What is High Dynamic Range (HDR) in Digital Photography?
I've been hearing a lot about High Dynamic Range (HDR) in the digital photography forums, but I don't understand what it is or why I should care. Yet, people who are talking about it sound very enthusiastic. Can you explain what it is and why I should care bout it?
Sure. HDR is an exciting new trend in digital photography. It solves one of the most difficult problems that just about all photographers face at least occasionally: situations where you have very different amounts of light in different parts of your photographs.
For example, when you take a picture of a landscape at sunrise or sunset, usually you have to make a choice whether to blow out the highlights (bright parts) of the image or lose the details in the shadows. The results can be very frustrating. Similarly, if you take pictures of a person indoors in front of a bright window, you have the same problem. It's almost impossible to get both: details in the highlights and in the shadows.
Basically, HDR software lets you solve this problem by combining the best parts of several exposures of the same image. For example, you take three (or more) pictures of the same shot, where one is very overexposed, one is normal, and the last is very underexposed (photographers call this "bracketing", if you've ever seen that mentioned in your camera user's guide). One will have the highlights correctly exposed, the next the mid-tones are correct, and the final one has the dark areas just right.
Then, HDR software lets you combine all three images so you get the best of all worlds.
Here's a beautiful example of a shot that would be incredibly difficult to take without using high dynamic range digital photographic manipulation:
Flickr HDR photo by Mikael Rosenberg, used under Creative Commons license
Perhaps the best way to understand this is to look at examples of photographs that were created using HDR: you'll find that many of these are quite impressive.
Today there are several specialized HDR software programs, including Photomatix, Bracketeer and an exposure-blending plugin for Photoshop CS3. These differ in how you can control creating the composite image, and of course they vary in price.
Audri and Jim Lanford see HDR as one of the five most exciting trends transforming digital photography today and predict that whereas HDR is fairly specialized today, in the future cameras and editing software will have high dynamic range capabilities built in to give you the option to automatically take several exposures and combine them to create compelling images of sunrises, sunsets, clouds, etc.
You can find out more about HDR, as well as four other trends transforming digital photograph at their photo sharing nuggets.com article what's new in digital photography.
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