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High Dynamic Range images: part one (further information)

An introduction to the ‘High Dynamic Range images: part one’ tutorial

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

This tutorial contains 6969 words, 68 illustrative images and screen grabs, and has received 13 comments.

Please note that the ‘Merge to HDR’ command, discussed in this tutorial, is only available in Photoshop version CS2 and above.

Photoshop files included with this tutorial

Each of our tutorials is based around a series of layered Photoshop files, at the resolution originally posted on chromasia, which you can download after you subscribe to the tutorial. The images used for this tutorial, and a brief description of each, are included below. Please note that although we noramlly include a ‘before’ and ‘after’ version of each image, this wasn’t possible for this tutorial as each of the final images was generated from a set of bracketed exposures there is no single ‘before’ shot we can show you.

That said, we have included an illustrative sequence below.

Image 1
In this first example I will show you how to manually blend three exposures, from an original sequence of six bracketed shots, to produce an image that captures the full dynamic range of the original scene.
Image 2
In this section of the tutorial we will use the same set of bracketed exposures we used for the first example, but this time we will use Photoshop’s Merge to HDR function to produce a 32 bit HDR image from all six originals. We will then use the Local Adaptation method to generate a Low Dynamic Range (LDR) image that we can subsequently post-process.
Image 3
In this section of the tutorial we will also use Photoshop to generate a 32 bit HDR image, but this time we will use the Exposure and Gamma method to produce the LDR image.
Image 4
In this, the final section of the tutorial, we will use the Exposure Blending function within Photomatix Pro to merge the six-shot sequence included below. We will then move on to briefly discuss how this method compares to the two Photoshop methods we previously discussed. If you don’t have a copy of Photomatix Pro, please see the note at the bottom of this page.
The bracketed sequence used for Image 4
What our subscribers have said about this tutorial

"Definitely a great tutorial for HDR."


"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!"


"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."


Content overview (the rollover graphics and embedded videos are not illustrated)
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6
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HomeOnline tutorials13 comments 
High Dynamic Range images: part one (further information)