Experimenting with HDR Photography

Battlefield-House-Bedroom-HDR.jpg

Since I like to be ready for shoots and am not a huge fan of carting a tripod around with me, I haven't had much opportunity to experiment with HDR photography. HDR, for the uninitiated, stands for High Dynamic Range. HDR photos are actually photos that combine selections from a number of photos of the same setting image exposed at different rates. Yesterday, as part of Doors Open Hamilton -- an annual cultural event here in Ontario -- I made a trip to Battlefield Park. I took my tripod inside -- it was a small, lightweight tripod and I made sure not to bump anything -- and setup for a few shots in the small viewing areas of the room doors. I framed up for the shots I wanted and proceeded to capture a number of frames at different exposure rates.

When taking HDR photos, it's best not to change your f-stop or ISO. Changing your f-stop will change your focus, depth of field and level of sharpness (which I like); changing your ISO will change your grain and your sharpness (which I like).

Pantry

For the first image, I setup this shot of the pantry. I really liked the light coming in from the windows punching the colours on the cabinets and the grain in the wood on the table. I set my camera to f/11 to keep everything nice and sharp and kept my ISO at 100. Here is the primary image, exposed nicely (1.3s), but not looking amazing.

Battlefield House Pantry (18mm ISO-100 f-11 1.30s)

You can see the door and cabinet are lit nicely by a nice yellow light coming in through the window. The colours in the table and baskets on the floor are nice, but they don't punch. While I could play with the image in Lightroom or Photoshop, I was intentionally experimenting with HDR, so I bracketed the shot and took six more exposures, under- and over-exposing by 1-3 f-stops on either side by adjusting exposure time and nothing else:

  • underexposing at 0.6s, 0.3s and 1/5s
  • overexposing at 2.5s, 5.0s and 8.0s

These are the six images captured on either side of the image above:

Battlefield House Pantry (18mm ISO-100 f/11 0.20s)

Battlefield House Pantry (18mm ISO-100 f/11 0.33s)

Battlefield House Pantry (18mm ISO-100 f/11 0.6s)

Battlefield House Pantry (18mm ISO-100 f/11 2.5s)

Battlefield House Pantry (18mm ISO-100 f/11 5s)

Battlefield House Pantry (18mm ISO-100 f/11 8s)

In the image with the shortest exposure time -- the darkest one -- you can see the details in the curtains in the window and the reflection in the glass on the cabinet door but the details in the wood grain are completely lost in shadow. You wouldn't even know there was an ornate floor grate in the room by the table. In the last image, the longest exposure -- the brightest one -- you can see the details in the wood grain on the table, the pots under the table and the punchy yellow in the wooden bowl on the floor by the cabinet but the highlights are completely blown out.

HDR processing combines all of the images at their different exposure rates and computes the dynamic range of each image. Processing HDR has never been easier. There are a number of programs on the market designed to do this, but I just selected all seven images in Lightroom and then click Photo > Edit In > Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop. You can also do this through right clicking. This opens Photoshop, starts putting the images in layers, and opens a dialogue box where you can make a number of adjustments to your final image.

Now I'm not incredibly well versed in HDR photography (yet), so I won't go into detail about all the functions. You can play around and select the settings that suit you best. There are some presets to get you started, but those have yet to produce a result that appeals to me.

I'm not a fan of HDR photos that look surreal or fake. I just like the option and ability to try to produce what the eye sees naturally and to put the reality of the scene into the final HDR photograph, which is here:

Battlefield House Pantry (HDR)

I'm not completely happy with this image and I may go back and make some more adjustments to it. For example, the punchy yellow colour of the wooden bowl on the floor has dissipated. I do like that you can now see detail in the curtains, the wood grain of the table, and all the great colour of the light being cast on the walls, door and cabinet.

Bedroom

I also processed an image of a bedroom. Below are the eight initial images:

Battlefield House Bedroom (24mm ISO-100 f/11 1/6s)

Battlefield House Bedroom (24mm ISO-100 f/11 1/3s)

Battlefield House Bedroom (24mm ISO-100 f/11 0.6s)

Battlefield House Bedroom (24mm ISO-100 f/11 1.3s)

Battlefield House Bedroom (24mm ISO-100 f/11 2.5s)

Battlefield House Bedroom (24mm ISO-100 f/11 5s)

Battlefield House Bedroom (24mm ISO-100 f/11 13s)

Battlefield House Bedroom (24mm ISO-100 f/11 25s)

Below is the final image, which I love, containing all the details of the wood grain, the great colours, and the highlights of the windows.

Battlefield House Bedroom (HDR)

This is a great example of how HDR can really boost the quality of your final images, especially for indoor photography of still subjects.