to fit my Leica M8. Now using a Gitzo head which is not good. Am just getting started into HDR and only last week bought Photomatrix Pro after using the demo for about a month. Shutter speeds of less than 1/250 th require a tripod if you are going to do HDR photography.

Zogy The K-vm[n] , July 03, 2009; 07:25 P.M.

Thanks Charles, great info. I will experiment with lower apertures from now on, to see the difference. Indeed, the depth of field could be a major factor in realizing quality HDRs. And I'm not thinking about landscapes only, maby any photo will be better treated by the HDR program if it has a lower aperture. Guess we-ll wait and see. Tomorow I'll go on the field :)

Zogy The K-vm[n] , July 03, 2009; 08:04 P.M.

Ok Charles, i will. I don't promise that it will be right away tomorow, but next couple of days I should have time to merge them into HDR. :)

Rick Du Boisson , July 14, 2009; 10:19 P.M.

Handheld HDR - Catedral de Barcelona

The editors seem to have selected a group of pictures where the use of HDR (or just tone mapping) is fairly obvious - some examples work very well (some don't!). However, there is another side to HDR photography where the viewer is not aware that the HDR technique has been used, even though it was essential to render a picture that captured the full dynamic range - it would seem such photos were overlooked by the editors, more credit to the photographers exhibiting true HDR work! The appended shots from Charles and John are excellent examples of this kind of HDR photography. Another classic example where the use of HDR techniques is most beneficial is inside a church where a single exposure will either suffer from acres of featurless shadows or blown out stained glass. Now, I have to disagree with Charles that HDR is not practical with handheld exposures of greater than 1/250s - the attached photo was hand held with 5D2 / 24mm TS-E (no in lens or body stabilization!) at 1/10, 1/40, 1/160s - I would have loved to have used my Gitzo/RRS tripod but it was not permitted. I don't dispute that a tripod would have resulted in a superior image (I could have used ISO 100 instead of 3,200, f/8.0 instead of f/4.5 and taken more than 3 exposures), but not having a tripod should not deter one from trying (tip: always take two or three sets of bracketed shots - the failure rate is quite high)! Zogy, this shot was processed in CS4, which is very much under rated for HDR work. Cheers! RickDB

Charles Carstensen , July 15, 2009; 08:09 A.M.

Rick, your photograph of the Catedral de Barcelona is beautiful and an outstanding HDR work. The tonal qualities really are close to what your eye and brain would interpret. This merge to HDR is more powerful than I originally thought. Presently, I shoot with an M8 and there is no way that camera would be able to do that handheld. I bought Tony Sweets DVD, and it is terrific. This all makes me want to upgrade to a Nikon. Thanks for your excellent post.

Theo Jacobs , July 15, 2009; 08:21 A.M.

The definition given here for HDR in the introduction ("surreal colors....") is IMHO too limited and excludes the more serious use of HDR, that is to overcome large contrasts. This collection will only affirm what a lot of critical photographers think: HDR is only capable of overcooked and over-the-top results (although a few of the photos shown here are quite nice with the HDR applied subtly).

Salvador Penaloza , July 15, 2009; 05:35 P.M.

HDR produces beautiful colors and some shots look "cool" not all of them work work fine, I try to use HDR when shootings cathedrals , as Rick ,mentioned , for stained glass. The hight contrast between the altars and domes is incredible, therefore with HDR one can get the best of shadows and highlights. Beautiful example Rick, congratulations // Salvador

Mikel Arrizabalaga , July 23, 2009; 04:34 A.M.

I agree with Theo; HDR is not Photomatic, or at least, it is much more than that.

Lucas Oldhoff , September 04, 2009; 05:32 P.M.

My two bits

I frequently process my photos with Photomatix with only a single RAW image. To be honest, the result is hit and miss. The fun and creative part for me is that you don't really know how it will turn out, until the very end. Sometimes the HDR effect is blatantly obvious, but the result is fantastic nonetheless, other times the HDR result is beyond unsatisfying, other times it is remarkably not noticeable. The trick to a succesful HDR is not to make the HDR effect look like as if it is only drawing attention to the effect itself. All the "rules" for good composition, lighting, mood etc ... still apply. Just my two bits by experimenting with HDR processing. Here are 3 very different HDR results from my own collection. Just Curious; A difficult past, present, future; Top to Bottom Good luck!

Cameron Grant , September 19, 2009; 04:05 P.M.

OTT HDR is the future, you can hate it all you want, but it won't stop the onslaught. Screw the rapture, the only thing coming is OTT HDR

John Coldwater , September 19, 2009; 05:31 P.M.

Fortunately all things have their season, and in their times all things pass - and that includes HDR, OTT or otherwise. The "Hey, Look at me" of OTT HDR images seems to me to be subverting their attraction in some cases. Lurking underneath all the ovedone makeup, sometimes you can visualize the bare bones of a decent composition. How many images of cars, or interiors, or architecture, luridly over HDR'd, do we need to take, sliders askew, before our audience starts yawning with boredom? The latest version of Photomatix Pro has hit the nail on the head, describing one of the preset options which produces the OTT images, as "Grunge" - someone on their production team with a great sense of humour!

michel le mandat , October 04, 2009; 12:05 P.M.

Very interesting creative technique to get subjective shots.

Image Attachment: filewZM7Ac.jpg

Anthony Maw , December 16, 2009; 07:26 P.M.

There's HDRI photography and then there is manipulated images as photographic art. Some of these images clearly cross the line between faithful reproduction of the visible luminance range of a subject and heavily manipulated photographic art.

Martin Soler , January 25, 2010; 05:52 P.M.

Canon 500D, Photomatix, 3 pics with tripod, retouched in Lightroom

Sweet collection! I use Canon 500D, photomatix and Lightroom. Sometimes I edit in Topaz to get it just right. My photos aren't perfect yet but I am working on that. http://martinsoler.wordpress.com/category/hdr/ I haven't used other HDR software than Photomatix except where I have made my own merging with photoshop, by masking parts of the three images. You can see that one here: http://martinsoler.wordpress.com/2010/01/12/berliner-dom-with-an-angle/

Clive Rapier , January 06, 2011; 08:58 A.M.

at the risk of sounding lame!

HDR looks flat and unreal.

by all means , do multi exposure yes.

but it is better (all be it slower) to combine and or merge images.



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