What is HDR Photography? - dummies

What is HDR Photography?

High dynamic range photography is a twofold process. You take pictures; you process pictures. Everything revolves around or is a part of these two activities. Each pillar builds a different part of the foundation.

The technical information behind why HDR photography has been developed may or may not be meaningful to you down the road, but you can’t be expected to make the decision to jump into HDR photography on the basis of bit depths, contrast ratios, and sensor noise.

Here are some HDR images as examples to help you see the HDR difference and decide whether or not you want to try it out.

You need to see HDR in action and examine the types of images you can create with it. Afterward, if you want to know why a 12-bit sensor can capture only 4,096 levels of gray and how that’s insufficient for most scenes, you’ll be able to put that into practical perspective.


HDR photography is an exercise in capturing more light than your camera wants to. Today’s digital cameras have a problem with dark darks and bright brights in the same scene. It throws them a bit wacky. “Traditional” pictures often don’t tell the whole story.

HDR photography — also called HDR imaging (HDRI) — is a two-tiered process that attempts to

  1. Capture as much of the true dynamic range of a scene as practical (or possible, or artistically desirable).

    HDR photography isn’t something you can do from the confines of your office chair or Barcalounger. It begins with photography. Without pictures, you don’t have HDR. However, you don’t have to travel to exotic places to shoot. You can exploit HDR to its fullest with landscape, architecture, and everyday subjects easily found in your own backyard and local community.

  2. Process the result with specialized software to produce an image file that can be printed and viewed using standard graphics, Web, and publishing software.

    HDR relies on a combination of software; some are specific to HDR, and some serve more general purposes as well as helping you create HDR. Without software processing, you don’t have HDR.


HDR photography is not monolithic. A number of caveats, disclaimers, and personal preferences affect the process of HDR in all areas. However, these two established aspects of HDR make it HDR.