One of the things that I am excited about on this short trip to Germany and Prague is to be able to fully stretch and play in terms of my HDR Photography. I’m in the middle of writing the second edition to The HDR Book, and I figured this would be a good time to get out and get some new images to have for myself and for all of you. As I was shooting, It made me think of several things that I think you should keep in mind when working on HDR shots.
Location, Location, Location: When you are out there looking at really cool HDR shots, one of the standout features of them is usually where they are being taken from. I guess this is true for any kind of photography – but it really stands to bear here. An old shoe in your closet isn’t going to make for a great HDR. A great location is. Get out there and look for a really cool location and wait for that shot to happen.
Timing: Really cool HDR shots happen at the same time that really good pictures happen – usually around Golden Hour (The few minutes before sunrise, and the few minutes before sunset). One of the things that I think gives you an advantage in HDR is that you can often shoot much later past sunset and get great blue tones in your shot. Night HDR tends to work really well.. but theres a time where its just not going to work any better than shooting at twilight.. Stick with those times right before and right after sunset, and youre good to go.
Color and Texture: There will be tons of people that will argue that HDR is all about the tonal range of an image.. and that its about the faithful reproduction of that tonal range. I usually tend to pass out in seizures at that conversations. Like it or not – there is a specific art form within HDR. That art form that people usually chase has nothing to do with the tonal range of the image. It most often deals with the color that you get with the shot, and the textures that come out of the process. Look for something that has great color and great texture – forget about the accurate rendition of the range.
Don’t Overcook the Color: Sometimes its a neat effect, but try not to make the HDR shots too electric. If you venture on the normal ranges of color, you’re generally good to go.
The Skies Are Mixed Back In: Generally, skies tend to be big problems in HDR. Whenever you see a nice sky, theres a good chance that there is a layer of one of the original frames thats been masked back into the shot in Photoshop. Some blend modes, some fading. That usually solves it.
All Great HDR Has Post Processing: When you see really neat HDR images, they are never the source files that you get out of the HDR software. 99.9 percent of the time, these tonemapped image files are the source files for something that requires a bit of post production work to them. From Photoshop for color correction, to mixing back in original layers. Filter effects and sharpening- these files are heavily doctored to get that feel. The tonemapped file in HDR is the RAW file from which you work. You need to post process the file.
HDR Post Processing is a Skill: It’s not a super complex skill.. but it is a skill. There are basic things that you can do to make the image work (all of which I cover in my books). More often than not the bad HDR is really just bad post processing. Learn the core skills you need and you’ll be straight.
I’m excited to share all of these skills with you in great detail in The HDR Book, and in the second edition of it. This is an art form that really lets you get out there and stretch yourself creatively with a shot. Forget about the technical portions of it, and start coloring!