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HDR tutorial - easy steps to beautiful photos

High Dynamic Range is used on photographs to create a higher than normal dynamic lumnosity range than possible using standard photography. This is achieved by capturing multiple exposures of the same scene in different exposure values to bring out a broader tonal range.

What does this all mean?

Simply put, you combine 3 exposures of the same image with an HDR software and get something that looks a bit more real than the standard static image. Depending on your own artistic interpretation ofcourse.

Here is the entouched before image

RAW files

And the after

HDR tutorial

What software do I need?

There are a myriad of different HDR softwares out there but the one I've found most effective and personally recommend at any level, is Photomatix Pro. You can get the trial version but that creates a watermark on your image.

Buy photomatix now and save

How does my camera make HDR?

First off, you need to have a digital camera to be able to take the type of pictures you want. Your Iphone HDR doesn't quite cut it. There are two ways you can make an HDR image using your digital camera. The first and easiest is to use your camera's built in HDR mode. But like the iphone function, this isn't ideal as it just creates a static jpeg file. The limitations beeing that you won't have the same control and quality as going for the second option: Auto-Bracketing.

Auto-Bracketing the best way to create HDR

To date, this is the best method to create quality tonemap images. The photographer's best friend is the RAW mode. Always shoot in RAW instead of .JPG. You get more control over the images in post production and will be able to bring out details that weren't visible at first very effeciantly.

So back to auto-bracketing. Each digital camera should have a mode where you can enable bracketing shooting. On my own camera (Nikon) it is found on the A (Aparture) setting. Here are the magic exposure numbers you want to shoot with to get the most of your image: -2, 0, +2 . Once selected all you need to do is point and shoot. But make sure your focus is set before hand and fixed at the same point for the duration of the 3 exposures.

Photomatix magic

I've included some started files for the purpose of this tutorial which you can download here or feel free to use your own. The jist is all the same.

Step 1

learn photomatix

As you open photomatix, you will first notice the panel on the left 'Workflow Shortcuts'. The only option we're going to use for now is 'Load Bracketed Photos'. The other options are quite useful and fun but we'll get into them later. After you click the button, there will appear a window 'Loading Braketed Photos'. Browse the 3 braketed .RAW files (exposure -2, 0, +2) you've downloaded or use your own and press ok.

Step 2

HDR with photomatix

If your image is static with no people moving (ghosting) and no camera shake (use of tripod), then it's pretty straight forward.

Once you set these once, you can forget about them. They'll always be prechecked.

But if you did shoot handheld, then it's pretty easy too. Just check 'align source images' and check 'by matching features'.

Final step

This is the most fun you'll have seeing your image transform before your eyes as the tonemap function adds depth and light into places you've not seen before. Yes we are still talking about your image.

photomatix hdr tutorial

Notice on the left panel at the top, it is automatically set to 'Tone Mapping' and 'Details Enhancer'. Those are really the only options you'll need to create stunning images. You can play around with the other settings too and see what they do but for 99.9% of the time I stick to these.

There are no fixed settings

My settings very from image to image. I do tend to stick to some preferences and save them as presets for future use. I prefer to create my own presets and never use the ones that come standard. As you get more and more comfortable, you will be creating your own versions that best represents your creative vision. Don't be afraid to experiment and create many versions.

I seldom use options other than the ones described above. Each image will present a unique opportunity. So don't discount the other options, they may prove to be useful, some day.

Click process, save the file and you're done with photomatix.

What's next?

After I create the HDR image, I like to import it into photoshop and do some contrast/color adjustments, enhance details and decrease noise. It may seem like a lot at first sight but trust me the process becomes so fun and quick that'll you'll be kicking yourself for not trying it sooner.

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