© 2010 Gary Udstrand – Farm Setting

The Day

The sunset over the horizon punctuated a bitterly cold December day.   The wind was brisk and did its best to remove the warmth from my face and hands, and quite successfully I might add.  Winter in Northern MN can be cold and bleak but it can also be beautiful.   This day I was glad that I braved the weather to enjoy the glow of the sunset.   Even if it was just for a moment; it reminded me that spring is getting closer every day. 

Getting the shot

The click and the click and the click of the shutter.  What??  If you have not already guessed, the picture above is actually three pictures combined together to produce an HDR image.   In a nutshell a HDR image is a photograph that attempts to capture more dynamic range than traditional techniques.

The dynamic range of an image is the difference in the luminance between the lightest and darkest areas of an image.  Make sense?  Probably not, but think of it this way.   Have you ever taken a picture of someone standing in front of a window inside the house during a bright sunny day?   If you have you have more than likely ended up with a picture in which the person is nothing more than a silhouette while the yard and trees outside look great.  Or, if your camera is a little “smarter” you may have ended up with a nice picture of the person surrounded by a wash of blown out white.  Gone are the nice trees and yard.  

If you were thinking ahead and used a fill flash to even out the bright whites of the sunny outdoors and the shadows of the person in front of you then you might get a picture with both.  However, when shooting landscapes and scenery using a fill flash is just not practical or possible in many cases.

That is where HDR enters the picture (pun intended).  Essentially you take multiple exposures of the scene.  Using the above scenario you would take one that exposed the person correctly and one for the highlights of the window.   Then you could combine the images and tone map the results and get both properly exposed.

HDR

For many landscape photographers HDR offers a new and creative way to capture the scenery before them.   HDR has been around for a few years but many photographers have yet to embrace or understand the technique.   It can be complicated, and it can be intimidating but these days there are a number of great software tools to assist the photographer.  Myself, I use Nik HDR Efex Pro and to a lesser extent the HDR tone mapping in Photoshop CS 5.

In the picture above I took three exposures, one at a –2 EV, one at 0 EV and one at +2 EV.  These three images were then imported into Lightroom.  Next, I selected the three images and from within Lightroom exported them into Nik HDR Efex Pro.    I tried a few of the presets and found one that I thought best represented the scene.  I tend to favor the more natural look in my HDR’s but many are fans of more over processed look too. 

The plugin has numerous options and tweaks and could keep the tinkerer busy for many hours.  For those just looking for a quick result there are also several very good presets.  Click on a few and ifind one you like.  It is as easy or involved as you like.  Besides the presets that come pre-installed with the plugin you can also find other presets available to be downloaded on the web. 

Setting

HDR is a great way to create new images of even familiar places.  It can add new variety to your pictures and maybe even fuel some creative inspiration.    Get out there with your camera in hand and give it a try.   You may find an entirely new way to enjoy your photography. 

Smile