What will you learn about HDR?
This article will help you to understand the concept of HDR or High Dynamic Range. This a step by step guide to using your camera to create a HDR image. The tutorial is aimed at people who probably have their own Digital SLR and are familiar with it's intermediate to advance functions.

What is High Dynamic Range Photography or HDR?
Well to understand why people would want to take HDR's other than for fun and creativity, you first need to understand what is happening in a HDR photograph.

Firstly a little explanation of the human eye, the human eye is a marvel of design. Nothing comes close to ability of the eye to capture all the scenes highlights and shadow areas at once, even the best camera available today doesn't match that ability. A camera can only correctly expose one part of the scene at a time e.g. the foreground at the expense of the sky being blown out (little detail) or visa versa if the sky/background is correctly exposed the foreground will usually fall into heavy shadow area, or be under exposed.

So how do you get the best of both worlds? That is to have both the foreground and background/sky correctly exposed with all details visible. This is where HDR solves that problem, its achieved by taking multiply shots of the same scene at different exposures (done in HDR by varying the shutter speed only, more about this later).

When these multiple images are combined together using software (Adobe Photoshop or Photomatix) you get an image that has a far greater tonal range (Higher Dynamic Range) than normally seen in a single shot. But before we continue with a step by step guide, read through the next step to make sure you have the necessary items to create a HDR photograph.

What Do I Need to Take HDR Photographs
    •    A Tripod
    •    A Digital SLR or digital compact with full manual modes.
    •    Software such as Adobe Photoshop or Photomatix. (Some camera's have in-built HDR functions e.g. Nikon's D300)

How to Take A HDR Photograph
Ok lets knuckle down and get on with the how to part of this tutorial. Setting to take a HDR image is easier than you might think. (Step 1) Compose you image on a tripod, when you have then scene you want composed, then lock off you tripod screws and things. The last thing you want happenning is for the tripod head to move slightly while half way through this proccess. (Step 2) Preferable if you have the option shoot in RAW mode, this way you retain the greatest level of control over the image later. (Step 3) Focus the scene to how you want it, then switch your camera to manual mode (M) also switch your focus to manual mode (this is usually located on the front of the camera body beside the lens).

Then (Step 4) is setting your Aperture, this remains constant and does not change as you take multiply shots. F11 is a good place to start if you shooting outdoors. The Aperture cannot change because this would effect your depth of field, and hence ruin the effect when you combine the photos together in the software. (Step 5) involves setting your shutter speed for each shot, and increasing or decreasing it. What we are aiming to do is capture a range of light over a number of F-Stops. So for example, use 1/15sec, then 1/30sec, then 1/60sec... etc. Until you have a wide range of exposures, you will notice the image below was taken with 2 stop increments, and only 3 were need to compile the example image above. (See the image below) You should end up with at least one underexposed image, the correctly metered image and an overexposed image.

TIP: To make this process a little easier, most Digital SLR camera's have a "Bracketing" (BKT) option, this will do the hard work for you. Simply just set how many shots you would like e.g. 3, 5, 7 up to 9, notice that these are in odd numbers. Then it will also allow you to set the F-Stop value between each shot e.g. 1 or 2 stops. Set you camera to continuous shutter mode and fire away.

Creating the HDR from the Photos
The next part of the tutorial involve importing the images into a HDR ready program, like Adobe Photoshop or a specifically designed program like Photomatix. There are many tutorials out there describing this process. If you are using Adobe Photoshop then try this tutorial, or if you are using Photomatix then try the tutorial located on their own website.

You can download a trial version of Photomatix, this is the software that I personally use. It works extremely well (and no I'm not getting paid to say this) and easy to use. In my humble opinion it gives you a better result than Photoshop.

Final words of caution when using HDR photography

"...with great power comes great responsibility" - Spiderman's Uncle

Ok , ok maybe its not that drastic a thing, however there are a few problems that you may run into when you first start shooting HDR photos. The first is that you may find the your images are rather grainy. This is due to the fact that the blending process introduces grain, you can reduce this by shooting on as low an ISO as possible e.g. ISO100. Even at this setting you can expect to find that the image has the grain of a photo taken at ISO400. So this means that if you shoot at ISO400 your photo will come out with the grain similar to a shot taken at ISO800 and so on. So its best to stick with a really low ISO for best results.

The second thing is that there is a massive scope for photos becoming seriously unrealistic, mild to wild style. Now if it is used in moderation, a HDR photo pushed to the limits can look good, but watch out for image degradation in the detail and highlight areas.

The third area to watch out for is with human skin tones... HDR is not very good at keeping things realistic.

The final thing is just get out there and experiment. A well composed photo is still what will make a great photo, not the effect. I personally like a HDR that's' been changed in to black and white.  (see  above example) There is a bigger range of flexibility to push your contrast in a black and white photo as opposed to colour.

Well I hope you have enjoyed the article, please don't feel like the article has ended on a negative note, I really really like HDR Photography (check out the Flickr HDR gallery for some stunning examples, link below) its a fantastic tool to have in the photographers tool box. It can create stunning images that more closely represent what the human eye can see every minute of the day.

Until next time, happy snapping. Oh and don't forget to come back and get the best of your HDR's printed on to a photo on canvas, your family and friends will be blown away... but we won't tell them how we did it right?