High dynamic range (HDR) is a technique that can give you the power to create breathtaking images. However, using HDR wrongly will result in horrible image. In this post, you are going to learn some HDR tips and tricks that can level up your images.
When doing HDR photography, you should aim at creating natural looking photos. Although super contrast or extreme vibrant is eye catching and easy to create, this should not be your way. What you should aim for is images look natural but vibrant, as well as contrast.
Use a Rock Solid Tripod and Ballhead
You can always create HDR image by handheld bracketing and there is lots of tutorial on this. However, the best way of blending crispy sharp image is always using a tripod. Not a crappy cheapo tripod, but a rock solid one.
Not only a tripod is important to keep your camera still, a strong ball head is also essential. You may not find any different when using wide angle. When you are capturing with tele lens like 70-200mm, you may find there may have small movement between shots.
I have 2 ball heads, one of them come with series 1 tripod and the other one come with series 3 tripod. When I use the small one on the series tripod, I start to have shaky images when I mount my Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 on it. I never have this problem with my series 3 ball head.
Although the specification state that the weight is still in manageable range, it seems that the series 1 size ball head cannot hold D810 with a 70-200mm f2.8 firmly.
Use Shutter Release Cable and Mirror Up Mode
Shutter release cable is another accessory that you should always carry. One of the most important thing when creating HDR images is to make sure your camera sits still. Any kind of vibration will unsharp your final image.
You may think that there is auto align function in all HDR program. It works great most of the time. The best way, nevertheless, is to capture different exposure in exact same position, not even move for a single pixel.
A simple shutter release cable can help you kill the job. You do not need to buy an expensive fancy cable. What you need is just a shutter button. If your camera have WiFi connection, you may also use your smartphone to remote release the shutter. Scott Wyden also think this is a great idea.
Set your camera to mirror up mode is also a great way to minimize vibration. When you release the shutter, the mirror inside will first flip up before exposure. Unless you are using mirror-less SLR, this is unavoidable. Mirror up mode will force your camera to stop after flipping up the mirror. You will then need a second click on the shutter to release the shutter.
Learn to Use Luminosity Mask
To create a natural looking HDR image, you have to use software to help. Normally 1-click software cannot produce stunning images. It may be able to give you nice looking images. If you are after natural looking HDR, luminosity mask is what you have to learn.
Masking is one of the most important concept in post processing. It allows you to have local adjustment precisely. Luminosity mask is a tool that help you do masking base on luminosity.
In order words, you can have different editing on shadow and highlight area. You can also have the ability to separate different elements in an image to edit.
Shoot at Magic Hour
The best photography lighting appear at sunset and sunrise, or the magic hour. In magic hour, the contrast is also very high. You normally cannot capture all the detail without clipping in one single shoot.
Magic hour is normally great for HDR images because it is the most vibrant time of the whole day. The sky may become red, purple, blue, orange, yellow and etc. HDR is the best skill to give vibrant scene a pop by recovering all the detail.
Never Use HDR when Dynamic Range is Low
HDR is the short form of high dynamic range. It is a skill to capture all detail in highlight and shadow.
If you are shooting in an environment with even lighting. There is no black and white clipping. Then HDR is not needed because your camera is able to capture all the detail in one single raw file. You are already capture all the detail in just one file.
You only need to do HDR bracketing under extreme dynamic condition like sunrise, sunset. Sometimes, HDR is also a good technique to shoot cityscape or architecture because artificial lighting light up a scene unevenly.
Never Create 3 Exposure from Single Image
There are many HDR tips and tricks posts on the internet that teach you to create HDR images from a single raw file. They usually teach you to export three different jpg files by sliding the exposure slider to -1, 0 and +1. If you have been working on this trick, please stop.
It seem like you are combining three different exposure images. The fact is that you are just working on the same set of data. If you are creating -1 and +1 jpg files, the clipped area is still clipped. You cannot bring back any data lost by just sliding the exposure slider.
See HDR as a Technique but Not a Topic
Many photographers see HDR is a topic. They use HDR skill to capture everything, like portrait, nature, landscape and etc. Some of these photographers produce great images but also some of them shows horrible images.
In my point of view, I see HDR is a kind of skill that help me to create stunning landscape, cityscape or architecture photographs.
I limited HDR tricks to these kinds of photography because they are the topics that require super high dynamic range. Also, these kinds of photography allows you to have time to bracket without any movement.
Wrapping it Up
Although these HDR tips and tricks are not the full story, I hope my experience can help you to improve your images. HDR is not a difficult concept. It, however, requires lots of practise to master. If you have any ideas or comments, feel free to leave a comment.