High Dynamic Range in the Shadow Room

May 26, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

One of the challenges with photography is that the camera's sensor (or film) does not record as much dynamic range as the human eye is capable of detecting. Generally, when attempting to capture a scene that contains a high dynamic range, the photographer must choose between exposing for highlights or shadows. However, when exposing for highlights all detail is lost in the shadows. And, when exposing for shadows all information is blown out of the highlights.

One way of dealing with scenes containing both bright highlights and dark shadows is to take multiple frames of the same scene--exposing for the shadows in some of the frames and for the highlights in other frames. In post processing, these images can be combined in such a way to render details in both the shadows and the highlights. I usually use software to more easily blend multiple exposures to create a high dynamic range (HDR) photographs. My latest software of choice is Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Yesterday, I was confronted with an scene of extreme contrast. This scene of the Manteno State Hospital ruins was captured at high noon. The bright overhead sun was casting dark shadows everywhere!  Here is what my camera recorded given my best single frame exposure:

Note that his image would have been much worse if I wasn't using the Nikon D800. The Nikon D800's sensor at ISO 100 has an amazing dynamic range.

However, by taking four more exposures (2 stops underexposed, 1 stop underexposed, 1 stop overexposed and 2 stops overexposed) and blending them to create a HDR photograph, the dynamic range is greatly improved:

I always secure the camera to a tripod when creating high dynamic range images. And, once the HDR image is generated from the software, I touch it up using both Lightroom and Photoshop--that is, I add back a bit of contrast and selectively burn and dodge areas within the frame.



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