a31 January 2013

Thoughts: What HDR can give you?

For many HDR is artificial, surreal about what I wrote in a I don't like HDR post. Today I would like to focus on something different. I would like to share some thoughts what HDR can give you, what skills it can teach you and how it can help you in becoming a better photographer. I started HDR photography pretty soon after picking photography and it is what motivated me to learn more and more (and is still motivating me in fact):
  1. Thinking more about the final result - if you want to create good HDR photos you have to learn pretty quickly to visualize your final results when taking a photo. Shooting bracketed photos at random and then processing them using random settings in Photomatix won't help to create great photos. When setting your photo you should already have an idea how you want the final image to look. And at first it isn't easy as you have to be able to imagine how merged 32-bit image will look and how it can be processed using tone-mapping algorithms. But after some time you will know which subjects will work well in HDR, what mood you want to create and what settings you will use.
  2. Understanding exposure - when I was learning the very basics (well anything beyond the automatic programmes) I could read everywhere about the exposure triangle: ISO, aperture and shutter speed. When taking photos I couldn't, however, understand how they all work. What's the difference whether I change shutter speed or aperture to get good results? It didn't make sense to me. With HDR I learnt this by example (and I wasn't happy at that time, believe me - I lost some great photos ;) ). When I was increasing ISO I noticed much more noise in my images. I noticed that when I was changing aperture, the photos were sharper or more blurry depending on its value. What's more HDR photography taught me how to properly expose my photos to cover as much dynamic range as possible (and I use these techniques even when taking a single photo). You may think that it's easy - shoot as many as 20 brackets and you will for sure cover whole dynamic range of the scene. Well, that's true of course but it would take much time what could result in severe ghosting (and even light changes in the scene). So for that reason I try to keep number of bracketed photos to the necessary minimum.
  3. Using a tripod - if you're beginner probably you don't care about using a tripod much. It's heavy and sometimes limiting. But to get good HDR photos, tripod is essential. Of course Photomatix does some really great job aligning even hand-held shots but if you're shooting hand-held they might simply lack sharpness. Not to mention that some of the most beautiful HDR photos can be taken during sunset/sunrise or at night when it's virtually impossible to take a sharp photo without a tripod.
  4. Thinking more about light. When I started photography I was taking photos under all possible conditions. This resulted in many photos being dull, boring, colorless. What HDR photography taught me is that light is the key to create good photos.
  5. Thinking more about detail and textures. Similarly to above HDR photography taught me to pay attention to detail and textures. They both look great after tone-mapping
  6. And finally the greatest thing HDR photography taught me is that photography isn't that difficult and that it's great fun. I mentioned that at the beginning of this post that HDR was what motivated me to learn. Yes, it motivated me because I found it's such a great thing to do :)
A few words about the photo above. I took it in Lisbon. I wanted to create wide perspective here so I put my camera about 10 - 15 cm above the ground and headed it up. I could have used even wider lens than 24 mm but it was enough to create the effect I wanted.

EXIF data:
Camera: Canon 5D MK II
Lens: Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS USM
Focal length: 24 mm
Aperture: f/5.6
Exposure time: 1/40 s ("middle" exposure)
ISO: 640
Number of exposures: 3
E.V. Step: 2 E.V.
Flash used: no
Tripod used: no
Filters used: no
Software: Magic Lantern 2.3, Photomatix Pro 4.2.5, Lightroom 4.2, Photoshop CS5

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