To HDR or Not to HDR – That is the Question!

I have never been a big fan of HDR.  Not because it isn’t a great tool, but simply because of the fact that I’m just not that good at it!  When HDR’s are done right, they look great without that characteristic cartoon look that  I’m sure we have all witnessed at some point.  Having the proper software is only half the battle. It’s one’s knowledge and skill of this tool that results in a successful HDR image.  Today I decided that I would work a little at honing my HDR skills.  I looked through some images from last summer and found some candidates that I thought would be a good test.

HDR Images

I will disclose that I used  my Singh-Ray 2 stop hard edge graduated neutral density filter for all three exposures  and  I will also admit that the exposure bracketing should have been more consistent however, I think the 5 sec, 1.6 sec and the 1.0 sec exposures will be acceptable in my experiment. I processed each image in Lightroom  and set camera calibration, camera profile and finally added some minor adjustments to clarity and vibrancy.  I then exported the three images to be blended in an HDR using Nik HDR Efex Pro.  I proceeded to spend some time changing settings, moving sliders and simply experimenting a little until I came up with a blend that I felt was acceptable.  I finished off the image in Nik Color Efex Pro as I normally would when working with a single exposure image.  My thoughts of the end result  was…ok,  not too bad!

 kootenay plains alberta, rocky mountains
3 Exposure HDR

I began to wonder what the result would be  if I were to manually blend the various exposures using layer masks in photoshop.  Again,  a skill that I am working to improve upon,  I set forth with this notion and began to experiment once again.  As before,  I finished the image in Nik Color Efex Pro as I would normally with a single exposure image.  In the end,  I spent about as much time blending them manually as I did using HDR Efex Pro and will admit that I preferred this image   more than the HDR version.

Sunrise, kootenay plains alberta, rocky mountains
Nikon D800, Nikon 24mm f/3.5 PC-E, 1.6 sec@f/16, ISO 50, Manfrotto tripod

The image below is one of my favorites.  The colors were simply amazing and this  sunrise in the Kootenay Plains  was just as vibrant and spectacular  as it appears  below.  Unlike the HDR and manually blended images above,  this is a single exposure which definitely trends more towards my shooting style.  In this case,  my  Singh-Ray 3 stop hard edge graduated neutral density filter was used to balance the exposure differential between the sky and foreground.  Post processing took a fraction of the time of the blended images and I think the shadows  and light add to the mood of this scene.

Sunrise, kootenay plains alberta, rocky mountains
Nikon D800, Nikon 24mm f/3.5, 2.5 sec @ f/14, ISO 50, Manfrotto tripod

I still have much work to do if I am to continue and improve on my HDR technique but for the time being,  I think I will use my graduated ND’s.   :grin:

Until next time…

Fab   :cool:

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. As usual another fantastic post. Absolutely love the Kootenay Plains sunrise shot. You excel at shooting “raw” RAW! Nice work Fred.

    1. Thanks very much Gord! Even though it was from last fall, I vividly remember a deer that emerged from the trees a little ways off to my right. My heart skipped a beat as I thought is was a bear before I realized it was a deer. That, combined with the awesome sunrise makes the memory seem like it was just yesterday! Thanks again for taking the time.


    1. Hola Amigo!! All is well here and I hope all is well in sunny Costa Rica! Indeed the HDR debate continues… I have seen some amazing HDR work by some skilled photographers and I think in certain instances HDR can be an asset. I mostly use grad filters in my landscape work which helps with sky/foreground exposure differentials so for my style of shooting and post processing, the manual blending technique gives me the best results. Of course my limited skill at HDR might have something to do with this! :smile:

      Take care and thanks for taking the time!

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