Written by guest photographer: Blake Rudis
Hello my name is Blake and I am addicted to HDR (High Dynamic Range Photography). Sometimes I feel like there should be an HDR Anonymous for people like myself. I can remember the first time I shot a set of brackets for HDR, February 28th 2010 @ approximately 1015 AM. I eat sleep and breathe exposure values and I am not ashamed to say my camera never leaves Aperture Priority mode. If it weren’t for my wife and son, they keep me sane, I would tone map 24 hours a day, 7 days a week skipping mundane meals, like breakfast. I have never been a fan of breakfast.
For myself, there is something amazing about the ability to capture a scene as I saw it. Whether that be how my eyes envisioned it or how my imagination perceived it. The tone mapping process helps me extract either option. I can remember getting frustrated with photography; this was about 2 months prior to picking up HDR. I couldn’t make my images look as amazing as the ones I was seeing all over the web. I tried processing my images to the extent that I knew but couldn’t quite reach that level. I discovered the HDR tone mapping process and saw my images improve drastically. Not just when I tone mapped, but I was starting to learn my camera and processing software better. I started gaining a strong understanding of how my camera worked and how to effectively and efficiently post process my images. I have developed a very simple outline of my 4 step HDR method that I use for every processed HDR image.
1. Steady Exposure Brackets- With my camera set to Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB, sometimes AB), I shoot 5 exposures each at +/-1 exposure value. 3 is completely acceptable, at +/-2 exposure values, however, since my camera has the capability for 5, I take full advantage of it!
Ensure your exposures are free of camera shake, preferably shot with a tri-pod, but if that option is not available make sure your exposures start at a shutter speed equivalent to your focal length to ensure you can accommodate for the + EV steps. That may entail adjusting your ISO, while this may sacrifice quality due to noise, it will enable you the ability to get a steady shot.
2. Tone Mapping- This is the crucial starting point for the next 2 steps. A solid base is the best place to start. Make sure you have a tone mapped HDR product that you can build upon in post. It is highly recommended that you do not stop at the tone mapped phase. Consider your tone mapped image as a fresh negative that you have just processed in the dark room. Before it can become something awesome it needs some more dark room time under the enlarger to become a finished positive, see Step 3 Post Processing.
I am a huge fan of Photomatix. I have used several tone mapping programs but I find Photomatix Pro to be the one that best matches my style. It is difficult to divulge in my tone mapping process as every images dynamic range varies, therefore your adjustments will vary. Take a look at the following chart to troubleshoot common tone mapping challenges while using Photomatix Pro.
3. Post Processing- This is the time when you take your tone map “negative” and spruce it up with adjustment layers, selective masking, noise reduction, and sharpening. There are hundreds of ways to post process and everyone starts at a different point, I here criticism all of the time about my lack of starting in Camera Raw. However, I am a layering kind of guy. I do my entire image editing process through adjustment layers like Curves, Levels, Hue/Saturation, and Brightness and Contrast, & Dodge and Burn. I feel I have much more control with adjustment layer modifications as I can always mask out areas that I don’t want the Adjustment Layer to effect.
This is where having yourself a nice Post Processing HDRsenal is essential. Topaz and Photoshop are the key to effective and efficient post processing. Topaz has some amazing plugins that have pulled me out of some pretty sticky situations with ease. All Topaz products have extremely user friendly interfaces that are effortlessly navigated during post processing. One of my favorite products is Topaz DeNoise, it is such a powerful piece of noise reduction software. Noise reduction is a must when post processing HDR images as the tone mapping process tends to compound the noise found in the original exposures. DeNoise is an extremely valuable resource as the presets are spot on. DeNoise produces well blended noise-free images while maintaining a high amount of image detail.
4. Creative Post Processing- The icing on the cake. Take your final post processed HDR image and start playing. Experiment with filters, blur effects, odd curves adjustments, vignettes, textures, and specialized brushes. 100% of all of my creative post processing comes from several hours of experimentation. As I experiment I record what I am doing using Actions in Photoshop so I can save the effect for later on other images. I am not ashamed to tell you that 95% of that experimentation ends in horrible failure and misfortune, but it is that 5% I strive for!
I have added 11 free actions to this article as a free download. Click here to download. They are simple to install, simply double click the .atn file and it will automatically open Photoshop and put the in the Actions folder. There are 11 total and are just some fun post processing effects to get you rolling with Actions. Feel free to use them as you wish and be sure to check out the video I have created for making your own Actions in Photoshop.
See more of Blake’s work online at: www.everydayhdr.com