How to Do HDR Photography

HDR – High Dynamic Range Photography Tutorial

I love HDR photography and I’ve received quite a few emails over the past couple months regarding it.  Some of you have suggested I do a ebook or a video.  Some have asked about my work flow and HDR processing too.  While some that are just getting started simply ask, “do you have any tips?”  Truth is, I’d love to write a ebook or do a video.  I am not that technically advanced.  I mean, I know how to go on You Tube and find a video.  My 9 year old makes me sit through Nerf gun wars almost daily.  I am a pretty good writer or I should say, I feel I can write in terms that most people can follow with ease.  But, I don’t know the first thing about writing, formatting and publishing a ebook.

As far as work flow and HDR post processing goes, I don’t mind sharing that.  In fact, I usually answer those questions in the emails.  But once again, I’m not the greatest with technical stuff.  I just got Photoshop last year and started working with it for the first time!  Granted, I had some help along the way with the basics.  However, everything I do now I am self taught.  So if I work with “Levels” in Photoshop, I see what it is doing, but I don’t know if I could put it into words with “why” it’s doing that.  It’s kind of like trying to tell someone how to whistle or blow a bubble with gum.  I know what I am doing, but am I the best teacher to explain it?  Well, let me try!

Palm Beach County Sunset

Getting Started in HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography Tips

I’ll start out with the basics.  What I recommend you have to get started in HDR photography.

  1. A camera that has a auto bracket mode.  In my layman terms, that means it can shoot multiple exposures.  I’ve seen HDR photographers shoot everything from 3 exposures to 5, 7, 9 and even 21!  Here’s a Steve Huskisson secret…. 99.5% of the time, I shoot only 3 exposures.  If I am shooting indoors, I may shoot 5 or 7 at the most.  Most everything you see on website is 3 exposures at -2 (under), 0 (normal) and +2 (over) exposed.  If your not sure if your camera shoots in brackets, check your manual or Google your camera.
  2. Tripod, tripod, tripod.  Like the three times tripod?  You need a good tripod.  Your going to be taking multiple exposures of the same thing.  If there is any movement, even slight, the image will be ruined.  I would recommend a decent and sturdy tripod.  Especially if your HDR photography takes you to the beach, mountains, hills, etc.  You want that tripod to be sturdy and not move at all.  Another accessory you may find useful is a cable or remote shutter release.  This way you can take those pictures without touching your camera and risk bumping your tripod.  If you don’t have one, consider using the self timer on your camera.
  3. HDR software.  You will need software to take your multiple exposures and combine or tonemap them into one HDR image.  There are many different HDR software companies out there, so feel free to research.  I personally like using Photomatix Pro.  It gives me lots of control and has plenty of presets.  However, I have made my own custom presets, so you can always play with the sliders if your not happy with Photomatix presets.

So you have your camera, tripod and software and your ready to head out to take some pictures.  One thing I found when I first started HDR photography, was that I felt I had to shoot everything in HDR.  Literally, I’m not kidding.  Front of my house, backyard, living room, my kids, car, etc.  And the more it exploded, the better.  Well, I thought.  I actually got a kick out of reading “The 10 Steps Every HDR Photographer Goes Through“  I think I’ve come to settle down and hopefully my photography reflects that with the niche I’ve found.

In photography, I am a fan of a couple of things.  I’ve been told that I have a good eye and that it seems to be natural with how I compose photos.  I don’t know, I have to let you all be the judge of that.  But I think everyone has the potential to capture that spectacular image.  I try to include some of these things when I can and sometimes I may not have any of them in my photographs.  But they are guidelines I try to follow for myself.

  • Foreground – I always try to have something in my foreground.  A object, landscape, etc.  Something that will draw your eye into the photograph.  It doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to take up the entire bottom of the picture.  That’s up to you.  Many of my shots at the beach around Jupiter, Florida will have objects.  Rocks, a fishing pier, grass or bushes.  This may not always be practical, but look around before you rush and set that tripod down!

