High Dynamic Range or HDR, you’ve heard it mentioned a million times, but what exactly is it? Well, it's simply a photography technique that gives a picturesque and unusual effect to your photos. How does it work? In fact, the HDR brings together techniques that make it possible to produce images with a large dynamic range. More specifically, when you press the shutter button, the camera takes a burst of photos that are instantly post-processed by the HDR, which mixes them to keep only the best of each one. And boom, you get a perfect exposed picture!
1 - Understand HDR
Nowadays, HDR is THE photo technique. Although its popularity has recently increased, it’s no new invention... It comes from a computer editing software that has existed since the late 1990s. Basically, HDR is just an ‘up-to-date’ photo editing technique. Today, it’s an algorithm that deals with instantly transforming photos and it no longer requires a post-processing expert, so it’s a real timesaver!
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Image Credit: Trey Ratcliff
Activating the HDR function on DSLRs is easy. Just go into your settings and activate the HDR, as shown below. Easy as pie!
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But what are the advantages of High Dynamic Range? The main function of HDR is to immediately improve the exposure of your shots by acting directly on their dynamic ranges, that is to say, the gap between the darkest shadows and the brightest lights.
Here's an example that concretely illustrates how combining multiple photos of the same scene with different exposures produces a final photo at the perfect exposure:
Image Credit: Life Hacker
HDR is, above all, inspired by reality and more specifically by the human eye, which has a wide dynamic range. It’s this dynamic range that allows us to perceive the nuances between the colours we see all around us. When you observe a landscape, it’s this aspect of your vision that allows you to distinguish between bright and dark areas. With a camera, it’s difficult to distinguish between the contrasts, and it’s even more difficult when it comes to printing the images.
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2 - How to take a good HDR photo
When you take an HDR photo, it’s usually because you’re trying to represent reality as accurately as possible. This is called a "True-Tone Photo" or a "Realistic-Photo.” But HDR can also create surreal images, which give the impression that they have been painted. If used sparingly, it’s an ideal effect for taking artistic photos.
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Image Credit: Trey Ratcliff
The secret to taking a good HDR photo is to activate this feature only when the scene permits. However, if you can shoot in HDR on automatic mode, it’s still better to use manual mode, as it will produce better quality in your shots.
HDR can really bring something extra to landscape photos. Indeed, HDR can enhance the details present in the sky, such as clouds or shades of blue, without darkening the ground. HDR is also ideal for adjusting the light effects of a portrait taken in daylight because it allows for a better reflection of skin texture and the intensity of the look by slightly highlighting the shadows of the face.
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Finally, HDR is also very useful to increase the brightness of a picture taken in low light. When a photo is a little too dark and its light comes in from the background, the HDR can subtly elevate the brightness of the shadows without contradicting the other exposed elements in the background.
Image Credit: A.G. Photographe
To take a good HDR photo, it’s good to know some handy tips: Use bracketing to take several pictures of the same scene (an underexposed photo, a normally exposed photo, and an overexposed photo). Be sure to set the white balance so that the final photo accurately represents the scene. Finally, shoot in RAW format so that you have a good quality raw picture before it is processed in HDR.
3 - When to avoid HDR
As you can see, HDR is extremely useful in many cases, but beware, this effect can sometimes ruin the picture. Amongst other things, HDR can give a blurred effect to your photos if your subject is moving, or can alter the contrast by adding unnecessary shades that will make the picture disinteresting. It can also tarnish bright colours, if you are shooting in an environment that is too dark or too bright.
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You can try to retouch your HDR photos to correct small defects, but by definition this effect is supposed to happen without any post-processing. However, if you want to retouch your HDR photos, keep the word moderation in mind. You will quickly understand why by taking a look at the photos that follow.
Beware of HDR abuse when post-processing your photos. It can turn your lovely photos into halloween caricatures:
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4 - What is Aurora HDR 2018?
For photo processing Macphun's Aurora HDR 2018 software is # 1 in its field. For about €99, this latest HDR photo editor will produce an HDR effect in seconds, from a single shot, rather than from a series of several photos. Its newest version has also been recognised by Apple, who named it Best App of 2017. To improve its software, Macphun has partnered with Trey Ratcliff, a photographer specializing in HDR, who created a series of photos for different photos (realistic, soft, beachy). The Aurora publisher now has a sharp algorithm that promises to offer the most natural image processing on the market.
Here’s a tutorial of Serge Ramelli presenting the Aurora HDR 2018 software:
Video Credit: Photofocus Youtube Channel
Image Credit: Aurora HDR
Aurora HDR 2018, which is available on both Mac and Windows, also offers basic features such as history management, which allows you to go back and cancel a retouch, as well as a RAW conversion engine. The strength of this software is that it’s ergonomic and accessible for everyone, even those who know nothing about retouching. Trey Ratcliff regularly posts tutorials on his YouTube channel to learn how to master its various features. Aurora is without a doubt your best bet for creating beautiful HDR images!
Image Credit: Aurora HDR
5 - Know the limits of HDR photography
You guessed it, HDR causes a real discord within the photo community. Critics argue that to get a well-balanced picture, a true artist must be able to make his own adjustments, without the help of an algorithm. Others denounce the parodic side of HDR images because they associate it with the overly edited cliche photos you can find on the Internet. And some photographers see HDR as a tool for their artistic creation, enabling them to embellish reality and transform a photo into a surreal masterpiece.
If you want to learn more about this ongoing debate, there are several photographers who have written books on the subject, on one hand to fight against the phenomenon of "hyper-HDR-isation" of photography and on the other hand to highlight its advantages. But the most important thing is to form your own opinion, so experiment!
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6 - Master HDR on your smartphone
If you think you’ve never shot in HDR with your DSLR, well you’ve probably already used this technique without knowing by taking pictures with your smartphone. Since the iPhone 4S, Apple has equipped its iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches with the HDR function. To activate it, simply switch to HDR mode at the very top of your photo screen.
The HDR function is now available on almost all smartphone models. HDR images taken from the iPhone, Samsung or LG, still have a surprising effect that almost matches the quality of a bridge device.
LG's G6 smartphone and its Dolby Vision HDR:
Image Credit: avsforum
When you take an HDR photo on an iPhone, be aware that your device saves two photos to your library, one photo in HDR format, and the other in original size. You can even disable this double backup in settings so that you only keep HDR photos and thus preserve your memory space.
Here are some examples of HDR photos taken with an iPhone 6:
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And now you have everything you need to know to take incredible HDR photos! Whether with a DSLR or using your smartphone, nothing stops you from becoming the new Helmut Newton. Are you ready to take on this challenge…?