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Tuesday, 14 October 2008


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Hi Mike!

I appreciate the link. HDR is something that I've been interested in trying for quite some time, but have honestly not had any real idea how to do so. I kept hearing program names like Photomatix thrown around but didn't know if it would be worth my money just to try it out. This book sounds like exactly the kind of thing that would help me dip my toes in the high dynamic range pool.

Drayke Larson

*goes to buy the book now*

Yup. Typically overdone like ping-pong stereo back in the 50s. This is a great read and it touches on a personal photographers journey (including HDR).


For those interested in the technique, Ben Wilmore, an author on all things CS3, is also a very skilled practioner of HDR and conducts numerous seminars/DVD's on the technique. An interesting fellow, he lives in a Prevost Bus, and seems to sepnd most of his time driving along Route 66 examining the power of entropy, which he then interprets in HDR. He maintians a blog, titled "Where is Ben?" Personally, I like HDR taken to extremes, and his work is a fine example.

Charlie H

I love the idea of exposing for each tonal area, highs, mids, shadows, and putting them togther, but from what I've seen people really go crazy with HDR and make the most unnatural and odd photos. Maybe this book will help some to see how it should be used more sparingly.

Dark skies and light buildings, I've just never been a fan of HDR. I guess I prefer finding the right light to creating it later and if I can't find it I just keep on looking. It's more fun (for me)

Thanks, Mike. Coincidentally, I just returned from Yosemite with a bunch of HDR sequences. Now I have to figure out what to do with them, and this book looks like a good place to start. On order.

(Here's a U.K. link.)

Do you put the dot before the bracket or after the bracket? I have seen both versions being used alternatively.

Sean - HDR isn't a trick, or technique to make up for bad light. It's a way of expanding your cameras dynamic range capability. Used in that way, it's no different than suddenly finding yourself with a sensor or film that can capture more stops. Even images in perfect light could sometimes benefit from HDR. Here're a couple of examples of non-extreme HDR :


I think HDR has gotten a bad rep. - but only because of the bad examples.

I've dabbled with HDR and find it's great for what I call "inside-out" shots. These are just pictures from inside a building, say a cafe, that includes some of the outside world seen through a window. I posted about this on my own blog and you can see the effect here: http://pentaxk10dblog.blogspot.com/2007/09/hdr-art-or-artifice.html

If a parenthetical is contained within a sentence, then the period is placed outside the close-parenthesis (like this).

(But if one or more whole sentences are parenthetical then the period is placed inside the close-parenthesis. Like this.)


What we really need is something that integrates HDR, stitching and layered DoF into a single combined interface. Given enough shots and (more than) enough hours just think of what people would be able to come up with!


FDR Tools in its latest version actually does integrate HDR blending with layered depth of field blending. I must confess that I haven't tried that part of the program yet, but it's on my to-do list. And FDR Tools is much cheaper than Helicon Focus, while providing lots of other functions.

"I think HDR has gotten a bad rep. - but only because of the bad examples."

Yes, I agree with David’s comment and with Mike's observation, "The problem with it seems to be that some (most?) people who practice it overdo it,... "

“High dynamic range” photo enhancement techniques are no more, or less, funky than good ol’ dodge-and-burn or any of a dozen age-old techniques. Effectively applying any such technique to an image requires, first and most fundamentally, that you have a mind’s-eye vision of how the final image should appear. That, in turn, requires a keen eye for what’s important in an image and how you want viewers’ eyes to travel. Some people have a very good visual senses, whether through innate talent or visual education.

But most camera owners do not have such talents or backgrounds; they're just hobbyists enjoying photography. Consequently ever since software has made HDR-izing easier we've seen an abundance of HDR-ized images, usually fairly dull landscapes that appear flatter than Highway 1. It takes time, it takes some experienced education, and it takes repeated critical reviews to develop the visual sense to know when, how, and how much to use any such technique to an image.

But in the final consideration for most folks "HDR" is all about personal enjoyment. If you have fun with this technique do it...heck, overdo it! Adopt a "No Rock Left Behind" philosophy.

Whether or not you REALLY need a book on the subject is another matter.

Mike, thanks for featuring Ferrell's book. I've been working extensively with HDR for about 3 years, and have been aware of his interesting work in this area for some time. I agree that Ferrell has written a good, approachable intro to the topic. I also agree with Geoff Wittig's assessment of the other titles currently available, all of which I have except for Jack Howard's.

David Bostedo has made an important observation above. We all generically toss around the term "HDR", but I think it's significant to note that adding this technique into one's workflow brings two discrete parts with it. The first part is HDR capture, which involves nothing artificial, illustrative, surreal, "cooked" or anything else. It's simply concerned with capturing the greatest, cleanest possible representation of the natural light on the scene.

I like to think of this as creating a high fidelity master image of the scene. Right now it is held back by the relatively limited dynamic range capture (especially in the shadow tones) that is possible with typical digital sensors. This leads us to have to shoot multiple exposures, sample all of their pixels, and then merge them. This brings all of the challenges that come with such a work-around -- aligning frames, trying to deal with moving objects, etc. Obviously the ideal would be to directly capture increased dynamic range in a single exposure.

The second part of HDR workflow is where most people who have issues, have their issues. :) This is usually called "tone mapping", or what I simply think of as another part of developing the image. A high fidelity master image has obvious challenges with it by virtue of having potentially more dynamic range as well as more tonal resolution and color gamut than most of our devices can deal with -- especially monitors and printers. Software has to process the HDR file to produce something more like a normal TIFF or JPEG, but one that has potentially quite different color & compressed contrast due to the numerous algorithms used to process the hi-fi master image.

This is where creative mastery is important -- by the photographer, not by the software developer! The need is no less important than it was in the traditional darkroom. The main difference is it's a lot more approachable by people now using software with simple interfaces, but who may not have the creative mastery over what they want to do during development. A photographer who chooses to do nothing but make simple adjustments can, with normal single exposures, depend on the camera to produce something that looks "natural" -- i.e. what we expect a photograph to look like. But somebody who is working with HDR can not depend on a couple of simple settings or slider tweaks to produce something that looks photorealistic. Though it's not clear that what "photorealistic" has meant up to now is the only game in town any longer -- some photographers now use HDR in their workflow to produce non-traditional images not out of ignorance or lack of creativity mastery, but because that is what they want to do.

I think there could be little controversy about the utility of high fidelity, HDR capture. It seems likely there will be continued push towards this from the digital camera makers, and demand for it from at least some groups of photographers. The controversy will come -- as it always does -- with the application of the technology to new (or old but revamped) forms of creative expression. :)

P.S. for Stephen Best -- a tool called Autopano Pro is fairly close to providing a single interface for stitching, HDR and DOF extension. :)

HDR doesn't have to be in-your-face. But then, stuff done by clicking a few buttons is usually in-your-face.

Take a look at something that was done going the long way around


"P.S. for Stephen Best -- a tool called Autopano Pro is fairly close to providing a single interface for stitching, HDR and DOF extension. :)"

I fixed my dynamic range problems by switching from Velvia to Provia :). That and going back when the lighting is better (and generally more interesting).

The funny thing is that most of the so-called HDR examples that I've seen in forums and galleries are just the opposite - they've darkened the light tones and boosted the shadows until everything turns into coloured mush - resulting in an image with no dynamic range. I guess they like this NDR technique because it looks 'cool' but it rarely looks good. I think HDR works great when used with restraint!

Just to add something not mentioned yet : if you don't like the errrrr... very typical look of Photomatix default output, check Enfuse or Tufuse (another tool for focus blending and HDR, that can be also used for panos, BTW).
These programs really do a good job to preserve the tonal relationship lacking in an overbaked HDR image.

Useful to create a Thomas Kinkade effect, and frequently used on the same subject matter as well:



Luca Paradisi is a West Cork (Ireland) photographer in West Cork who makes platinum palladium prints which are made as contact prints. Originally using 10x8 negs, now he prints from a acetate neg made on an Epson 1800 using a Canon 5D. He shoots 3 images, bracketing a stop over and one under, of the subject then merges them--i.e. HDR. Some examples here--http://www.westcorkprints.com/enlarged.htm

Rod: "Useful to create a Thomas Kinkade effect..."

