Having Fun With HDR

Written by:

By Steve Russell

Two weeks ago I wrote about night photography. In the article I included an image of the Amtrak station in Winter Park, FL, and said I would write more about it in my next submission.

Over the last few years I’ve seen the Amtrack station many times and there is nothing remarkable about its appearance. It looks like the typical government institutional architecture – bland, neutral colors, straight lines, uninspiring but functional. There are times, however, when seeing something in a different setting – night time with artificial light on this occasion – changes the mundane and uninteresting into a subject with potential. The station didn’t suddenly become beautiful or breathtaking, but to me it was more interesting than it had ever been before and I knew immediately that I wanted to photograph it that night.

When I first arrived at the downtown park located across the tracks from the station the sun had just dropped below the horizon and all the lights at the station had been turned on. I could see the image I wanted in my mind but the ambient light was still too bright for me to successfully capture what I wanted. I looked around for other subjects with a promise to myself to return later.

That night, looking at the station, I knew that HDR was essential to capturing the image I wanted. Up to now, I haven’t been a huge fan of HDR although I’ve seen some stunning images that couldn’t have been accomplished without HDR. After this experience I’m now convinced that HDR is a wonderful tool and has its place in photography, especially given how easy it is to accomplish using Photoshop CS5.

It was the platform that caught my eye when I first arrived. The small building that served as the station was secondary. For this reason and because the lights around the station were brighter, I chose to set up across the tracks at the opposite end from the main structure. I set up my tripod, composed the shot and then firmly locked down the tripod to make sure the camera wouldn’t move while I was shooting.

Train Station 1

Using my remote shutter release and what I believed to be the optimum exposure (the shot above) of ISO 100, shutter speed of 15 seconds and aperture of f/11.0 I took the first shot. Then in 1/3 shutter speed increments I captured three additional images ending one full stop overexposed. Next, from the initial exposure I began underexposing in 1/3 shutter speed increments ending two full stops underexposed. If you’re counting, that’s 10 separate exposures. Of course, taking this many exposures, I manually changed the shutter speed for each image and didn’t use the auto-bracketing feature of my camera which would only take three exposures.

Now it was time for the fun part – creating a single image using some combination of the 10 I had captured. My goal was to create an HDR image. I don’t work with HDR very often so I don’t have all the steps memorized. Not a problem. I reached for my favorite quick reference book for Photoshop; Scott Kelby’s The Adobe Photoshop CS5 Book for Digital Photographers. Tiffany wrote a review for this book in November and everything she said about it was spot on.

His tutorial of how to create HDR images begins on page 197 and guides the reader, step by step, through the process in very easy to understand language. The end goal in this tutorial is a hyperrealstic image. Generally, I prefer the photorealistic look but wanted to work through all the steps.

Because it’s available in his book I won’t explain each of the steps in detail.

Steps One and Two explain how to merge to HDR from Adobe Bridge. He uses three images but to create my HDR image, I decided to use all ten of the images I had captured. In time, I’ll experiment by using different combinations but for now, this approach accomplishes what I was shooting for.

Step Three discusses and indicates the settings for the Radius and Strength sliders.
Step Four discusses and indicates the setting for the Gamma slider.
Step Five discusses and indicates the setting for the Exposure slider.

Train Station 2

For this image I stopped at Step Five. Scott explains in Step Six that the settings in that step cause the image to begin to take on the hyperrealistic look and I wanted to capture what it would look like without all those adjustments before I continued.

Step Six discusses and indicates the setting for the Detail slider.
Step Seven discusses and indicates the settings for the Shadow and Highlight sliders.
Step Eight discusses and indicates the settings for the Vibrance and Saturation sliders.
Step Nine discusses having Photoshop process the image to this point.
Step Ten through Thirteen discusses the post-production process – file saving, adjustments to Clarity, Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks and Vignetting.

Although there are four additional steps where he describes additional tweaking and creating and saving presets, for this image I stopped after Step Thirteen.

Train Station 3

This is the hyperrealistic image after making all the adjustments that Scott discusses in this section of his book. Whether or not you like it is mostly a matter of taste. I have to admit that it turned out better than I expected. What really surprised me is how many people liked it better than the others.

Train Station 4

On pages 206 and 207, Scott explains a three step process for creating photorealistic images. For this approach Scott uses one of the presets that are included in Photoshop CS5 – “photo realistic.” When I compare this one to the one where I stopped after Step Five I think I prefer this one.

Scott continues discussing HDR image creation through page 221 and goes through additional steps that I haven’t tried yet. If you haven’t worked with HDR very much or have been frustrated with all the settings, I encourage you to get Scott’s book and give HDR a try. The book is easy to follow and understand and has lots of pictures.

This experience has convinced me that HDR is a valuable tool for creating good to great images in really difficult shooting situations.

Photo Credits:
All Photos by Steve Russell

*The Author did NOT receive any products or compensation in exchange for mentioning the Provider’s products and/or services on this website. The Author purchased this product for personal use with personal funds. We will only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. This is not an advertisement.

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