8 HDR Myths Debunked

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There are many misconceptions surrounding the practice of high dynamic range (HDR) photography. Here are eight – debunked.
HDR is new
Within the first five years of the invention of photography photographers began bracketing exposure to extend the dynamic range of photography. They used chemistry to process their negatives instead of software to process their files – but they still bracketed exposures to capture contrast ratios that exceeded paper, glass, and film.
HDR is hard
High dynamic range imaging has become so commonplace that cameras and software make it increasingly easy to practice HDR techniques – auto-bracketing, merging and rendering.
HDR requires the use of a tripod
While there are times when the use of a tripod is required, when exposures are long in duration, in a majority of cases current cameras’ auto-bracketing features and softwares’ image alignment algorithms make hand-held exposure bracketing highly practical.


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How To Set Your Camera’s Auto-Bracketing

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back LCD menu

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top LCD menu

It’s easy to set your camera to auto-bracket. The hardest part of this process is navigating a camera manufacturer’s menu. Once you find it – and do it several times – you won’t forget it.
Here’s how to do it on current Canon cameras – the steps are similar for other cameras but the buttons and menus vary.
First, set the number of frames made in each bracketed sequence. Press the Menu button. Use the main command dial (top) to cycle through the menus on the LCD screen (back) Go to the 4th tab (small camera) > 1st list and then the use the jog wheel (back) to select the 5th item. Press the set button to select it. Use the jog wheel to select the number of shots and press the set button once again. While 3 is the most commonly used, it’s not unusual to use 5 or even 7. Because 3 is the most commonly used number, it’s likely that once you set this, you’ll reset it infrequently.


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Why Your Camera’s Auto HDR Feature Is Inferior

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Today’s cameras have the ability to generate HDR merges on the fly. The problem is that they produce JPEGs with a smaller gamut (lower saturation), lower bit depth (fewer shades of gray), and compression artifacts (noise and jagged edges) and they offer no control over the tone mapping process.
If you want a better HDR file, choose to make multiple bracketed Raw files, then merge and tone map them manually. Remember, aside from exposure settings, in camera settings that affect the look of your image have little or no affect on Raw files, which can be processed any way you want to process them.
In camera HDR JPEGs can offer a fast and convenient preview of potential HDR results. You can get the convenience of one and the quality of the other by setting your camera to produce both JPEG and Raw files simultaneously.
Read more on HDR techniques here.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

How Many Exposures Do You Need For HDR ?

Condensation X - Prelude

1 exposure

scenes like this won’t benefit from HDR

Incubation II

 3 exposures

scenes like this may be made with 1 exposure but benefit from more

Antarctica CXXX

5 exposures

scenes like this require HDR

How many exposures do you need for HDR images?
It depends.
It depends on the contrast ratio of the scene you’re photographing.
And, it depends on how many corners you’re willing to cut.
There is a case to be made for rendering all images with bracketed exposures. If the best data in a file is in the top stop of the dynamic range of a camera, then making one exposure per stop of dynamic range in the scene, each weighted to the top stop pf the camera (ETTR), will give you ideal data in every stop of the rendered scene, once the exposures are merged. So, ideally, you’d make one exposure per stop of dynamic range in the scene. In your first exposure place the shadows in the top stop of the histogram (to the right), without clipping. Then in subsequent exposures reduce exposure in one stop increments, making a new exposure each time, until the highlights are placed in the top stop without any clipping. Then stop.


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Quick Answers To The 5 Most Asked HDR Exposure Questions

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How many shots do you need to make an HDR merge?
The most common answer is three.
The real answer is … it depends. First, it depends on the contrast ratio of the scene. Second, it depends on the exposure value (EV) increments you use between exposures. Third, it depends on the camera you use.
Many scenes only need 2 exposures. Most scenes need 3. Some scenes need 5. Only a few scenes need 7 or more.
How far apart in EV (exposure value) should separate exposures be?
1.5 stops. (Really any value between 1 and 2 stops.) While you won’t get better image quality if you use more shots separated by less exposure value (less than 1 stop), you also won’t compromise it. While you can also use higher increments (more than 2 stops) be careful – you may produce banding in smooth areas, particularly those with gradations.
Do you need to make HDR merges more frequently with some cameras and less with others?
Yes. Cameras that have a greater dynamic range can capture a higher contrast ratio and so don’t require HDR bracketing as frequently. While this can make a difference for images that would require two and occassionally three shots, for scenes with more extreme contrast ratios HDR merges will be necessary for all cameras.


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XDR – HDR Merges Are A 4 Step Process

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Today’s cameras (including smart phones) can create great looking HDR images on the fly, but to get optimum results it’s best to do this manually. In camera solutions render artifacted JPEGs and give you little or no control over how the results look. For optimum results, make separate Raw exposures and render them manually. While the technology at work is wizardry, this four step process is easy to practice. It’s an essential skill for all photographers.
light

+2 stops

normal

average

dark

-2 stops

1       Expose
Today’s fast burst auto-bracketing cameras combined with software alignment make hand held HDR possible. However, it’s recommended that whenever practical you use a tripod to eliminate any alignment issues between frames that might arise; it’s necessary if exposures are long.
HDR merges require multiple bracketed exposures. The goal is to produce at least one exposure with great highlight detail and another with great shadow detail. You may need additional exposures in between your lightest and darkest exposures to help smooth tonal transitions between shadows and highlights. The most common number of images used is three, because this is the default number for auto-bracketing on DSLRs. However, there is no ideal number of exposures for all scenes. Some scenes need as few as two, while others need as many as eight. In general, it’s best to have more than you need, not less. The wider the dynamic range of the scene the more exposures you’ll need. Make sure that separate exposures are between 1 and 2 EV (exposure value)(equivalent to one f-stop) apart. It’s typically recommended that you fix f-stop and change shutter speed to avoid depth of field issues, but other changes in EV will work.
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Merge in Lightroom

2       Merge
After producing multiple bracketed exposures, the next step is to combine them with software into a single 32 bit file.
Simply select the exposures you wish to include (You don’t have to use them all.) and use the software of your choice. The software you use to merge exposures will compensate for alignment and ghosting, from motion of either camera or subject. (Lightroom and Photoshop do excellent jobs.)
Rather than rushing to render this file at the same time, save it – you may want to render it multiple times.


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What Is Exposure Value ?

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In photography, exposure value (EV0 is a number that represents a quantity of light. Each increase or decrease in number indicates a doubling or halving in the amount of light; often referred to a stop of light.


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How Many Exposures Do You Need For HDR ?

Condensation X - Prelude

1 exposure - scenes like this won't benefit from HDR

Incubation II

3 exposures - scenes like this may be made with 1 exposure but benefit from more

Antarctica CXXX

5 exposures - scenes like this require HDR

How many exposures do you need for HDR images?

It depends.

It depends on the contrast ratio of the scene you’re photographing.

Ideally, you’d make one exposure per stop of dynamic range in the scene. In your first exposure place the shadows in the top stop of the histogram (to the right), without clipping. Then in subsequent exposures reduce exposure in one stop increments, making a new exposure each time, until the highlights are placed in the top stop without any clipping. Then stop. Making more exposures is unnecessary and won’t improve image quality.


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Extending Format – It’s For More Than Panoramic Formats




No one needs to learn to “think outside the box” more than photographers. The frame, literally a box, is often our greatest ally. Learning to see photographically is, in part, learning to see within the limits of this box and use them creatively. But there are times when this limits our vision unnecessarily. Once we’ve learned to see within the box, we then also need to learn to see outside the box—and start extending the frame with multiple exposures to perfect select compositions. Extending format techniques aren’t just for panoramic image formats. They can be used to give you the extra inch that can make all the difference in the world for your compositions …
Read more on Digital Photo Pro.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

8 Essentials To Achieve Perfectly Focused Exposures


Use these 8 essential practices to achieve optimally focused exposures.
1         Focus
Set focus in an image intentionally; placing focus in an image unintentionally is usually a deal breaker. Switch autofocus mode to AI Servo only for subjects that are moving predictably. Use manual focus for times when auto focus is likely to fail you, typically scenes with low contrast, including but not limited to low light and night photography.
2         Eliminate Camera Blur
Use a tripod whenever practical. Lacking a tripod, use a nearby prop to stabilize the camera during exposure. When shooting hand, held brace your body in a stable position. Whenever appropriate use the minimum shutter speed you can hand hold without motion blur; for most people this is 1 second divided by the focal length - i.e. 50mm + 1/50th of a second. Shoot in bursts of three or more; nine times out of ten one exposure will be sharper than the others.
3         Use Sharp Lenses
         Higher quality lenses not only deliver sharper images, they do so from center to edge and with minimal chromatic aberration (caused by a lenses inability to focus all wavelengths of light on the same plane). Compare lens MTF charts to see how sharp a lens is and when it is sharpest.
4         Use The Sharpest Aperture
The sharpest aperture, generally f8 or f11, varies from lens to lens. Test your lens to find out which aperture is sharpest. The smallest aperture (f22 or equivalent) delivers the greatest depth of field (acceptable lack of focus) but slightly compromises sharpness in image areas that are perfectly focused. It’s a trade off; make it only when it’s beneficial.


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