That's a good analogy, one I've used myself -- working with a photorealistic representation of the scene, but with a control over tonality that is more like what a painter might exercise. I also think of HDR's contribution to my workflow as providing something like a Zone System on steroids -- giving me the option to harness as much of the light as I want, and then place it where I want it in the final image. It differs from traditional darkroom dodging & burning, etc., perhaps only in degree rather than in kind.

Stephen: "I fixed my dynamic range problems by switching from Velvia to Provia :). That and going back when the lighting is better (and generally more interesting)."

That's totally valid. Just because one has a new hammer, doesn't make the old screw-driver or pliers obsolete. But I wonder, though, about the sentiment of "going back when the lighting is better (and generally more interesting)." Wouldn't you say we've at least partly been trained into that attitude because of the lack of our photographic tools' ability to deal with situations outside of a certain range? What makes a certain lighting "better" or "more interesting" -- something inherent, or simply our ability to make something out of it that looks good?

Of course the answer is "both" in my opinion. But I think that what's happening with HDR, as well as stitching, DOF extension and other similar digital processes, is that our creative latitude is being widened. It's one things to voluntarily adopt constrained tools to harness those limitations for creative expression. It's quite another to adopt constrained tools because we don't have any choice in the matter. I think photographers have always wrestled with some of the constraints in capturing and developing light, even while having embraced other aspects willingly. These new digital modes give us other dimensions to wrestle and/or embrace, if we so choose...

I have some questions.

Does anyone know, with regard to Enfuse, which interface provides more control, Lightroom, Bracketeer or any others that I'm not familiar with?

Enfuse, by itself, is a command line package..Lightroom offers a gui as does Bracketeer..I haven't been able to figure out which of the two offers the most control as I don't use Lightroom at this point.

And for Mike, the online photographer. You mentioned a little program a while back..something that you were fiddling with that, you felt, helped with getting some separation in your highlights...What was this? As I recall it was some kind of HDR deal..


Hi Dave

All's I can say is that I don't view photographs in that way, I don't mind that you can't always expose for everything, In fact I like it. I'm by no means a landscape shooter but one of my favourite photographers is Robert Adams and he couldn't always expose for everything, but it has no impact on how I view his or any body else's photographs.

That's just me



That's an interesting reply..Robert Adams shot film and he didn't have to deal with the pains of the way digital images render the roll off from highlights/specular highlights. He could afford to be cavalier about his process. When I shoot film, which I mostly do, I take a similar approach because i can deal with these issues if i need to. And, if I don't feel the need to express my highlights I can live with the more graceful rendering film to print offers, no biggy.

Perhaps if Adams had experienced these harsh digital transitions he would have pursued a solution.

I'm looking for a little bit of separation is all, please don't suggest that I'm not looking at photographs properly. I've been involved in making pictures since 1973..shown my work extensively, taught, ran a commercial studio that supported two kids and a wifey and allowed me to retire in my early 50's. All of this in a major market. I know what im doing and I know how to look at images.

I'm never sure what reponses like yours are trying to achieve. I asked a question and you answered it with a cheerful lecture that suggests I should re-approach how I look at a photograph. Respectfully, spare me.

Sean - I don't think it's just you. I think it's everyone. Or should be. I hope no one thinks that HDR has to be used in every shot, or that a camera should always capture more dynamic range than your eye. There are definitely images that benefit from lower DR...or not being able to expose for everything. Feel free to pick and choose use of HDR when appropriate.

One good example I think of (that's more cinematography than photography) is film noir. Detectives with dim offices and meetings in dark corners would certainly be ruined by HDR.

Of course, if your camera was capable of always capturing a very high dynamic range, you'd be free to choose to turn it down when desired, which could be a good thing.

Dave Bostedo,

Everything you said makes sense. We're all creatures of habit' I like that many early shots of trees never had leaves on them because lenses were too slow to stop the movement of the leaves, meaning photographers would wait until autumn/winter for them to fall. Of course I'm not going to wait a season for the leaves to fall, mainly because I seldom shoot trees, but I like working with and around the camera's limitations. I'm certainly not implying that anybody else has to.



I wasn't referring to you--I was actually replying to the post that David Bostedo addressed to me and for some reason referred to him as Dave rather than David. Sorry about that.

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