HDR images that look less like HDR images
Friday, September 24, 2010 6:57:40 AM
I became interested in HDR photography. There are at least three ways to do it: 1) Using three or more photos exposed with different setting (e.g. EV -1,0,+1) and combine them to get the best areas of each photo selected and stitched together, 2) Using one RAW 14-bit image that can be taken with latest sensors on market, or 3) Doing so called fake HDR pictures using only one shot.
Here I used the first method. The goal was to get the best out of the whole idea. The HDR image is good if you need to get some tones into areas that are normally either burned out or too dark if only one image used. But I think HDR picture should not look like a HDR picture. In other words on a picture taken on sunny day, it should not look like the shadow side of the objects are somehow magically illuminating the light of their own. Or clouds look like made out of liquid led.
So, here's with what I started. A basic photo where we have some dark areas and white building that literally disappears into the sky.
Then the same picture when I have done the usual basic adjustments I do for most of the pictures. I have removed the 'loose ends' on histogram tool, added some contrast on levels tool, and improved the colors on hue&saturation tool. I could also try to use some selection tools to select just the sky and try to add some tones there, but it would have been rather difficult.
When taking this photo I also used the 'bracketing' feature on my camera to take five different exposures all together (EV -1.4, -0.7, 0, +0.7, +1.4). Then I used Luminance HDR software to create three different HDR images, which I then opened on GIMP using different layers. The HDR image versions and settings for layers from top to bottom were:
Mantiuk (overlay 20%)
Fattal (soft light 20%)
Drago (background layer)
This combination I found most satisfying because now the colors look somewhat normal and the building is no longer blending into the sky. And I think the picture does not look like a HDR image. The only problem is the people who were walking by and leaves on trees that were moving as well
UPDATE 2010-10-11: I recommend you also get familiar with alternative methods. What HDR really means is High Dynamic Range. Modern cameras already have quite high dynamic range and there are also methods to make HDR images based on one single RAW image. Even JPEG images can have quite good dynamic range, so you may get nice pictures with rich dynamic range just by adjusting the curves or using B/W inverted transparent layer to bring more tones into shadows.
More to read:
RAW HDR Processing by Andre Gunther Photography
HDR from a single RAW group at Flickr