March 31, 16

The secrets to a realistic HDR photo

Over the years HDR has gotten a bad rap. As soon as people see a photo veering into crazy town they state “Ew, I hate HDR’. But the majority of quality images you see, from landscape, to interiors, to architecture are likely the product of an HDR image. They are just a more subtle and true image.

HDR generally consists of bracketing 3 or 5 images. One at the correct exposure and 1 or 2 under and over by 1-2 stops. This allows for the highlights to be exposed for as well as the shadows so you get way more detail. With modern editing systems like Lightroom or Photoshop you can get very similar results so why HDR? Professionals will still use this method, however, because it will produce a much higher quality image using 3 or 5 images rather then trying to pull all the data from only 1.

To exemplify this I edited the same photo, one with 3 bracketed photos and the other with only one. You can clearly see the HDR image is a much better photo.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-3-48-03-pm screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-3-48-09-pm

The biggest difference is in the sky. The top photo the clouds are obviously blown out, the clouds have lost a lot of detail and look flat. You probably can’t notice in these images but the noise levels are much lower in the second one as well. At the same time the image doesn’t have that crazy HDR look to it.

To avoid that look the secret is in the editing. I generally will use Lightroom. I will do 3 things to get this look. I open up the Highlights and then bring down the shadows. After doing that you will be left with a very strong HDR look. To remedy this you need to bring back some contrast. For this you can bring up the whites and the blacks down, this will help quite a bit. The last thing I do for sure is bringing up the clarity that leaves you with a beautiful HDR image .