High Dynamic Range — HDR — refers to the difference between the light and dark extremes in your image.
When we look to a scene with our eyes, we’re able to perceive the range of contrast within that scene. Our eyes and brain are able to absorb and interpret quite a wide array of details that various light conditions provide.
Our camera sensors, on the other hand, have trouble capturing the difference of this range.
Say a photographer is shooting a mountain landscape at dusk, for example. How will he capture both the brightness of the sky and the darker nature of the mountains? He will choose an exposure with the idea that later on, in post processing, he can further correct and enhance the lost details.
That’s why HDR photography has found its way into the photographic atmosphere — because through a series of exposures or brackets, both your highlights and your shadows can be combined during the post-processing phase.
The idea for using several exposures was pioneered around the 1850’s by Gustave Le Gray so that he could render both the sky and the sea in his seascapes. He used one negative for the sky and another negative (with a longer exposure) for the sea. He then combined these into one and a new scene was born.
Today, a photographer can choose to take three different exposures and then blend those files together with HDR software to find the exact look he wants — resulting in an image that gathers the details of both the lights and the darks and gleans the necessary details that make that scene come to life.
Although camera sensor and resolution has evolved and new cameras are capable of capturing more dynamic range than older cameras — HDR photography is still needed at certain times to capture your scene.
As a good practice, stay alert for scenes that already have a contrast between their light and dark areas — as these are the kind that will truly benefit from HDR post-processing. Here are some examples.
Landscapes (Particularly, Cloudy Ones)
Landscape images provide a contrast between the land and the sky. HDR techniques on a cloudy but bright day will enable you to capture details and shadows of the scene.
Buildings and real estate offer reflections and views towards windows. Often, when we’re snapping these sort of shots, the scenes can cause the bright parts to turn white or the shaded areas to turn black. HDR techniques will help with these complex lighting situations.
Portraits done outdoors in the sunlight can cast harsh light on your subject and produce dark and unflattering shadows. HDR techniques will help you to even out the image for a better portrait.
If you find yourself snapping a shot of a scene that’s bright in the background — HDR will be able to lighten your foreground and give the scene the correct exposure without making it look washed out or dull.
Of course, this is up to the photographer — though there are certain scenes that are said to be hard to capture with HDR photography.
Scenes with Movement
When a scene contains a moving object or when you, yourself, are moving — this may cause the images you create to not match.
Scenes with Incredibly Vivid Colors
If you find yourself capturing a scene with a wide array of incredible vivid colors — that’s great. However, with HDR, if your scene is full of these vivid sorts of color, there is a chance that HDR will cause them to look washed out.
HDR software works to combine different exposed images into one single HDR image. The software helps with things like tone mapping, image alignment, ghost removal, noise reduction and more.
When it comes to tone mapping, remember that you are compressing from a high dynamic range to a normal dynamic range (which lowers the contrast of your photo). Tone mapping brings back the mid tone contrast and makes your HDR images more dynamic and full.
So far as image alignment goes, keep in mind that you are combining two or more images which can lead to misalignment. HDR software helps greatly to fix improve that.
By enabling ghost removal functions in your HDR combining process, you can avoid the problem of a ghost in your final images.
As you combine different exposures when creating HDR images, you will reduce noise and be left with a clear and clean end result.
As we’ve mentioned, HDR images are composed of multiple versions of the same image taken at different exposures.
If you adjust the aperture you’ll vary the Depths of Field. Adjusting the ISO will create more noise in certain images. So, you’re left with Shutter Speed.
First, set your camera on a tripod to make sure that the photos in your sequence will be aligned and the same. Set your ISO based on your given lighting situation. And then set your aperture.
As you vary the shutter speeds, place your camera on AV mode and use the Auto Bracketing feature if you have one.
Start by taking a photo at +/- 0 EV Metering for the mid range of tones of your scene, then take one at -2 EV and one at +2 EV. In doing so, this will ensure proper image exposure and you’ll be ready to create your HDR image.
