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HDR Photography: Tone Mapping for Single Exposures

Technically, tone mapping single exposures (whether Raw or a Raw converted to brackets) is identical to tone mapping bracketed exposures for high dynamic range photography. The difference is that you probably shot different subjects and scenes.

For example, bracketed HDR excels at shooting landscapes, cityscapes, objects, and interiors. These are the more traditional HDR scenes. Single-exposure HDR tends to involve shots of people, animals, action and other dynamic scenes, and casual shots.

This figure illustrates an action shot that is impossible to bracket. This Monster Truck Rally is one of those “not quite ready for prime time” photos that somehow is still compelling. Nothing is really sharp, but the movement and colors faithfully impart the impact of the scene. The rider just coming around the near pylon is the least blurred, which draws your attention to him.

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Those factors make realism less important in this scene as it otherwise might be. The main goal is to bring out the small details in the scene — contrast in the grass, the riders, and the quads.

The single Raw exposure was converted into three software brackets. Then in Photomatix Pro, the Strength was set to 100 and the Smoothing setting was set to High. This accentuates contrast and local details. The Luminosity was set to +5.0 to bring even more details out of the shadows. The final look was attained by a moderate amount of noise reduction and saturation in Photoshop afterward.

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