How to take HDR photos, a lesson from a beginner

Many people have asked me how I created this picture, so I will try to explain as best as I can. Firstly, the picture is an HDR photo. HDR is something that I am starting to get the hang of, but it is still hit and miss for me.

If you really want to see some good HDR photos, head over to a blog by somebody that really knows what he is doing. But if you want to know how I create HDR, here goes…

Here is the final photo; this is where we are heading. You can see the slightly surreal, slightly painted and almost comic drawing effect that is characteristic of HDR photography.

To get this effect, you are going to need to figure out the exposure bracketing on your camera, and to use a tripod. I took three photos, bracketed at -2, 0 and +2. I shot all the pics at night at f3.5 in aperture-priority mode.

Source pic #1, -2 bracketing, exposure of 3.2 seconds

Source pic #1, 0 bracketing, exposure of 0.8 seconds. See how much darker the picture is.

Source pic #3, +2 bracketing, exposure of 13 seconds. The red in the sky is starting to come out now. The red is a combination of the clouds and the moon – I think :-)

Now you need some software to combine these pics. I use Dynamic Photo HDR, but PhotoMatix is very popular,  and Qtpfsgui is great to play around with, and it is free!

We need to start off by loading the three images.

Next, align the images,Dynamic Photo HDR does a great job (remember the tripod we were using earlier…)

Now for very complicate reasons, you can’t actually see an HDR photo, so you need to tone-map it into something that you can see. There are various algorithms that you can use, so best is to play around and see what results you get. Experiment and see what you like.

Next, save the pic and you will get something like this, and we are ready for a few tweaks to get the colour to really stand out.

Final a little tweaking in lightroom, and there you are, a surreal HDR road scene. You can at this stage get really fancy and load the final image and the source images into Photoship, and use masking to clean the image and remove some of the noise that HDR often creates, but I didn’t do that here. Here are some more of my HDR pictures.

Anyway, hope this helps, I am far from an HDR expert, so please tell me about your experiences, and what you think of my HDR photos.

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