What exactly is HDR photography anyway?
When people see HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography I often get comments as to them looking 3D or "like a painting". They appear brighter and expose more detail. First off, I'll explain why.
We've all seen a beautiful scene and perhaps taken a picture of it. What we saw was bright, colorful and three dimensional. We go home, excited to upload the picture, but to our disappointment we see a flat, dull, lifeless image. What happened? What I saw was stunning and what I have is just plain boring! The reason is Dynamic Range. Our eyes see a very wide dynamic range and "see" more data than any camera sensor can record (even the most expensive pro ones). Within the greater range we see more color, details in shadows and depth of field. No single image can capture what we see and no program (including photoshop) can add data which was not captured.
So how do we capture more Dynamic Range? It's actually very simple. We capture multiple images at different exposures. I use 3 exposures, some folks use up to nine. One normal exposure captures the "normal" photographic range. The second shot is under exposed capturing highlight detail that was not recorded in the normal exposure. The third shot is over exposed capturing shadow details. When these three images are merged together they create an HDR photograph which has captured more data, closer to what we saw. Why do I prefer only three images? More is not always better. Elements such as wind and movement effect the sharpness of the images merged. Time is also an issue, if the clouds are moving, three fast shots are about the limit.
How hard is it? Do I need expensive software? It's easy and the program I use to merge the three images only costs $39. Most DSLR's have a featured called auto-bracketing. The exposures are programmed in the auto-bracketing mode. With the camera on a tripod and using a remote release, I take the pictures. During the three exposures, the camera is changing the shutter speed only to over and under expose the shots. From there the shots are merged and adjusted using Photomatix light (or it may be called essentials now, don't waste your money on the pro version). I then import the images into Lightroom 4 and make my final edits.
As you can see the results are stunning! Feel free to post any questions or Email me on this topic,