High Dynamic Range


Yet another huge warehouse fire in Sharjah this week- there have been at least 6 since I arrived her 2.5 years ago, and Ive photographed several principally for my son who is a big fan of Fireman Sam.

So driving home on Weds evening I whipped out the Iphone and snapped a couple of shots in HD mode, and then decided to see what the Photoshop/Automate Merge to HDR Pro could come up with.

Just to explain briefly for the uninitiated-HDR is an anacronym for High Dynamic Range. When I was a lad this was something that first read about on the packaging of an TDK C90 Audio Cassette –(remember those anyone??  I used to record the TOP 40 off FM radio on one every week!) Well anyway HDR basically meant or was supposed to mean that the tape could record both the Deep bass frequencies and the High treble equally well.

Now that we’ve all gone digital its been applied to photography. There are even specialist (expensive eg. Spheron) cameras around which take HDR shots at the point of capture and create huge 50 Trigabyte files in the process. These cameras have a rather more sensitive CCD than your ordinary DSLR and so can capture light at the very dark and very bright ends of the spectrum. The result is (or should be) a high resolution image which has great detail in both the shadows and highlights.

But your average Joe can just as easily (and even moreso now that its built into Photoshop) create HDR photography by simply taking multiple shots at varied exposures of the same scene. Once you have the image on your computer each exposure is essentially layered and you can then manipulate the pixel data from each to create a final composite image which has far more detail in both the bright highlights and shadows than would be possible from a single ‘average’ exposure.

Back to my fire shot; I wanted to enhance the dramatic impact of the image and in the end decided that in for a penny in for a pound I may as well go completely over the top! I played around for a while just tweaking the sliders on exposure/gamme vibrace etc, but then found the Surrealist setting in the presets gave me the kind of thing I was after.

So whilst HDR isn’t something that I’ve really gotten into yet, but now that Ive dabbled I will probably do more. Im going to try it out on some interiors which is where it can really come into its own I think. I think the key to it is either subtlety or completely OTT drama. For my money there a quite a few photographers out there producing a lot of really gaudy over-saturated and very artificial plastic looking HDR imagery which is neither at the moment but that’s just MHO.

David Nightingale is one of the better photographers using HDR. He’s has done some really nice work and his seminar at Gulf Photo last year was interesting – which reminds me its that time again and if you havent been and you can make it to Dubai I highly recommend it: