Handmade HDR?

We went out for a day of shooting in September, driving the pickup south over Guanella Pass. The day was blustery and cloudy, which made for some nice shooting conditions. I attempted to shoot several pictures with the idea to combine them into HDR images, however I didn’t have a tripod on hand, so I set my camera for auto-bracketing, set for continuous shooting, and shot off three hand-held shots in quick succession. This produced photos which weren’t suitable for automated HDR creation methods, so I was left to line the photos up by hand and use the magic of layer masks to combine properly exposed areas from two photos. Here’s the result of the first attempt:


Clicking on the image will take you to my flickr account, where the picture can be viewed larger. This is from two exposures. The sky is from an underexposure and the foreground is from a metered exposure. The hills in the background are blended between the two exposures. It’s definitely got that faky HDR thing going on. There’s a bit of haloing around the border between the hills and the sky, due imperfections in the layer mask and layer alignment. It’s a kind of interesting, the border provides contrast while maintaining the atmospheric perspective, but it doesn’t feel genuine. For comparison, here’s one of the exposures by itself, processed through Aperture:

20070923-Guanella Pass 304

Again, you can click the image to go to my flickr account and see other sizes. A somewhat more natural photo, with the tradeoff that it does show the limitations of the camera’s dynamic range. Oh and the layer mask method: whatta pain in the butt! I’m sure it’s possible to become efficient with practice, and it feels like a very powerful method viz the control you have over what comes out of it. Maybe with a truly exceptional shot that can’t be processed any other way it’d be worth the effort.


2 responses to “Handmade HDR?

  1. very cool–i’ve always wanted to try this but glad to hear it is difficult so I can put it off w/o feeling bad….

  2. HDR doesn’t have to be hard really. If you have Photoshop CS2 or CS3 there’s an automated process for combining pictures into an hdr, that just didn’t work for these because there was too much variation between the frames. If I had shot from a tripod it probably would have worked better. Software like Photomatix can also make the process easy. I did some real estate shots for a friend using the automatic Photoshop process with good effect; I’ll post a couple of those pictures soon. It’s a great process for naturally lit interior shots.

    The other big problem with the shots above is that the wind was blowing, so even if I had been on a tripod the leaves in the foreground were all over the place from frame to frame.

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