HDR Under Control is a Thing of Beauty

In a prior post (Why Do Most HDR Images Usually Look… Weird?), I stated that most of the HDR (high dynamic range) images I’ve viewed were typically very overproduced. And I submitted examples to back up my opinion. Well, I have now had the pleasure of viewing some amazing examples of well produced HDR images and feel they too should be recognized. When highlights and shadows are well balanced, amazing images almost always result.Kennedy Bridge #1 300dpis

DSC_2694_HDR - Version 2
The two bridge images above were produced by Nick Roberts. Nick has a thing for bridges. He’s a real pro and knows how to control light ranges. He also has a very informative blog that I follow Speeddemon2 Photography.

By now you realize that my passion for photographic reproduction lies in precision tonal placement. High Dynamic Range provides an excellent way to bring out the detail normally lost with single-shot JPEG images. When great care is exercised in any image preparation, great results speak for themselves. Here’s even more proof that HDR provides that control. Deep shadow detail can make or break a photo. No questions here.

lake hdr gld

This full range black and white image by photographer Greg Davenport was compiled from five different exposures and shows how amazing detailed HDR work can be. Greg has an interesting slant on life: Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain! Well put Greg. You can visit Greg’s web site at http://gregdavenport.4ormat.com/home#1

Understanding of how detail is revealed by controlling an image’s internal contrast will be the centerpiece theme of the six-part Image Tonality and the Histogram series I’ll begin at the end of this week. Don’t miss it. This series contains excerpts from my upcoming book- The Digital Image: From Capture to Presentation and Everywhere In-between. By the end of this series you will hopefully understand internal contrast and image detail more thoroughly- and you’ll have knowledge that you can put into practice right away.


There are powerful editing processes available in Photoshop, Lightroom, and other software packages that allow you to rein-in tones that are typically too light or too dark to be captured by a single camera exposure. Your camera’s aperture is the variable-size opening in your lens that determines how much light will enter the lens during an exposure. The other mechanism for light control is your camera’s shutter speed. These two features (along with the camera’s ISO setting) form the collective gatekeeper that determines how much light enters your camera.

Image sensors are referred to as your camera’s digital film because they sense and measure light entering the lens. These image sensors have limits as to light range (brightest to darkest value) that they can effectively capture in a single shot. At best, this volume of light is way less than the light range typically present in daylight scenes. While your eyes can adjust and adapt to this blast of light very rapidly and your brain’s visual cortex can immediately assimilate this data into a collective full-range image in your mind, your camera needs a little help in accomplishing a similar goal.

The only way for a digital image to simulate the full range of light that your eyes can see is to combine the ranges of at least three exposures of overlapping values; usually a full stop apart. To make this happen, three or more exposures are made of the same scene, each capturing a slightly different exposure, one shot for extreme highlights, one (or more) for the main exposure, and at least one for the dark shadow areas. Varying exposure times (shutter speed) rather than aperture openings is your best practice simply because changing aperture settings will alter the focal length of the images, muffling detail. Using either in-camera HDR settings or post-shooting software, these images are then adjusted and reconstructed into a single image that ideally distributes the tones in a more human manner. Herein lies the real challenge… restraint.


379165 CCil1202Unfortunately, many (if not most) HDR images I have seen are akin to a three-year old putting on mommy’s make-up… too much power under too little control resulting in a very amateurish tonal overload.

Keeping the images “real” is not as easy as it seems. Humans have a nasty tendency toward gluttony of all sorts. More is always better seems to be the ruling philosophy. Nothing exceeds like excess! In my humble opinion, real professionalism shows up in understatement rather than overstatement.

Like a professional chef, one must learn to season his presentations with nuance, not boldness.

This first example is somewhat typical of experimental HDR and represents a popular trend toward developing “other worldly” images. If that is the quest it perhaps fills the bill but it doesn’t represent any place I’d care to visit!


That being said (again)… in fairness I have to point out the positive side of the HDR process. While I don’t overuse this image processing option personally, I certainly see the positive use of HDR when the lighting calls for a little help and where artistic restraint is observed. Some notable examples are displayed on this post for your viewing pleasure. The image below is titled “Tulip Farm” and was produced by Eric Bjerke. It presents a very effective use of HDR. Eric, you make me want to visit this place.

Tulip Farm- Eric Bjerke

Nick Roberts HDR shot

For those able to attend a live workshop on HDR in Louisville Kentucky, I highly recommend my friend Nick Roberts’ gig starting in less than two weeks. The workshop is titled “Using HDR Photography to Create Your Own Personal Style.”  For more information about the HDR workshop go to: http://outdoorphotogear.ticketleap.com/nick-roberts—hdr-photography/

That’s the way eye sees it. If you have examples of your own HDR, send a link in a comment and keep the conversation going. If you saw this post listed on a LI group page, add a comment to the listing in that group! Thanks for joining me. If you like this blog, let me know and tell your friends.

Making its first appearance on the Ides of March (Friday the 15th): the spooky series called Image Tonality and the Histogram. Only followers of this blog can be guaranteed to receive it. Sign in now (top right of this page).

See you next time, Herb



Click the Follow button at the top of the page so you don’t miss any future posts.

PS. if you have an iPad and are interested in learning about more about the fundamentals of digital photography, I suggest that you take a look at my Accurate Color iBook in the iTunes Store


About Herb Paynter

Herb is a published author, photographer, retoucher, color reproduction specialist and a regular writer for Digital Photography School. Download his iBook "Digital Color Photography: A Deeper Look" from the iTunes store and view his Light and Color Fundamentals video series at GottaKnowVideos.com.
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4 Responses to HDR Under Control is a Thing of Beauty

  1. speeddemon2 says:

    Thanks for the kind words Herb; coming from someone who really understands color and light they are high praise indeed. Thanks for the plug about my upcoming HDR workshop too.

    • speeddemon2 says:

      I’m also looking forward to your six part series Image Tonality and the Histogram. After reading a couple of your books I’m sure I’ll learn some new things about how to exploit tonality and histograms.

  2. Pingback: LESS SHOWS MORE | thenormaleye

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