HDR Photography for Landscapes and Nature - dummies

By Doug Sahlin

A method known as high-definition range (HDR) photography enables you to create landscape and nature images that have a wider range of colors and tonality than previously possible with digital photography. HDR photography is used to create an image with beautiful lifelike colors and a wide dynamic range of tonality from the darkest shadow to the brightest object in a scene.

The human eye can see a wider range of brightness than your digital camera is capable of capturing. This shortcoming in your camera is readily apparent when you photograph a sunset, or any scene that has very bright objects and dark objects. For example, a photograph of the Grand Canyon taken late in the afternoon will have shadow areas in which you can’t see any detail.

HDR photography involves taking multiple exposures of the same scene and then using software to merge them. You may have been disappointed with HDR images you’ve seen in the past. Some HDR images look overworked and like they were crudely drawn pictures with crayons instead of photographs, which happens when the photographer doesn’t use the HDR software correctly.

A true HDR image captures all the beauty of the scene in a realistic manner. To do this, you need to know how to capture HDR images and merge them using software. You can also shoot several images and then stitch them together in Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 to make a panorama.

When you take an HDR photograph, you actually take three or more pictures at different settings. You can usually get by with three images unless you have a very wide dynamic range. One image is as the camera meters it, another image is underexposed, and the last image is overexposed. The underexposed image picks up details in the bright areas of the scene, and the overexposed image picks up details in the dark areas of the scene.


The figure shows three exposures ready to be merged in an HDR application. The range of tonality you’re trying to capture determines the amount by which you underexpose or overexpose each image. The images are merged together using one of the software applications described in the next section. The end result is an image with a full range of tonality from light to dark.