Dynamic Range and In-Camera HDR

Dynamic range in this digital era of photography has brought on many challenges when it comes to exposing an image.  Simply put, dynamic range is the difference between the brightest light and the darkest dark that is captured in an image.  We often encounter these situations where bright areas become whiteouts (blown highlights)  and dark areas are recorded  as black holes  (clipped blacks) in a single exposure.  In my previous post, I discussed HDR technique vs. manual blending of three images to adjust  for  these situations.  Today,  I will throw in another option that our latest DSLR’s are equipped with in the form of in-camera HDR.

When I took out my D800 for it’s maiden voyage,  I experimented with this feature.  One of the issues faced with in-camera HDR is that some camera models can only perform this task  in JPEG mode which is not always favorable with some professional photographers.  The beauty of the D800 is that in-camera HDR can be accomplished in TIFF mode.  Without getting into a JPEG  vs. TIFF debate,  a TIFF is more desirable over a JPEG since  we are able to post process TIFF’s to a higher quality level for the simple fact that  they do not exhibit  compression artifacts.

Let’s take a look at three images captured in the Kootenay Plains area in Alberta where dynamic range was tackled with single image processing, HDR method using Nik HDR Efex Pro and Nikon’s D800 in-camera HDR.  A Singh-Ray 2 stop hard edge graduated neutral density filter  was used on the sky for all exposures in addition to a Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer.

With the help of the grad filter, the image below is not necessarily one where dynamic range was extreme.  However,  in the single exposure it was necessary to adjust the shadow slider in Lightroom 100% to the right.  Extreme adjustments like this produce noise and artifacts and are not always the best choice when a quality file is desired.  I found that these extreme adjustments were  handled extremely well with  the combination of Lightroom 4 and the D800.  In the end,  I was pleased with the final result where this file was  post processed in my style of high contrast emphasizing shadow and light.

Nikon D800, Nikon 24mm f/3.5 PC-E, 1 sec @ f/14, ISO 50, Singh-Ray 2 stop ND grad, Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer, Manfrotto tripod

In the second image I used three separate exposures where details for sky,  distant trees in the horizon on the left side  and  foreground grasses  were each exposed to my taste. Nik HDR Efex Pro did the blending with final touches performed in color Efex Pro.  I was also pleased with the end result.

Nikon D800, Nikon 24mm  PC-E f/3.5,  3 exposure HDR ( Nik HDR Efex Pro ) @ f/14, ISO 50,  Singh-Ray 2 stop hard edge ND grad,  Sing-Ray LB warming polarizer, manfrotto tripod
Nikon D800, Nikon 24mm PC-E f/3.5, 3 exposure HDR (Nik HDR Efex Pro) @ f/14, ISO 50, Singh-Ray 2 stop hard edge ND grad, Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer, manfrotto tripod

The third image is the D800’s in-camera HDR at work. My approach to post was the same as with the other two images.  Again,  I was quite happy with the result.

Nikon D800, Nikon 24mm  PC-E f/3.5,  .8 sec @ f/14 ( 2 stop in-camera HDR ), ISO 50, Singh-Ray 2 stop hard edge ND grad,  Sing-Ray LB warming polarizer, manfrotto tripod
Nikon D800, Nikon 24mm PC-E f/3.5, .8 sec @ f/14 (2 stop in-camera HDR), ISO 50, Singh-Ray 2 stop hard edge ND grad, Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer, manfrotto tripod

All three methods in this case proved to be successful.   So which result is my preference?  With the three being so similar,  the winner here would be the in-camera HDR since it required the least amount of post processing hence, in my opinion, offering the best quality file which could be used to produce a large print.

The conclusion in this demonstration is that dynamic range issues can be approached  successfully  in different ways depending on ones comfort level and preference in post processing techniques.  I hope you have enjoyed this demo!

Until next time…Happy shooting!

Fab   :cool:

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Nice post, Fab. Nikon got it right with doing the in-camera HDR processing to output a Tiff file. The Canon 5DIII does indeed produce a jpeg. I agree that all three methods showed here did indeed produce a nice result. Where the single image will reign supreme is when water/cloud/foliage movement are issues as automated blending can compromise sharpness.


    1. Thanks Greg! The Tiff output from Nikon definitely is a plus however a drawback of the D800 is that it can only handle a 3EV HDR which sometimes is not enough. Your absolutely right about the water/cloud/foliage movement issues. That’s one of the reasons I’m not a huge fan of HDR. I must revisit this experiment with a situation where the movement issues become a factor plus a more challenging dynamic range of a scene might make for a completely different conclusion. Thanks for taking the time!

      Fab :cool:

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