The HDR Effect

We have all come across HDR images and a simple search on the Internet will bring up loads of samples. The premise of HDR – high dynamic range images are straightforward. The digital sensors used in the existing cameras have a limited dynamic range that it can capture from shadow details to highlights. Thus in an image that has a very wide dynamic range, for example landscape images between the shadow areas of the land and the highlight  details of the sky, invariably some of the details will be lost – either we exposed for the sky and have the land in shadows or we exposed for the shadows and have the sky blown out.

This is where HDR photography comes in where a series of images are taken of a scene with each image exposing for a certain range covering from shadow details to highlights and then using a software such as Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 to combine them into a single High Dynamic Range image that showcases range from shadow details to highlights. Simple right? Well not exactly that straightforward as I tried experimenting different scenarios and my first attempts ended up with images that look like the Martian landscape. I think the aim of HDR is not to over amplify the effect where the image crosses into psychedelic  over processing that looks overcooked but maintain a form of naturalness that is believable.

The following is an attempt in creating an HDR image. Naturally a good tripod is useful in taking the series of images unless you are a Zen master in holding the camera rock steady in between exposures. I exposed a series of 5 images from shutter speeds of 1/30 second in intervals to 1/2 second and then use HDR Efex Pro 2 to combine all the 5 images into an HDR image. The first image is the combined image and the following images are the 5 images used to build the final HDR image.

Final Combined HDR image in Nik Efex Pro 2

First image shot at 1/30 second

Second image shot at 1/15 second

Third image shot at 1/8 second

Fourth image shot at 1/4 second

Last image shot at 1/2 second

In summary, each of the above 5 images taken by itself due to the limitation of the range between shadow and highlight details that it can capture ends up as just another very ordinary run of the mill image. But by combining the series of 5 images into a single HDR image where an extended range of shadow details and highlights helps create a very rich and vibrant Bali sunset that immediately elevates the image from the ordinary.

I am sure someday, technology will allow us to capture an extended dynamic range in a single capture. Until that day, HDR image by means of post processing via HDR software – at least those that are executed without overcooking the images provides an avenue for photographers to try to capture the scene as our eyes have witness it.