HDR (High-dynamic-range) is a basic photographic technique that has been around for a very long time. However, most people still don’t know what it actually does. Overdoing HDR can result in oversaturated and fake looking images. Hence, we’re here to simplify it for you so that you can confidently use HDR for capturing the image as you see it in the real world.

What is HDR photography?

Before we get to use HDR, we need to understand exactly what it is and when we should use it. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range which itself suggests that the main goal of using HDR is to capture more details and contrast from a scene than otherwise possible. This technique works by capturing several photos of the same scene at various exposure levels, and then combining them into a highly dynamic photograph. Now, cameras are not yet capable of producing perfect HDR, therefore, a combination of a good camera and software is needed to create an HDR image. 

Basic Equipment

Camera on tripod image by ryzhkovoleksandr, 123RF.

Shooting in HDR does not require a lot of equipment. You will just need a camera and a tripod for sharper photos. Almost any camera is capable of shooting HDR images but there are a few requirements that you should look for. First, it should have a bracketing mode. Bracketing is necessary for HDR, but more on this later. Second, you should check the reviews about its exposure handling.

In HDR, you are going to deal with exposure a lot which means you need to keep the camera super steady. Of course, keeping the camera in hand is more exciting but using a tripod with a remote release gives you the creative freedom to move around without shaking the camera.

Bracketing

Two different photos of purple flowers shot with different apertures by nito500, 123RF.

To capture a perfect HDR photo, you need to shoot the scene in different exposures. Auto Bracketing shoots 3 rapid images with different exposures that are mostly set to –2, 0, +2. This is done so that no part of the image is underexposed or overexposed. If you want to do this manually, you can even go for more stops from –3 to +3. Although you can create a good HDR from a single RAW photo, the bracketing method will allow you to get more creative with the process.

Pro Tips:

  • Try to shoot RAW images in the bracketing method. This will give you more room in post-processing.
  • The ISO should be kept as low as possible to keep the image noise and grain to a minimum.
  • The same aperture should be used in all the images to maintain coherence between them.

Creating a HDR Image

Image of snow-covered road in the Antorno area near Misurina, Italy by oldpaddo47, 123RF.

Now that you have a couple of images, what do you do with them? Merge them with the help of the software of your choice of course! What happens is that the differently exposed images are merged to create a composite which has all the details by balancing the exposure. This is exactly why we recommended a tripod. It will help to keep the images aligned. However, if you are missing a tripod, there are numerous softwares out there that will auto-align the images for you.

Post Process

Image of a man editing photos on a computer by rawpixel, 123RF.

The final step in creating a great HDR photo is processing in editing software programs. If you are an absolute beginner or even a veteran, there are tons of tools where you can learn some creative skills online. One great photo editing software available is PIXLR which lets you edit photos right in your browser for free.

Auto HDR

Image of a woman taking a sunset photo by candy18, 123RF.

Auto HDR is a very common feature in smartphone cameras. It does all the work for you; you just need to click and keep the camera steady. Now with more advanced features, smartphone cameras can also detect the scene and decide if the HDR needs to be turned on. This feature can be also found in most of the cameras nowadays.

Conclusion

Like we said in the beginning, HDR is an exciting and great tool. However, if you do overdo it, you will be left with a flat and unpleasant image. Keep experimenting with different settings to get the best quality images. You can use features like auto and smart HDR to avoid complications.

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