“Oh, wow!” That’s what I heard over and over again on Saturday as the students in my photography class saw the result of merging three different exposures together in an HDR processing software
. They pointed to the screen, looked closely at the resulting image, examined details that amazed them, and finally just sat back to admire the overall effect.
HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range, is a type of photography that usually falls into two camps of opinion. There is the “love it” camp, where admirers of the images love the intricate detail, the saturation of colors, and the way everything seems to “pop” in the photo. Then there is the “hate it” camp, where those who hold this opinion don’t like the exaggeration, the oversaturation, and the often “surreal” look. However, there is a fine middle road, too, where many who view an HDR photo just admire the beautiful image, without even knowing that it was the magic of HDR that helped to bring out the details and colors and highlights and shadows that our eyes can see when we look at the scene, but that our cameras are not able to completely capture.
In my class at Frederick Community College, where I teach in the Continuing Education program, I taught my students how to make the needed settings on their cameras so that they were able to capture three photos of the same scene, each at a different exposure. This is called autobracketing. One image will be underexposed, which captures the highlight (bright) information in the scene; the second image is properly exposed; the third image is overexposed, which captures the shadow (dark) information. The camera is set on a tripod and a remote is used to trigger the shutter, so that there is less chance of any movement. The resulting images will be merged together in software, so it is important that everything lines up perfectly. However, there is not much you can do about leaves on trees blowing around, so windy days are not desirable for shooting for HDR outside.
Because HDR exposures capture so much information in a given scene, it is especially helpful in places where there is a wide range of lighting conditions. For example, inside a cathedral there are lots of places in shadow, there is light streaming in from the stained glass windows, and there is light reflecting off metal and highly polished wood. HDR photography can bring together all of the great details into one stunning photograph.
During the class, Debbie and I had a discussion about “truth in photography.” She told me she is a purist at heart, and that a photo, to her, should look exactly like what she saw. She felt pretty strongly about keeping the image as close to reality as possible. We talked about the difference between a journalistic approach to photography, where truth is paramount, and artistic or “fine art” photography, where the photographer uses creative license to give the image a certain feeling or mood to make art — not necessarily reality. It all boils down to your purpose for the image. One image can be treated in many ways, which is one of the great things about digital photography. The photographer has total control over the final product.
For my class, we took a field trip to Catoctin Furnace Village
. We photographed the furnace, the steel truss bridge over Little Hunting Creek, and inside Harriet Chapel. Behind the chapel is the old rectory house, which is in “haunted house” condition. Debbie photographed the house, hoping for a truly haunted look. In class, looking at the photos before we processed them, she told me they did not come out the way she had hoped. I urged her to put them through processing, using the HDR merging software, and when she did, suddenly the image on her screen had a truly haunted look. The sky was cloudy and dark; the paint was peeling; the shingles were loose; the shutters were broken and hanging at awkward angles; the details and colors just popped off the screen. Debbie was thrilled with the resulting image, and I heard the telltale “oh, wow” over and over again. I asked Debbie which preset she had used — the software gives you several options to play with, such as “painterly” or “grunge” or “surreal.” Debbie, the purist, was in love with the “surreal” look. Well, what do you know. I think Debbie just moved herself into the “love it” camp.
If you are interested in learning more about the multiple ways you can get the most out of your digital photography, check out the classes offered at FCC. There’s always something new to learn with photography, and above all, it’s fun!
(Click on any photo to enlarge it.)
“Life Through My Lens” is a travel/photography blog written by Cam Miller, copyright 2013
Email: cam.miller@comcast. net