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HDR (High Dynamic Range) Imaging

I use this technique with most landscapes. Why? Because as much as I avoided it in the past, it is simply better. There is no way to achieve the same foreground and background exposures without it. Impossible. A camera, with its lens and sensor, is dumb. It cannot do what the human eye can do. This is where HDR can be a valuable tool.

The earlier digital HDR processing engines caused the images to look a bit fake. Today, with programs like Aurora HDR, we can achieve spectacular photographs. Don't get me wrong, if you over-do it (and many do), it will still lead to comical looking images.

Many photographers think HDR is a new fad. It is not. In fact, it dates back to 1850. The idea of using several exposures to adequately reproduce an extreme range of luminance was pioneered by Gustave Le Gray to render seascapes showing both the sky and the sea with equal detail. Such rendering was impossible at the time using standard methods. Therefore, Le Gray used one negative for the sky, and another one with a longer exposure for the sea, and combined the two into one picture in positive.

Seascape by Gustave Le Gray, Circa. 1850

High-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI) is a technique used to produce much greater dynamic range and luminosity than is possible with traditional photography. The goal is to produce an image that is more representative of what the human eye will see.

In every day life, our brains constantly interpret a scene and adjust our "digital" version of human exposure and luminance. Therefore, we see a scene in much greater detail than a camera can. Cameras sacrifice highlights and shadows to deliver a usable image. But, with HDR, you can produce something that is unique and more in line with what you saw at the time you took the photo.

The reaction I tend to get is one of excitement, but confusion. I am often asked if the photo is a painting or something. I think most people are not used to seeing an image that looks so real. Ironically, the reaction is that they sometimes think the more realistic image is fake.


Here is a standard Non-HDR image. I took this at 200 feet with my DJI Mavic 2 Pro Aerial drone. It is ok, but lacks the "wow" factor. So, what can we do?

I took the same photo 3 times. But, I UNDEREXPOSED, OVEREXPOSED, and PROPERLY EXPOSED the scene. Not easy in the air, but this drone is so stable that it is like a Tripod at 200 feet.

Once I got back I loaded the images into Aurora HDR. This software will properly layer the 3 images and align them in case I moved a bit while taking the photograph.

Once these images are aligned, you have the beginnings of a true HDR photo. The processing engine will take the best exposures and merge them so the overall exposure is perfect. The foreground AND the background are now able to exist together without being too dark or bright.

From this screen, you can make manual adjustments or select a preset that most represents the mood you are going for.

The end result is stunning...

Of course, you still have to expose properly and choose a good scene. Without the above sun, clouds, time of day, and angle, no form of HDR will really improve the photograph.

The best way to get these exposures quickly is utilizing BRACKETING on your camera. I typically use 3 captures and set my exposures to -1, 0, and +1.

In the end, HDR can be a great brush to add to your artistic tool kit.


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