HDR is absolutely fascinating to me and I find myself shooting more and more every time I pickup my camera. Over time I’ve developed more of a taste for HDR images that are difficult to identify- meaning they look like a normal, well taken photograph. I’m not a fan of HDR that looks too cartoony or that contain so many image alterations the end result loses any resemblance of the original photo or the way the naked eye would intend to interpret the image. Although I have to admit some of my work started off that way, and texture details can make some scenes look extraordinary, the real art is in the HDR technique itself.
You can accomplish a lot in post production that allows you to make the photo look real with a few popping enhancements, which is what I tend to try and achieve. I typically focus on structure to bring out the texture which is what HDR does the best, especially in walls, floors and ceilings. Photographers that use post processing to accent texture usually bring some terrific dimension to their photos. Shooting HDR has shaped my photographic habits, because now I typically search for subjects with heavy textures like rocks, cement, wood, brick and so on.
A good example of how HDR can bring out some awesome texture is this shot I took at the Irving Convention Center, in Irving TX. This was shot at night on a tripod, with 3 exposures. You can see the difference in the first version which is the original unedited image, followed by the HDR image. I mostly increased the blacks and structure settings in post processing, as well as modified the saturation to dull the yellowish tint. The cement columns and ceiling show their true textures in the HDR version.
When shooting in HDR it’s important to shoot multiple exposures, but that can be difficult shooting without a tripod. Face it, you can’t always lug a tripod around and some circumstances won’t even allow for it. However, if you set your bracketing and rapid fire, and you steady your hand enough you can pull it off. I use HDR Efex (and the family of Nik software) for post processing, which helps with correcting ghosting. In most cases it’s a success. In addition, I use a D700 with the external battery back. If you use AA batteries, your shutter fires even faster. This comes in handy when handheld HDR is your only option. Needless to say, handheld only works in well lit situations where the shutter can fire quickly.
This photo was taken at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The castle has a great amount of detail, which makes it a terriifc candidate for HDR. With the family moving along ahead, there really wasn’t any time to setup a tripod, so I fired off 3 shots. The conditions were right, so it worked out. It’s difficult to see any margin of error in the original 3 photos so HDR Efex was able align all 3 exposures just fine.