Anyone for HDR?

Friday, October 16, 2009 ·

Is it art or artifice? I can never quite make up my mind. The photographic snob in me rejects it but I have to admit that some HDR images can be quite striking. I think the trick is to see them not so much as "photographs" but as "images", a side-shoot off the main branch of photography, if you like.

Anytime I've tried HDR, I've always preferred the look of photographs taken indoors. Having seen at first hand that there are often some nice colours in the dreariest of subjects, I thought about specialising in HDR images taken in ruined or dilapidated properties.

The photographs above and those that follow were taken either in a long-abandoned office at an old quarry or in some of the transport buildings associated with the quarry. I've photographed this location several times but for this shoot I dusted off my tripod to extract the maximum sharpness from the D700.

It's possible to shoot images for HDR - with, say, a couple of stops either side of the "correct" exposure - using the camera handheld. Just set it to bracket the exposures and shoot with the motor drive turned way up. That way, there is so little movement between images that they line up quite nicely when you load them into whatever tone mapping programme you're using. The tripod definitely makes things easier, however.

I used the plastic fantastic Tokina 19-35 for a few of the photographs and found it was really very sharp when used stopped down and on a tripod. It's a great lens when you back's up against the wall in a cramped environment.

It's a good idea, especially if you're shooting with a longer lens or at a wide aperture, to focus manually so that the focus point doesn't change from frame to frame. When using a tripod, I find it easier to set the exposure mode to manual and just adjust the shutter speed.

All that's required, then, is a nice spread of exposures with a couple of stops between them along the lines of -4, -2, correct, +2, +4. These are loaded into your HDR software (I use Photomatix) and then are tone-mapped by the software to produce the pics you see here.

With Photomatix, you can adjust things like contrast and saturation to make the results as realistic or over-the-top as you like. I try not to go too mad - yes, I could have gone much further! - but there's not much point in producing HDR photographs that look natural. The only time the natural look might be nice is when you're using the software just to balance the foreground and sky in a landscape. Then you can dial in the exact look you're after to give the impression that the pic is the result of one exposure instead of several.