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Expanding Your Dynamic Range: The Pros and Cons of HDR Methods

June 30, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Silkstone-140922_2086_30_58_289Silkstone-140922_2086_30_58_289Seljalandsfoss as the sun sets.

 

How do you HDR?  Do you use dedicated HDR software?  Do you manually blend images in post-processing?  Do you use a graduated neutral density filter?  There are a number of ways to create a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image, each with their own pros and cons.  I have listed some of the pros and cons for each method so that when or if you decide to create an HDR image you can determine the best method that fits your style, post-processing workflow, budget, etc.

I will not go into great detail about each method and assume you know enough about your camera to follow along.  I merely want to point out the positives and negatives of using each method.  Let’s begin.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter (yes, that is an HDR image you just made):

Pros

Cons

  • Gets all the details in one RAW image
  • More equipment to buy (can get expensive)
  • Ghosting not a problem
  • Possible color cast
  • Can see image right away and make adjustments
  • Takes time to set up in the field

 

  • Image noise is not an issue
  • Another item to pack

 

  • May need different filter strengths for different situations

 

  • Does not work for all situations

 

In-camera HDR (cell phones, newer model DSLR and mirrorless cameras have this function)

Pros

Cons

  • Gets all the details in one image
  • Output is usually a jpg file
  • No more equipment to buy or carry
  • May process photo not to ones’ liking
  • Can see image right away and make adjustments
  • May still not cover the entire dynamic range of a scene
  • Will work in most if not all situations

 

 

Manually blend images in Photoshop (Blend if, layers and masks, luminosity masks, etc.

Pros

Cons

  • No extra camera gear needed in the field
  • Have to take more than one image (more hard drive storage)
  • Image noise is not an issue
  • Takes time in post processing
  • No color cast
  • Have to worry about objects moving from one photo to the next
  • Can be assured that entire dynamic range is covered in the field
  • Need Photoshop or other processing software capable of performing functions

 

HDR software (Photomatix, HDR Pro, Lightroom, etc)

Pros

Cons

  • Quickly combines images
  • Takes time in post-processing
  • No extra camera gear needed in the field
  • Have to take more than one image (more hard drive storage)
  • Can be assured that entire dynamic range is covered in field
  • Have to worry about objects moving from one photo to the next
  • Can batch process
  • Need software capable of performing functions

 

  • May have artifacts in final image – noise, ghosting, glow,

As you can see, each method has its pros and cons.  I have used all of them but mostly use manually blending in Photoshop with HDR software being a distant second.  Please feel free to leave a comment as to why you use one method over another or if there is another reason that I forgot to mention.  Frame, Capture, Publish!


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