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John Einar Sandvand

How I used HDR to create this photo

PICSPIRATION SUNDAY: I often use the HDR technique in my landscape photos. Here is the step-by-step guide to how this particular photo was created. 

I am currently exhibiting a selection of landscape photos from my home commune Ås at Ås Stasjon, a cafe in the the old train station building. One of the photos is this one, showing a farm field full of straw bales.

Readers of my blog will know that I often use HDR to create my photos. HDR stands for High Definition Range  – and it is a technique to make sure all parts of a high-contrast photo is correctly exposed.

This image is composed of five exposures, put together using Adobe Lightroom and HDR Efex Pro 2.

In this article I will explain in detail the editing process. A similar process is used on many of my landscape and city photos.

Step-by-step video: Using HDR in landscape photograhy

Here are the five starting photos

My Canon 5D Mark II allows me to do bracketing of three exposures at the time. For a photo like this my first decision is to choose the aperture. The aperture has to stay the same on all exposures.

I usually choose a small aperture to get sufficient depth of field when taking landscape photos. In this case it is f/16. Also I choose a low ISO to have the best technical quality possible, in this case ISO 100.

As I am always using tripod for photos like this I usually do not have to worry about blur caused by long exposure times. The only exception is if there is strong wind. In that case I may see some movement blur in the trees or in the clouds.

I take two series of bracketing. The first is the default shutter speed suggested by the camera in addition to +2 stops over-exposure and -2 stops under-exposure. In the next series I choose +1 and -1 for the alternate shots.

I now have six exposures, but two of them will be the same. So I delete one of these – and from here on work with five exposures: Default, +1, +2, -1 and -2 stops.

Here are the five original and un-edited exposures used for this photo:

HDR-demo

The exposure my camera chose as the right one: ISO 100, aperture f/16 and shutter speed 0,8 sec.

HDR-demo-5

Over-exposed with one step: The shutter speed is 1,6 sec, everything else is the same

HDR-demo-3

Over-exposed with two steps: The shutter speed is 3,2 sec. But notice that while the sky is blow out we get lots of details in the trees.

HDR-demo-4

Under-exposed with one stop: The shutter speed is 0,4 sec.

HDR-demo-2

Underexposed with to stops: The shutter speed is 1/5 sec. But notice all the details and colors we get in the sky!

What I do with the five exposures

The editing process is explained in the video above. 

Basically my editing process consists of three steps:

  1. First I make some rough batch edits in Lightroom. I select the five exposures, and typically will crop them and adjust the white balance if needed.
  2. The five exposures are then exported to HDR Efex Pro 2, the software I use for HDR editing. I choose the preset I want and make some adjustments before hitting “Save”.
  3. The final adjustments are usually done in Lightroom. This can typically be fine-tuning the contrast, clarity and saturations – as well as doing the sharpening.

In a few cases I might decide to do some edits in Photoshop. However, for landscape photos I usually find that I am able to do what I want in Lightroom.

Using HDR: Summing up

High contrast is a typical challenge in landscape photography, especially during sunrise and sunset.

Photographers solve this in different way. A popular method is using graduated density filters. These filter allow less light into half of the frame, typically where the sky is.

Personally I prefer the HDR method as described in this article. But it has to be used by caution. Unfortunately there are many HDR photos out there where it is just too obvious that the photographer has gone crazy with the effects.

Good luck in trying it out!

About the author: Communications officer, journalist, author, digital strategist, photographer, traveller…and more.

5 comments… add one
  • Hei,
    jeg har et spørsmål om HDR-teknikken din. Siden du bruker fem eksponeringer, føler du at du får mye igjen for det i forhold til å bruke tre (-2, 0, +2)? Jeg bruker vanligvis tre og er litt for lat til å teste ut fem.

  • Det er ikke veldig stor forskjell, tror jeg. Kommer en del an på motivet, dog – og hvor mange ulike fargetoner og eksponeringer det er. Selv synes jeg ikke det er så mye ekstra bryderi å ta fem eksponeringer – og derfor er det standard hos meg. De få gangene jeg tar HDR håndholdt bruker jeg tre eksponeringer.

  • Espen Utaker

    Hei John Einar.
    Dette var en veldig bra og konstruktiv opplæring av HDR-teknikken. Ikke minst filmen. Men når du eksporterer i Lr så eksporterer du til noe som heter HDR Fx pro 2. Er dette en plug-In eller noe sånt? kan ikke se at jeg har denne på min Lightroom. Hvordan er den nye HDR-funksjonen til Photoshop i forhold til Fr pro 2? Og hvor får man tak i Fx pro 2?
    Grattis med fin Ås-kalender, forresten.
    Hilsen Espen

    • Hei Espen,
      HDR Efex Pro er en del av Google´s Nic Collection: https://www.google.com/nikcollection/
      Fungerer som en plugin.
      Jeg har ikke prøvd HDR-funksjonen i Photoshop, så jeg tror ikke jeg skal prøve å sammenligne.
      Har brukt denne teknikken på de fleste bildene i Ås-kalenderen 🙂

      John Einar

  • Ole Gløersen

    High dynamic range er det vel HDR står for. Ellers nyttig info. LR 6 har vel HDR innebygget.
    Ellers er jeg litt ambivalent i forhold til det visuelle resultatet, hdr har en tendens til et kunstig preg, på samme måte som overdreven kontrast, fargemetting og oppskarping. Ofte synes jeg alt som skal til for å gi bilder en med “som sett med øynene” look er å dra litt ned på highlights og litt opp på shadows i LR er det som skal til. Skal prøve ut HDR med moderat over & undereksponering for å se om det gir ett greit resultat.

    Ole

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