HDR The Bare Bones

Recently I discussed in a post an introduction to Photomatix Pro. A brilliant piece of software that handles the post processing of HDR images. Soon I will write a detailed post on (how-to) the batch process of time-lapse sequences. In the mean time I would like to take a step back and talk briefly about the bare bones of HDR.

Photography has a rich history of trial and error when trying to achieve the finest balance of light and contrast in order to provide vibrant and realistic photographs. Recent efforts have been focused on fine tuning the process of high dynamic range photography. Though the history of HDR stretches back to the early twentieth century, defining breakthroughs have come with the advent of mass interest in photography in the early 2000’s. So much is the technique in demand that the latest iPhone (iPhone4) boasts an HDR function on its integrated camera. The technique is even used in films as a stylistic element.

A recent HDR image from my trip through OZ

HDR is basically a technique which allows images to display a more precise range of light’s natural dynamics. It is a way of cancelling out unwanted elements of a picture that either exudes too much light or too much darkness. The aim is to bring details of the subject to the forefront though they may be badly lit or positioned. This is achieved through multiple exposures that are then pieced together via intelligent logarithms. Fundamentally, the process involves balancing out the different levels of contrast to create a tasteful middle ground as opposed to excessive artful uses of contrast in certain types of photography.

The mathematics behind the technique is performed by a camera’s internal processing power or by manually suturing together different exposures into a single coherent image. The latter is a lengthy technique that requires skill and expertise. The former simply requires the pressing of a button. Many new cameras also boast auto adjusting exposure settings that automatically calculate the best focus and exposure settings for a given subject. Other photographers prefer traditional cameras but will use post production techniques to create an effect similar to HDR. This is especially prevalent in software such as Photoshop.

The results distinguish themselves in pictures with higher levels of detail regardless of the natural light available at the time the picture was taken. Dark skies are revealed in all their complexity thanks to the method. Rays of light that in the past would have simply appeared as streams of extreme white, now divulge an intricate network of different variations of light. Photographs benefiting from HDR are easy to recognize because of the excessive clarity of the image, the vivaciousness of the color and the sheer intricacy of the details.

Though HDR is a way off mimicking the dynamic light receptors of the human eye, the technology is advancing in leaps and bounds to the point that newer, non professional camera models produced on a large scale incorporate the method.

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