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Creating High Dynamic Range Images in a Snap with HDR Express


  1. Camera Setup and Image Evaluation
  2. Merging Your Exposures into a Single Shot
  3. Creating the HDR Photograph

Article Description

High Dynamic Range (or HDR) photographs have an “image problem,” if you’ll pardon the pun. Aside from the assumption that all HDR images have an unnatural, painterly quality to them (not so!), there is also the perception that it is difficult to create HDR photos. Photoshop master Dan Moughamian presents the first in a series that will show you nothing could be further from the truth: that HDR images can in fact be both realistic and carry an added element of drama or beauty.

Several HDR photography programs on the market are not only affordable but also easier to use than some of their more complex “cousins.” As always, there’s some trade-off between the ability to control every aspect of the image—and getting a good result more quickly—with fewer controls.

This article covers HDR Express, an application sold by Unified Color. It is a stand-alone program, which means you don’t have to launch it as a plugin from another application, although you can do that if you wish. It is a simpler version of HDR Expose, designed to help speed you through the HDR editing process. Let’s take a look!

Camera Setup and Image Evaluation

The first and most crucial part of the process is to capture a series of three to five bracketed exposures, making sure that your aperture values and focus point are the same for every shot. This will aid alignment and overall focus quality later. Ultimately, the reason for the bracketing is so you can capture all the tones in the scene. In short, our eyes do a much better job of perceiving all these tones than any camera does (especially in a single exposure).

A good rule of thumb is to vary the exposures by one stop and take additional shots on either side of a 0EV exposure, as dictated by the lighting in your scene. Example: if you have broad range of dark to light tones, you might want to capture the following exposure values for your scene: -2EV -1EV 0EV +1EV and +2EV. Occasionally, you may need to make as many as seven exposures depending on how complex the lighting in your scene is.

Next, use your favorite raw editor’s Histogram (I use Lightroom) to make sure you do not have any shots that are so badly over- or under-exposed as to not provide any significant Histogram data. It’s also a good idea to check the focus on each shot at 100% magnification. If any are blurred, either use another set of images from the same location or make note of the file numbers so that you can omit the soft shots in the next step. A single blurred image can cause problems when the HDR software attempts to align the bracketed exposures and remove ghost artifacts (more on these topics shortly).

2. Merging Your Exposures into a Single Shot | Next Section