Out of the shadows- HDR

July 5, 2014 — Leave a comment

One of the great things about digital cameras is the ability to push the limits in terms of the images that you can capture. Not only can you change ISO and white balance as you move between locations but you can also easily combine images to stitch together panoramas or capture details that would not be possible with a single exposure. HDR (High Dynamic Range) has become a well known technique and is often used to retain details from the highlights to the shadows in a scene that exceeds the normal range that a camera could capture.

I just returned from shooting dawn in Camden Harbor in Maine. Although I was mostly shooting video with my D800, I grabbed a few still images just as the sun was rising. The straight image is pretty unremarkable due to the huge difference in the lighting between the still shaded harbor and the sky. But seeing potential of the scene, I shot a series for HDR.

Camden Harbor Sunrise Single

Camden Harbor- Single Exposure

I have a love of black & white images and find that combining HDR with a B&W conversion gives great results. But be warned, there is no instant gratification with this technique and just as it was back in the film days, the final result only appears once you start processing the images. There are also dangers involved if you get too carried away! More often than not, to my taste, HDR images appear over done, what is known as overcooked. Its a personal choice and you may love this look pulling out the detail, so apologies if you prefer the first version of this shot!

Camden Harbor Sunrise OC

HDR- Overcooked


I combined 5 exposures using HDR Efex Pro, part of the Nik Software Collection. One correctly exposures and two either side, each in one stop increments, over and under exposed. The software first combines the images taking out ghosting (where elements of the images may have moved e.g. a blowing flag), color aberrations etc… Then comes the dangerous part. Once you have saved the combined images, the HDR version appears but you can dial in different amounts of the effect including tonal compression, saturation, detail etc. To make it easy, HDR Efex Pro  shows you a selection of versions with different variations. If you are tempted to go extreme or just use a preset, you end up with something like the photo shown above. Again… you may love this version!

I first check the various recipes for the image that HDR Efex Pro suggests, select the one nearest to the look I want and then play with the settings to give some fine adjustments. This gave me this version with a less dramatic look, but a greatly enhanced dynamic range compared to the single image.

Camden Harbor Sunrise Color

HDR- Adjusted image


This adjusted image is much more pleasing and more like what the naked eye would see. Not content with this, I also did a black and white conversion. Normally I would do this through Nik’s Silver Efex but actually selected the B&W version directly through HDR Efex and was quite pleased with the results.


Camden Harbor Sunrise

Camden Harbor HDR Black & White


The final decisions come down to you. You can add more or less detail in the highlights and shadows, play with saturation or do the black and white conversion. If not over used, HDR can make for a spectacular image, so go out and give it a try.


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