HDR Troubleshooting: Nothing is Working

When you run into a situation with your high dynamic range photographs and it seems like nothing you do is working — the settings don’t look good, the image feels wrong, the effects are all bad — relax and take a break.

The image is telling you something. That something is sometimes related to forcing a solution to an image. These are the times it pays to realize you’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

You might have bracketed sets that you took a year ago, and after an initial round of processing and tone mapping, conclude that there wasn’t much you could do with them. Instead of trying to force it to happen, leave them alone and keep shooting new sets. In the process, you will learn a lot.

This figure shows a ruined photo of a tulip (top) compared with something more reasonable (bottom). The top image is the result of impatience and stubbornness. The photographer was shooting bracketed HDR and wanted this flower to look dramatic.

This is the result of wanting to use the same settings on this image that had been used on others. The problem was that the flower wasn’t cooperating. When this happens, pay attention. Tell yourself, “I may be trying to put a square peg in a round hole.” Stop. Relax. Come back later with a different mindset. The results can be very good if you do!

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