West Palm Beach, Florida skyline in the evening HDR

In this HDR shot of downtown West Palm Beach, I used the flowers as my foreground.  The idea I had behind this shot was for you to see the flowers first, then lift your eyes up to the rest of the photo.  Taking it all in finally.  Did you even realize you did that?

  • Juxtaposition – say what?  Juxtapostion is basically placing two things side by side.  Usually comparing or abstract concepts.  Most of the time it happens by accident, but just something to think about.

Palm Beach Ocean Rescue boat sits on Juno Beach during a sunrise while a storm moves in from the south.

In this HDR photograph “Clashing Nature” I took advantage of the sky over Juno Beach, Florida.  Notice the boat is the foreground of this photograph?  But the juxtaposition is actually the sky.  On the left, you have the sunrise over Juno Beach Fishing Pier and to the right there is a nasty thunderstorm that is actually moving towards the sunrise.  That is where I got the title “Clashing Nature” from.

  • Rule of Thirds – If you’ve read any photography book, you probably have seen “rule of thirds.”  It’s a good rule to follow, I try to.  But, you don’t have to always.  So be creative in your photography!  Rule of thirds is basically a grid that your viewfinder may even have the option to show.  The viewfinder is divided in thirds from left to right.  The “rule” is to keep your subject in a third.  Don’t forget, rule of thirds also applies up and down too!  So if you have a great sky you want to focus on, put that horizon line in your camera just above the horizon and get more of that sky!

The Jupiter Lighthouse in Florida during the predawn morning hours.

In the HDR photograph above, I used the rule of thirds for the Jupiter Lighthouse.  I was zoomed in a bit on this photo, but I made sure I left room for the right side of the photo too, the dock.  In this case, using the rule of thirds makes this picture look better in my opinion.  The other option would have been place it in the middle of the picture.  Why not to the right?  Powerlines and the bridge!

  • Lines – I’m going to shoot for layman terms here again.  Lines draw your eyes into the photograph.  Similar to the foreground that I like to use, lines give your eyes a natural reference and give that two dimensional picture some depth.  If I can’t find a foreground, I’ll try and find some lines.  If I can’t find any lines, I’ll try to find a foreground.

Winding road through Riverbend Park in Jupiter, Florida

In the HDR photograph above, taken at Riverbend Park in Jupiter, Florida, I used several lines here. Literally, in fact this may be really over exploiting the statement.  But you can see from other photographs I’ve taken where I’ll use one “line.”  Such as a pier or a fence.  In this picture, I chose several lines.  Starting from left to right.  You have the curve in the grass path next to the fence.  Then the fence line, followed by several stripes on the roadway that act as lines.  Lastly, the fence on the other side.  Like the foreground, the lines in the picture should draw your eyes naturally into the image.  Almost like driving down a road I’d say.  I told you this picture may have exploited my point!

I hope this has helped you, especially if your just starting out with HDR.  Please comment and share this blog.

I’ll cover my workflow in a future blog, but hopefully this will give you a basis to go out and start shooting some wonderful HDR photography wherever your travels take you!


5 Responses to “How to Do HDR Photography”

  1. Michael A. Evans says:

    I have been following for tips and looking at your photos for a few months , it brought back my fascination of photography full bore, as my pennies will let me at this time . Glad you opened this site its great to get your tips and enjoy looking at your work at the same time . You have a fan and student here :)Kind Regards Mikey

  2. Great pictures! Welcome to the world of blogging. I’m a blogger and a writer friend of Linnea’s . . . saw you post on her FB & thought I’d stop by :-)

  3. Sandy Cheek says:

    Thanks so much for all the tips. Love taking pictures for my own enjoyment, but now you’ve got me interested in HDR. Just love your pictures and have invited many friends to join your new FB page. Thanks again Steve.

  4. Where is the best/ proper place for a watermark ? And, How intense should it be ?

    • It’s a personal choice, but I like mine in the lower right corner. I don’t want it too big where it distracts from the subject matter of the photograph, but not too small either where it can’t be seen. I generally set a opacity of 30-60% opacity depending on how it looks.

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