Gettin' on my soapbox: HDR etiquette & best practices

02.28.2014
HDR etiquette & best practices

In photography there's one technique that—when done poorly—really bugs me: HDR.

When done right, HDR can give your photo a stunning effect. Other times it will make your photo look, well, bad.

Let me preface this post by saying that in no way am I claiming to be an authoritative figure on photography. I enjoy taking photos as much as I like looking at great photos.

Before I go any futher, let me explain what HDR (High Dynamic Range imaging) is and what it was intended for.

What is HDR?

HDR is typically accomplished by merging two or more photographs of the same subject at different exposures. Many digital cameras (including iPhones) have the feature built-in, but most of the time you'll need to do some post-processing.

The resulting photo is one with an incredible dynamic range. The image almost looks three dimensional.

Photo by Ahmad Rithauddin/Flickr
Photo by Ahmad Rithauddin (flickr)

The basic idea is that at different exposures, certain details are more pronounced. By combining photos at different exposures, the entire photo will have great detail.

When to use HDR

Have you ever taken a photo and half is really bright and the other half (usually the half you really want) is in a deep shadow? This is when you'll want to give HDR a try.

For me, I run into this problem when I'm at a baseball game. Typically, the sky and field are under the direct sunlight while the stands are under a shadow.

Create an HDR image

On an iPhone it's as easy as flipping a switch in the native camera. On a DSLR, you'll need to take multiple photos at different exposures. There are so many different ways to do this, but here's how I usually do it:

  1. Put your camera in bracketing mode
  2. Make sure you're shooting in continuous mode
  3. Take the shot(s)

Now you have, in essence, the same photo at different exposures. You can use various software such as HDRsoft to merge the photos, but there are a ton of different techniques (like this one) you can use to accomplish HDR.

Do you have a special technique or app you use to create quality HDR photos?