Photoshop Tutorials

Photoshop Tutorial: HDRi Photography Part 1 – Preparation

Photoshop Tutorial: HDRi Photography Part 1 – Preparation

HDRi or high dynamic range imaging is a technique used by photographers to capture more dynamic range for a scene using multiple exposures. Why would you need to do this? Ever took a picture at midday and the sky is always overexposed or the foreground is much darker? The camera is trying to balance and compensate for the sun being too bright and normally its difficult to get nice blue skies at midday.

The end result would mimic that of a painting or you can go really overboard and turn a simple scene into a very dark/moody/end of the world type image, once done properly.

All you really need is a tripod or somewhere stable. I’ve used my car already as a tripod and even my friends head while they were stooping down. I saw a scene and I had to capture the moment when I saw it. Here is the shot I got using a car as a tripod. This was one of my first HDRi images. Looking back on it and the way I processed it I see a lot of flaws and ways I could reprocess it. I’ll go into HDRi common mistakes and how to improve your processing techniques in future posts.

You can imagine how the scene would look like without the HDRi treatment. Sun high into the frame, bright midday sun that would drive your camera sensor wild trying to compensate for the exposure. This was a 3 exposure HDR, the sun would have had much more highlight detail if I tried for 5 exposures but just wanted to show you that even if you don’t have a tripod you can still shoot HDR’s.

Next you’ll need a camera (duh), any camera once you can record/adjust different exposure levels. It could be a DSLR or even a simple point and shoot once you know your way around the settings. Now set your camera to Aperture Priority mode. When shooting landscapes and especially with HDRi you want to capture a lot of detail without seeing diffraction from the lens at higher f stops. I usually shoot at around f/11 to be safe. Always shoot in the highest quality format your camera has, I prefer RAW, much more versatility over Jpegs if your camera supports it. Also since ideally what your doing is bringing out detail, your gonna want to shoot at the lowest possible ISO to ensure you get a clean image. I usually shoot at ISO 200. Gives you a tad bit more flexibility and you really can’t tell the noise difference between 100 and 200. Plus I read that it has more dynamic range than ISO 100.

Now after you’ve setup the right composition you want for the scene, set your camera on timer as you wouldn’t want any camera shake caused by your hands when you click the shutter button. If you have a remote timer for your camera, use it! It’s also best to watch your scene. If its a windy day, try to time it when the wind isn’t blowing as hard. The basic concept of hdr photography is multiple exposures, so anywhere from 2 different exposures to as many as you want will work, usually the more ranges the better. I usually try to shoot at least 5 exposures ranging from -4, -2, 0, +2, +4. The 5d Mark ii that I use stores a decent amount of dynamic range but if you feel the need you can do it in smaller or larger exposure increments. Common tip, the brighter the sun is, the more exposures your going to need to get a scene with a good balance of highlight and shadow detail. So if it’s midday your going to want to shoot at least 5 exposures as opposed to the golden hour at sunrise/sunset where you could get away with only 3 exposures.

Why I also said to wait when it is not as windy is because HDR conversion programs will try to merge together all of the exposures and whenever there is motion with leaves or extra ripples in water it will give you some weird fringing or pixelations on the final image. Most of the newer HDR programs will have utlities to fix this will processing.

Now exposure and good lighting is everything in photography. There are times when you can apply the same treatment or what we call “Tone Mapping” to a single exposure to give good HDR results. Above was a single exposure taken at Pegasus while I was shooting the groom getting ready for his wedding. It was overcast on the right side while on the left side it was bright and sunny which made for a good balance. It was a great wedding also, the rain held up pretty well and by the time the ceremony was over the sun came peeking back out.

Now that you got the introduction stay tuned for the next blog post coming up in a few days which will be about HDRi Common Processing Mistakes

Check out the Second Part to this Tutorial – HDRi Processing

Also please feel free to leave in the comment box suggestions for tutorials that you would love to see next.


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[…] Ryan’s well-known for his HDR photography! Check out Part I of his Photoshop tutorial – Ryan Lue-Clarke […]

[…] part to my Photoshop tutorials for HDRi Photography. You can check out the introduction here: Photoshop Tutorial: HDRi Photography Part 1 – Preparation. I captured some behind the scenes video and pictures from my Morant Point Lighthouse Flickr Trip […]

Anil - 30. Mar, 2012 - Reply

Hi James Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to put this on video and alexpin. You’re a fantastic teacher.I figured out where we confused each other which I am sure was largely my still being an student of the craft. On the DPS comments you specified that you adjust the shutter speed while in Aperature Priority. I took this literally to mean that you were manually adjusting the shutter speed (i.e. not the exposure compensation feature on the camera, but the shutter speed itself). Turns out that you are adjusting the exposure compensation, which by its very nature adjusts the shutter speed accordingly.This now makes perfect sense and again, thank you for clarifying. I’ll repost this on the DPS site for reference. Anxiously awaiting your part 3 of the series!Regards,Ramsay