It’s often hard to decipher which HDR software will work best for you, so we’ve broken down 5 of the top HDR photography softwares that will help to give you incredible and dynamic images: Aurora HDR, Easy HDR, PhotoMatix Pro, HDR Projects 4 and Oloneo HDR.
OS: Mac & Windows
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Aurora HDR 2018 was developed by Macphun alongside world famous HDR photographer, Trey Ratcliff. Their purpose is to make the often intimidating process of editing HDR photos easy. And today, it’s been downloaded over 1.7 million times with over 100 million photos edited.
In less than 2 years, Aurora HDR has edited an incredible amount of images with 72% of current users claiming to have made Aurora HDR their primary HDR photo editor (even if that required switching from another software).
Today, Aurora HDR is seen as the go-to for photographers like Serge Ramelli and Captain Kimo in addition to Trey Ratcliff.
Using Aurora 2018, you’ll be able to create natural looking end results with your bracketed set of images. Edit the photo with additional filters and explore over 100 tools and features for different types of HDR photos.
This HDR editor is available on both Windows and Mac and can also be used as a plug-in for Lightroom, Photoshop or Aperture. The 2018 features include a Lens Correction Filter (capable of fixing all sorts of distortion), vignetting, and chromatic aberration as well as a new user interface, and speed improvements.
There is up to 4x improvement in RAW image processing as well as up to 200% faster merging and masking performance.
It also allows for natural or extreme HDR, so you can experiment with a wide range of creative effects depending upon your own style.
Overall, the interface is clean and the process is simple. To begin, you’ll click the Load Images button in the lower left corner to bring up the Open file. Images can be processed as HDR Brackets (set by default, which means the software automatically sorts your exposure brackets and processes them accordingly.
After your images have been selected, you’ll click continue to see your options and settings. Click the checkboxes you want, fine tune your adjustments, and you’re all set.
Macphun has been taking pre-orders for Aurora HDR 2018 to give Windows and Mac users alike the chance to purchase the software — which officially launched on September 28th.
Here are some further details on what users can expect with the new 2018 version.
Lens Correction Tool — easily fixes different kinds of lens distortion (from barrel and pincushion to chromatic aberration and vignetting)
New User Interface – Redesigned from the ground up, it’s said to be modern and responsive with a powerful but enjoyable HDR editing experience
Speed improvements – improvements up to 4x improvement in RAW and up to 200% faster in merging and masking performance
Cross-platform version – the software is available both for Mac and PC users with interchangeable files (mixed-computer households can share the same product key)
OS: Mac & Windows
EasyHDR has been a choice among HDR software applications for over ten years. It’s had many different versions — and is consistently referred to as one of the best ways to produce HDR images.
The software is easy to install and quick to learn with a straightforward interface. Create multiple photos and blend them together for a photo sequence. You can also use the program for tone mapping to make your images look more natural.
It has the capabilities to import several image formats: JPEG, 8/16-bit TIFF, PNG, FITS or any RAW photo. It can also import OpenEXR (*.exr), Radiance RGBE (*.hdr) and 96-bit floating point TIFF HDR images that were created with other HDR softwares
It also gives users the option of processing a single image (a featured called LDR or Low Dynamic Range enhancement).
After taking your set of images, load the HDR photo sequence by dropping your files on the easyHDR program icon, on the easyHDR workplace or by clicking the “New” button to open File import dialogue and select the images. You can also use easyHDR as an external editor in other photo processing software or as a plug-in for Lightroom.
Keep in mind that instead of processing the HDR sequence, you can also load just a single photo for “LDR enhancement”(best results are achieved if RAW (or 48-bit TIFF) image is processed).
Preprocessing options for the input photos are: Chromatic Aberration correction as well as Alignment (manual or automatic).
After pre-processing the photos, you can now generate your HDR image (and filter it to reduce the noise). You can also use ghost removal or apply basic image transformations like: rotation, flip and crop.
Next, explore various settings and presets to get the result you desire. Process the photos using available filters, save your image and share!
OS: Mac & Windows
Photomatix Pro is another top pick of HDR software enthusiasts. It’s said to be a choice among artistic and more technical photographers alike, as it produces a variety of looks and effects.
