High Dynamic Range images: part one / 13 comments + post
online tutorials

One of the first things we learn as photographers is that our camera sees the world in a different way to us, especially in terms of its ability to capture the full tonal range of a scene. For example, we know that if we want to take a backlit portrait we will most likely need to overexpose the shot or risk our subject’s face being lost in shadow. We also know that this will blow out the highlight details in the background. Likewise, if we wish to photograph the same subject against the backdrop of a glorious sunset, we will probably need to reconcile ourselves to the subject appearing as nothing more than a silhouette.

In short, we learn that our camera has limitations and that it can’s always capture the scene as we see it. So, we stop trying to take impossible shots, and concentrate instead on doing the best job we can with equipment whose limitations we have learnt to accommodate.

In this tutorial we will discuss a variety of techniques your can employ to circumvent the limitations of your equipment and produce those ‘impossible’ shots.

The specific topics covered include:

• understanding tonal range
• understanding dynamic range
• shooting a bracketed exposure sequence
• manual exposure blending
• Photoshop’s Merge to HDR function
• using the Local Adaptation method
• using the Local Adaptation method (continued)
• using the Exposure and Gamma method
• Photomatix Pro: an introduction
• using Photomatix Pro’s Exposure Blending function


oldest comments first
comment by Craig @ id7 at 10:07 PM on 30 March, 2008

Blimey, just read this one, and there's a lot to take in, so before I finally comment, I'm going to take time out to try the above techniques in more detail, and re-read this tutorial cover to cover.

But my first read, I found interesting as it revealed a few areas where I was getting it wrong, and clarified in some depth as to exactly what a HDR image is.

Thorough as ever Dave, nice one.

comment by mckun at 03:14 AM on 31 March, 2008

Definitely a great tutorial for HDR.
As before i just create HDR by Photomatix automatically,i.e
this photo .
But now i learned a lot of informations from David for the principle of HDR, methods of creating HDR and such a lot of great HDR photos.

Thanks David!

Hoping more amazing tutorials!

comment by Chris at 06:19 AM on 31 March, 2008

I'll have to agree with Craig. This is dense material but after a quick skim, I've already noticed that I've picked up some bad habits and have been missing steps. Going to have to spend some more time on this. Appears worth the wait!

comment by Roger at 10:18 AM on 31 March, 2008

Superb David and like Chris, I've found bad habits I'll definitely have to get rid of....

Am really looking forward to the next installement.



comment by Anthony Buzak at 04:33 PM on 31 March, 2008

Wonderful, timely tutorial as I was just starting this subject yesterday. And thank you for the generous discount!

comment by Mike at 02:31 AM on 1 April, 2008

mmm i will say that this is well done. You explain very well different methods. Good thing that you fix everything with curves ;-) ... i will share something i found with photomatix pro 2.5. I don't know if it is fix with the brand new 3.0.. but the alignement feature sucks.... so i use photoshop to align the 3 raw files (i have to open them) i use the stack to file automation. Then i crop as i want it. Then export to file using the other automation export to files(use tiff files... then when i use photomatix i have a better image , more precise, and waaaaaay better aligned, especially if there is tree and leafs.... my 2 cents. Good work, thank you.

comment by djn1 at 09:50 AM on 1 April, 2008

Mike: thanks for the suggestion about using Photoshop to align the original images – I'll probably incorporate it into part two. In the meanwhile, if anyone wants to try it out, here's the sequence you need to follow:

File → Scripts → Load files into Stack
Select → All Layers
Edit → Auto-Align Layers (then select the Auto option)

Once your layers are aligned you can crop the image, then export the individual layers:

File → Scripts → Export Layers to Files

comment by Rob Walstrom at 05:07 PM on 30 April, 2008

I've just skimmed this tutorial, I have been meaning to give HDR a try for a while now so I'm anxious to dive in. I bought Photomatix last month but the results were dreadful. Hopefully these tutorials will get me on the right track!

A few comments: in the beginning you say all the tools are available in Photoshop 7 onwards, but I think the Merge To HDR function was just introduced in CS2? Also, will a future installment cover additional HDR functionality that was included in CS3 Extended?

comment by Rob Walstrom at 07:09 AM on 1 May, 2008

I can't seem to find the Combine function in Photomatix Pro 3.0. Was this removed in the transition from 2.x to 3.0?

comment by djn1 at 09:15 AM on 7 May, 2008

Rob: you're quite right, the ‘Merge to HDR’ command is only available in CS2 and above. I've amended the text accordingly. As for the extended version of CS3: I don't have it, but as I understand it it offers the ability to edit the 32 bit image directly. I'm not sure how useful this is, but won't be covering it in subsequent tutorials.

As for the 'combine' function in Photomatix: yes, this was removed in version 3 and now can be accessed via the Process menu (Process -> Exposure Blending. Again, I've amended the tutorial to take account of this.

comment by ODILIA LIUZZI at 10:10 AM on 14 June, 2009

just interesting! thank you david.

comment by Felipe at 08:59 PM on 20 October, 2010

Hi Dave...! I see no one has commented in sometime!

When working with manual exposure blending is there a way to align the bracketed photos? I'm new to HDR and am wondering if I'm putting the cart before the horse as I'm beating myself learn manual exposure blending before trying photomatix pro or photoshop's merge to hdr ?

comment by djn1 at 10:35 AM on 21 October, 2010

Hi Felipe,

The easiest way to align a set of images with one another is to open all the images within the sequence then add each image as a new layer to a single document. To do this, pick one image as the main one then just copy each of the other images into it. Once you've done that make sure that all the layers are selected, then select Auto-Align Layers from the Edit menu. This will bring up a dialog box asking you which Projection you would like to use: select Auto. Once the images are aligned all you then need to do is crop the image to make sure that there's no white space around the edge of the image.

I hope that helps,