High dynamic range photography is of course a now well established field for photographers wishing to explore the exposure range limitations of a single image capture. Again, it’s common knowledge of how taking (for example) five images at different exposures (lighter to darker) and combining them in software (eg: Photomatix, CS5′s built-in application, Nik HDR Efex Pro etc) can result in great shadow detail and retained integrity in severe highlights. The ‘gotchya’ though is that the process involved can sometimes drag the contrast and life out of an image, kicking and screaming – not to mention halo’s and ghosting plus garish results from over-zealous slider abuse.
Manual Method of High Dynamic Range
For my most recent HDR background post-processing, I’ve been experimenting with exposure blending manually, ignoring the automated software solutions mentioned above. This manual process involves grabbing the relevant correctly exposed parts of each image capture and layer blending in Photoshop using masking techniques until an artistic vision is reached. This way, one can gradually build up a more natural and recollective mind’s eye result rather than letting software visually interpret a scene it never actually ‘saw’.
For the image accompanying this post (with UK business and media personality, Helen Philpot), the rather hi-tech background image was shot in five exposures (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2 EV), although only four were necessary to capture the full dynamic range of the scene. In post-production, with a bit of help from an additional dramatic sky image..
..the above manual exposure blending technique was carefully used, resulting in a more natural, highly detailed blended result. Standard digital composite techniques were then used to place subject Helen, direct from her front room, straight into the scene!
In conclusion then, there is definitely a time and place for the widely used HDR software solutions for aiding workflow and being time efficient (my own personal fave is Unified Colour HDR Expose by the way – as close to the manual blending method as I’ve ever seen), but reaching out for ultra-realistic HDR results may be something ya’ll may want to try out when time allows. By the way, you can check out a bigger sized version of the final image featured in this blog post, by clicking the small blue box, with white arrow at the top right hand part of this page.