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HDR Troubleshooting: Weak Coloring and Contrast

In general, bold, contrasting color is interesting to look at in HDR images. It’s powerful and striking. It reaches out, grabs you, and pulls you toward it. It gets your attention.

The problem is that color is a fickle beast. Sometimes it rewards you. Sometimes it punishes you. This (with perhaps some peer pressure of some photographers who insist on mildness) results in many photographers being too timid when editing images.

This figure is a comparison of being a little too timid (top) versus being bold with color (bottom). The timid version doesn’t look bad, mind you. It was not desaturated or damaged so you would look at it and say, “Oh, that’s the bad one!”


However, compare it with the bottom image. It’s striking. The bolder version really works. It makes a statement. Go back and look at some of your images in your editor and see if you tend to be timid or not. Increase the saturation by 10% to 30% and see how it looks.

HDR images thrive in contrast: That’s the point. You’re capturing loads of contrast when you go to the trouble of shooting brackets. Don’t settle for images, then, that are too mushy in the contrast department.

The top image in this figure shows a potentially gorgeous sunset with powerful colors and interesting details. The problem is that there is no contrast. The colors look muted, and details are not accentuated. Sometimes we get scared of blowing out highlights or making something look too bold. It might not be possible to achieve the level of contrast you want as you tone map.


In this case (see the bottom image in the figure), additional contrast was added after the tone mapped image was saved. Additional burning made the clouds and shadows on the water darker.

Believe it or not, that is why the colors look so much better: contrast. Contrast sharpens the details of the clouds and sky, creates bold colors, and makes for a much more interesting photo.

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