Image show two segments with separate single exposures and a segment showing nine merged images into a single HDR.
Merging Photos to create High Dynamic Range results

…Create amazing HDR images

What does HDR mean?
Some people will be a bit confused by the term HDR, it stands for High Dynamic Range (HDR) and can transform your photos and take them to new heights.

What is an HDR image and why is it better than a normal photo?
As a starting point, an HDR photo is just two or more images of the same scene taken at various exposure levels which are combined with specialist software to achieve a better final result.

It’s a little more involved than that, but not a great deal more — that’s the basics of it. 

The complicated reason for using HDR is that the sensor in your camera (the bit that sees the light in your photos) has limitations as to its range of sensitivity to the range of black and white (and the gradients in between) that it can see (sense). An image that uses the HDR technique effectively increases this range, and supplies more data for the image to use.

The human eye can actually perceive a greater dynamic range than is ordinarily possible with a camera. If we were to consider situations where our pupils open and close for varying degrees of brightness, our eyes can see a range of nearly 24 f-stops.

The process of producing an HDR image starts with the photographer taking a series of images that are bracketed (photos of the same subject taken with different shutter speed combinations producing a series of images with different brightness’s (or luminosities)).

The process of getting these images normally works best if the camera is on a tripod and is able to be kept still.

Once the images have been captured, they can then be combined using specialist HDR software.

This will produce a final result that combines all the dynamic range from all of the images. This is quite technical, but can increase the dynamic range of your cameras sensor substantially. This allows for a richer tonal range, punchier colours and brighter, better defined images.

As an example, the following images have been taken as an 9 exposure set, ready for HDR processing.  One was at taken at a normal exposure level and then 4 over exposed and four under exposed.  

They were taken from the 37th floor of Heron Tower in London, E1 in August 2017 between 23:58:14 and 23:58:16 (2 seconds). ISO 2500, f2.8 and using a Nikon D5 DSLR with a 16mm fisheye lens.

1 Second Exposure
1/2 Second Exposure
1/4 Second Exposure
1/8 Second Exposure
1/13th of a second exposure – (base image)
1/30th of a second exposure
1/60th of a second exposure
1/125th of a second exposure
1/200th of a second exposure

The final Result with all 9 images merged together as an HDR

The Final Merged Image – all 9 images merged to a single HDR

As you see the range of tones and colours in the HDR image is much better than any of the other 9 images, also the colours are more dynamic and crisper.

How to create your own HDR images
You’ll find that you will need a few things before you set out on to create your amazing HDR image.  For getting the best results, we would recommend;

  1. A Camera

I know it sound obvious and I’m not being factious, but if you want to do a lot of HDR work then it’s worth making sure you have a suitable camera to get the images with.

Find one ideally with a exposure bracketing function. Although this isn’t a major issue if it does not have it, it will make things a huge amount easier, as without it you’ll need to adjust your settings manually between each shot.

Not only does this take considerably more time (the nine exposures for the London shot took just under two seconds in total) but you’ll increase the chances that you’ll move the camera slightly.  

The London shot was taken resting the camera on a rail, so no tripod was used for that and the quickness that all the images were taken helped keep them aligned.

  • A tripod

Shooting the images by hand is an option and if you find a very solid thing to rest or lean on then it’s possible however, you may encounter trouble aligning your images later on. A tripod is definitely recommended for best results. 

Whilst most HDR software programs are equipped with image alignment, they sometimes aren’t always perfect, with this in mind it’s best to use a tripod or clamp to get the aligned images to start with.

  • HDR software

There are a number of different HDR programs out there that are good. We use Photomatix Pro (6.1.1). 

It’s powerful, fast, and full-featured, and if you’re going to be doing a fair amount of HDR work then the price is very reasonable at just : £69.00 for the Pro package and as I write, hdrsoft are giving the Essentials pack for free!! (normally £29.99). this is due to Covid 19 with more people at home.   I would still plump for the pro version if you can, however.

There are other HDR processing programmes out there but we have had success with Photomatix and it’s what we would recommend.

So, that’s the kit and software, what about the rest?

Now you know what kit and software you need, what are the other bits you need to know? Here are some pointers for getting good shots for HDR work.:

  • It’s a very good idea to try and concentrate on scenes that are fairly static. You’ll soon notice once you start to do HDR’s that leaves in the trees on windy days never behave and they cause ghosting in you images (Photomatix does have a cure for this, but far better for it not to be there).

    So bear this in mind when lining up your shots – what’s moving now or likely to move during the exposures.
  • HDR is very suited to getting the best out of scenes that have large amounts of contract between dark and light areas (the inside of a church for instance).  These are the photos that are best suited for HDR as normally you would not capture the full dynamic range in a single shot.
  • Always shoot in RAW.  This is an overall piece of good advice but especially relevant for HDR work. Whilst you can take your images for HDR in JPEG, this is a lossy compression format and also “pre-bakes” the picture in the camera so you lose a huge amount of control over the final results. The cost of faster and bigger memory cards is constantly reducing and it’s always a good idea to have the biggest that you can.
  • Please remember that these tips are just loose guidelines. It’s all good advice, but don’t let it get in the way of you being artistic. Have a play you’ll soon start to get a idea of what works and what doesn’t.

What if all I have (or want) is my Phone?

It’s true that you don’t need a expensive or complicated DSLR to do HDR photography (it just helps for the high end stuff). If all you have is you phone then you can still get some great results. 

I’m going to cover that in a separate article soon, so if you want to know when that’s happening and also keep seeing these hints and tips then please follow my facebook and linkedin pages.

The HDR featured in this article formed the basis for one of my fine art prints which you can see by clicking on the image here.

View from Heron Tower, London E1

I do one to one training on how to take better photos and using your camera more effectively.  If this is of interest to you then please contact me – the rates for this 1-2-1 training are very reasonable and it’s tailored to your exact needs.

PJB Photography Limited – 07900 892586

philip@pjbphotography.co.uk