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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Until next time…