What is HDR?

What is HDR?
4 years, 10 months ago Comments Off

What is HDR?  Well, HDR literally stands for High Dynamic Range. The reason for creating HDR images is to extend the dynamic range that a typical camera can take. What does this mean? – Think about trying to take a photo of a sunset.  You will likely get one of two possible outcomes:



In this first photo, you have a good exposure on the ground, but there is no detail what so ever in the sky. After taking this photo, you would have a hard time convincing your friends that the sunset really was amazing :)


f9, 0.3 sec 100ISO

In this photo, the exposure on the sky is good but there is no detail in the foreground. This type of photo really leaves a lot to be desired too…


Why does this happen?

Today’s camera technology simply can’t capture the entire dynamic range of this scene. The “technology” in your eye and brain is much more advanced than any camera made!

So, how do we work around it?

Basically, we take the two photos above and use a computer program to merge the two. The outcome will be a photo that has a much higher dynamic range throughout the photo.



Sticking with the above photo, let’s look at how I would handle that scene. Instead of taking one photo, I would take 6 photos, each with a different exposure value. Click on the photo to see the exposure values set for each image:

f9, 0.3 sec 100ISO f9, 0.6 sec 100ISO f9, 1.3 sec 100ISO f9, 2.5 sec 100ISO f9, 5 sec 100ISO f9, 10 sec 100ISO

I started with f9 at 0.3 seconds, which is a good exposure for the sky. I then adjusted the shutter speed (not the aperture) by one stop (or double the length) and took another photo. I repeated this step until I had all 6 shots you see. You can see that with these 6 photos, I have captured the entire exposure range of the scene.

*In the advanced tutorials, I’ll show you how to set your camera up so that it will take 3 or more of these at once*

Next, we are going to input these 6 photos into a program called Photomatix. Photomatix is an HDR program that will merge all of the exposures and will give you some creative freedom with the result. This is the example photo after processing with Photomatix:

Tone mapped HDR image


Now you can see, we have nearly complete range through out the scene. We can then process this photo in Photoshop (or any editing program) to get the final result seen here:


What do you need?

Now that you’re ready to get out and start taking HDR photos, there are a few things you need. Check out the Gears and Tools page for a complete listing of what’s in my camera bag. The basics are these:

  1. Camera – capable of taking bracketed exposures, or at least a camera that you can adjust the individual exposure values on
  2. Tripod – I know many people will tell me that it is possible to do handheld HDR. I realize that it is possible, but it is certainly not ideal. You are best off getting a tripod
  3. HDR software – I recommend Photomatix by HDRsoft. It’s the program I use to process nearly all of my HDR photos. At only $99 for the pro version it’s already the best value out there, and now it’s even better – When you use discount code malcolmphoto, you’ll get 15% more off the price! Download your copy HERE


Now that you understand the basics of what we’re trying to do, head on over to the advanced tutorial. There are videos there that cover everything from taking the photo to processing the image on the computer!

If you’ve found this tutorial useful, please share it with your friends who may also be interested in HDR photography. Leave me a comment or send us a message with your feedback, we’d love to hear from you!

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