I had some time today to take some photos of the beautiful trees in our back yard and I thought they would be perfect to make into HDR composites. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and refers to taking multiple exposures of the same image and stitching them together for an effect. Usually you take 3 – 6 photos of varying exposure (underexposed, “correctly” exposed, and overexposed) and use a tool such as Photoshop to combine them together. The advantage of HDR is that it lets you capture more shadow and highlight detail than you normally could.
For example, if you take a photo outdoors of some shady trees you will likely get a photo with properly exposed trees (the subject) but a low-detail almost white sky. The reason is that the camera has to adjust its light settings based on the darker trees in the photo. To do this it has to leave the shutter open for a longer period of time which overexposes the sky. By taking three exposures of the same thing you expose for the sky in at least one and the trees in the others. HDR tools like Photoshop allows you to combine them together and choose the amount of detail you want to pull out of each image.
There are several uses for HDR photography. Some people use it to create high contrast dynamic monochrome images. Others use it to create surreal images with halos and highlight effects. Some even use it to bring minute additional detail back into an image without making it look fake. I like to use it to make over-saturated images. Fall trees are a great subject for this because they have beautiful colors that don’t always come through in a “correctly” exposed image. The saturated look that I am going for is intended to look hyper-realistic. I want the images to look the way the look in my mind, not necessarily the way they look in real life.
A Fall Back Yard
The top image was created out of the three images below it. Each is somewhere between 1/2 and 1 stop of exposure different (I was using Manual mode). The middle image is the least exposed, the left is slightly more exposed, and the right is the most exposed. If I were to choose a photo out of the three it would be the one on the right, however that would probably still be considered underexposed by the camera’s meter had I not been shooting in Manual mode. There is much more pop to the colors of the leaves and I specifically added more depth to the shadows.
One Fall Tree
You might wonder how I got the image above from the images below it. There is definitely no blue sky like that in any of these photos. However there is enough detail in the least exposed photo to get some basic details about the sky and then saturation can be added to bring out the blue. Each of the images is separated by 1 stop of exposure. I started the exposure lower than normal in order to get the clouds out of the bright sky.
These images were also shot in manual mode and are separated by 1/3 – 2/3 a stop of exposure. The change for this image is not quite as dramatic as for the other two. One could even argue that the rightmost image looks better because it is a bit brighter while still retaining the sky. Even so, the HDR gives it an interesting effect.