HDR, High Dynamic Range Photography

Why I wrote this Article


Our eyes can see a dynamic range over 20 f-stops; while our camera is limited to a dynamic range of six f-stops. HDR photography is enabling us to capture the full dynamic range of a scene much like our eyes does, a sort of hyper realism which for me at times is ruining the magic. For me Photography isn’t just a replica of reality, it’s not just what we see, but the creativity that lies in the thought process behind the photo, and how we communicates this to the beholders.

I am not a purist, who thinks that everything should be made in camera (yet I do try to), for me post processing is a part of the creative process. There is nothing wrong with dragging photos through a Photoshop process as long as what’s done is honest. For me there is no difference between the works done in Photoshop and the work we did back in our dark rooms.

That leaves me really biased, on one side with a feeling that hyper realism was running the arty element of photography, and the fact that HDR when done right adds to the art produced.

This article is me trying to sort out my mind on HDR and with the aspiration of learning more on the topic I took contact to some of my photography friends, to get their views, experiences and examples … this is a compile of what it brought.

Hate HDR for the right reasons

I have head loads of negative talk about HDR, most of the talk directed against any HDR that doesn’t look natural and photorealistic. But that’s the thing, if it doesn’t look natural and photorealistic; then it means that it doesn’t look like an HDR. All those “over the top” HDR images is many times HDR effect, which is altered into a surreal state by applications like Photomatix. I am sure you can make good HDR pictures in Photomatix, but a good deal of the pictures made in this program I find to be far too exaggerated in their colour rendition.

An HDR effect is when you make a HDR from one picture. For me it seldom gives desirable result; however there are situations where it’s great. I imagine that your motive is moving a lot, a running horse, a playing child, those are situations where seconds in difference between exposures will not do.

Top end Cameras like the A99V brags about the ability to make in camera HDR (much like those your mobile phone can make J) One of the downsides is that this only works on JPG’s and not ARW.

How I took on the task

I started creating this HDR, with the aspiration of covering the entire dynamic range of the scene. With the Obvious exception of the sun, was it my intent to underexpose the scene so that none of the highlights are blown out, and then work my way up until all shadows was exposed. I could possibly have been well off with 4 exposures, but in this example I took 8. My setup was Sony Alpha A99V equipped with a Samyang 14mm f/2.8. The camera was on a tripod to avoid misalignment.


Try to avoid moving elements in your pictures as even a slight movement can ruin it. That said running water or moving clouds can still be really cool, while they are showing movement.


I opened the series in Camera Raw, and selected all of the photos, and used the merge functionality, the final DNG photo was easy to adjust for white balance, that that was it. Not much magic, but I very special expression as the result. Judging from the photos I can see its sensor cleaning time as well J


My conclusion

After some experimentation, I am still biased. There is a time and place for HDR photography; there are absolutely some shots where it makes a huge difference. But as I said in the introduction is HDR also introducing an element of hyper realism, which is on expense on the arty element of photography.


Examples of HDR photos

The photo “Industrial” was made by John Asbjørn Skajem. It was taken at a disbanded iron foundry in Germany. HDR enabled him to pull details out from different shapes and structures. HDR also enabled him to capture a bright sky as well as sufficient exposed portion of the pipes, beams and installations, even though that this portion of the picture was covered in shade.

The next example was taken by John Asbjørn Skajem’s in Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg in Alsace France. The photo “Kaiser Kronleuchter” is Portraying a macabre chandelier in the old German imperial palace dining hall. A Curiosity is that the place now is overtaken by the old enemy France.

This photo was developed using LightRoom HDR DNG. HDR was used to balance details in light and dark parts of the frame. The photos behind it are taken handheld without a tripod.

The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River in the south of France. Located near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard, the bridge is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50-kilometer system built in the first century AD to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus.

John Asbjørn Skajem tells us that the photo was taken at his favorite time of day at sunrise, the time of day that offers the most tranquility, and solitude even at popular spots. Furthermore is the light is typically great.

He reached the spot after hiking 3km, the places is usually crowded with tourists, but due to his early arrival he had the place for himself for almost two hours.

Again LightRoom HDR DNG was used, this time with a 7 exposures bracket going into the picture.

John Asbjørn Skajem’s last example is “Swedish Torp kitchen”: The challenge here was taking a picture in a dimly lit room, while having the light and details from the windows.

Dylan Walker also contributed on this blog; and here are his thoughts on his picture and HDR as a technique. So why do I shoot HDR? Well, first of, my camera doesn’t really have a very powerful high dynamic range so if I were to take a single photograph of a landscape while the sun was setting, and wanted the foreground to be near the same exposure as the sky, I wouldn’t be able to recover the shadows as good as HDR. I would have a lot of noise if I didn’t use HDR.

The main tool I use to merge my images to make a HDR image is Lightroom’s HDR tool. It’s simple to use and quick. HDR for me, is a way of making a scene look like as it was at the time, more realistic.

There are two different types of HDR, one being the technique (merging multiple images together) and the other, using software such as Photomatix Pro to create what is known as the ‘HDR effect’. I prefer the first technique.

This photograph was taken in Frosinone, Italy. The reason I used HDR is because it was near Remembrance Day and I wanted the poppies in the foreground to be seen, so by using HDR, both the foreground and sky were properly exposed.


Resulting in


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