The software uses different tone mapping algorithms to merge your series of images and create your HDR image. Explore options like Detail Enhancer, Contrast Optmizer, Tone Compressor and Exposure Fusion modes of the editor to yield unique results. Details Enhancer makes the image pop, Contrast Optimizer provides a natural looking end result and Tone Compressor produces deep and vibrant colors.
To begin, open Photomatix and load your images into its simple layout.
When you’ve chosen the image files, you’ll click OK next and the control dialogue will be brought up.
You can enable or disable auto-alignment, de-ghost, noise reduction, chromatic aberrations and simple raw settings. If you enable the “remove ghosts” function, you’ll see the removal window and can choose either manual or automatic mode.
Next, you’ll branch into the realm of tone mapping the image. Enjoy a variety of presets which can be fine tuned with sliders.
Hit apply and save and you’re ready to make more HDR images. You can also explore batch mode and create an HDR time-lapse.
OS: Mac & Windows
Price: $49 – $198.00
HDR Projects 5 is an HDR software with an assortment of customizable features. It’s available on both Mac and Windows and is straightforward and easy to begin using.
It’s directed at every day photographers to reduce the amount of time on their HDR sets and provide new possibilities to transform photos. It offers an intelligent and adaptive tool-set as part of its workflow — in addition to a professional toolbox with a collection of presets and filters.
In a few seconds, HDR projects 5 will analyze your photos and use the date to generate more than 100 recommendations for image improvement. You won’t need to press any buttons, adjust the sliders or test functions. The image recommendations with HDR montages will provide creativity and the operation can be used as a standalone or plug-in.
Now in 4K resolution, you can arrange your tools however you’d like. The image quality is optimal and provides clean HDR photos free of noise. 155 adjustments and professional presets offer new possibilities for your photography.
Available for both MAC and Windows, HDR Projects 5 is a simple way to start producing your HDR photos.
You can even insert a new sky or remove certain elements of your image and replace them with other features using the Composing function.
Enjoy the modern interface and have fun sharing your creations with your social channels and photo enthusiast friends.
Oloneo HDR is an HDR and RAW photo processing software by Oloneo.
As their website states, “At the core of Oloneo HDRengine is a fully real-time, 32-bit floating-point per channel (96-bit per pixel), High Dynamic Range (HDR), ultra-wide gamut, full resolution and non-destructive image-editing engine.”
Its color model handles a range of colors and it’s suppression of any color shifting and clipping helps to guarantee the loss of image data during the HDR process.
The user interface is intuitive and responsive and the image controls work at a real-time rate for the professional and amateur alike.
Oloneo PhotoEngine comes with a Lightroom plug-in and direct export. The process is made easy to understand and includes features like instant raw photo and image thumbnails, full, real-time edition history with animated replay, full documentation and video tutorials that are accessible from within the application.
Factory presets help beginners. Automated tools simplify the process and the real-time HDR makes for a unique experience.
HDRengine allows for full real-time tone mapping and HDR manipulations (with both multiple exposures and single photos). It provides three tone mapping engines, auto-exposure correction with fine-tuning, auto-contrast, ghost removal tools, auto-align, auto-orientation, and more.
The HDR process is made efficient with an organized workspace.
High Dynamic Range — HDR — is the thing that accounts for the differences in light and dark extremes of your scene — and though our eyes can perceive the scene and its range of contrast, our camera sensors can’t always do so.
That’s why HDR photography and HDR softwares have been making such a name for themselves in the world of image-creating. Through a series of exposures or brackets, you are granted the possibility to combine both your shadows and your highlights during the post-processing phase.
From the variety of HDR softwares available, these top 5 softwares yield different but incredible results. From Aurora HDR 2018, to EasyHDR, to Photomatix Pro, to HDR Projects 5, to Oloneo HDR — these professional editors will suit a variety of photographers interested in HDR photography.
Whether you’re shooting landscapes, real estate, architecture, portraits or more, experimenting with HDR photography is a fantastic way to branch into a creative and unique aspect of your photo-taking.