Why some of my photos look sort of otherworldly

March 16, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Last Day of School Some of my photos have an unusual, almost painterly look. That's not an accident. (Except for when I feed the paper into the printer upside-down.)

 

It's usually the result of a process called HDR (high dynamic range) photography. HDR takes advantage of capabilities of modern digital cameras and software to produce images in which every detail--the darkest and the brightest--is correctly exposed.

 

Here's how that works. With the camera on a tripod, or otherwise well braced, I take five pictures that are identical except for the exposure. The first two pictures are overexposed and the last two are underexposed. The middle picture is correctly exposed.

 

But even a correctly exposed picture sometimes has details that are "blown out" (too bright) or lost in the shadows. In this scene, a village schoolroom in the Peruvian Amazon, the foliage seen in the upper windows was totally blown out--it was all just white--and the recesses in the red desks were in complete shadow.

 

Anticipating this problem, I knelt down and braced my camera on top of a third desk, and used the camera's bracketing controls to quickly snap five different exposures.

 

The two thumbnail pictures to the left are the most over- and underexposed of the group, and it's easy to see the loss of detail in each; standing alone, each image is unsatisfactory. But what you should notice is the presence of detail. While texture in the walls and windows is lost in the overexposed image, the insides of the cubbyholes in the desks are revealed. And the darker image to the right brings out that wall texture and some of the foliage in the windows, even if the desks are too deeply in shadow.

 

By using software to combine the five exposures, I coaxed out the best information from each version. If I had taken seven shots instead of five, I might have been able to tease even more information from the very bright light outside those windows.

 

HDR imaging is great for brightly lit scenes with lots of contrast (as you get in the midday sun) or, as in this case, for dark indoor scenes with a shot of light coming from a window. In either case, our eye can see more of the "dynamic range" of the lighting than the camera can.

 

Below are two more HDR images from my galleries. The first, an old barn in nearby Mabbettsville, reveals some of its interior detail in the HDR imaging. It also shows that HDR loves clouds.

 

The righthand picture was taken on a bright fall day, outside of Telluride, Colorado. I took only one photo, but back at my computer, I realized that the noonday sun had washed out a good deal of the color and detail. (Ideally, I would have taken this photo at a time of day when the sun wasn't so intense, but that wasn't an option.) I made four copies of the image in Lightroom and manually under- and over-exposed them to create a set for the HDR image.

 

All three of the images have the "other-worldly" or painterly quality that is typical of HDR imaging.

Mabbettsville Barn Rocky Mountain Ranch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: I use Photomatix Pro for my HDR imaging. A lot of photographers prefer the built-in HDR capabilities in Photoshop CS5.

© 2012 Lisa M. Dellwo


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