Category Archives: HDR Example

Why Dynamic Range is NOT Tonal Range

Why Dynamic Range is NOT Tonal Range

Now, it could be…but it’s not

It’s like a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square…so let’s explore this

I recently was reading an article explaining dynamic range, in it, the author went on to explain when a camera has a limited dynamic range it will only show shades of gray not black and white. And I thought, no, that’s limited tonal range, not dynamic range.

Most everything we use in photography has a Full Tonal Range when lit with the same constant light source

  • Our Eyes; can see the full tonal range from Black to White
  • A High End Camera; can reproduce the full tonal range from Black to White
  • A Low End Consumer Camera; can reproduce the full tonal range from Black to White
  • Most decent LCD Monitors: Can produce a full range of tones from Black to White
  • Most Better Photo Printers: Can produce a NEAR full range of tones from black to white (Limited by Paper white {DMin} and Black Ink (DMax} )

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Updated HDR How to Section

I took today to update the HDR How To Page to reflect the changes made in HDRsoft’s Photomatix 5 Program

If you or someone you know are new to HDR and Shooting and Processing of HDR Images it’s a great resource to get you started and the the over 180 other articles in the blog can help you to take your HDRs to the next level (as much as I hate that tag line)

Check it out!

Tell a friend


Photomatix HDR Tutorial Final Image

Photomatix HDR Tutorial Final Image

HDR does not = Light

We get caught up sometimes thinking HDR is the cure all to everything. No matter the situation, shooting HDR will make it all better. But it simply does not. HDR allows you to capture the light our eyes can see and possibly our cameras can’t but it does not turn bad light to good. 

This was hammered back in my head once again two weeks ago as I was out in Joshua Tree NP on a shoot. A friends I was traveling with called me over to see an area he was looking over down into the valley. It was a beautiful scene in front of me, but quite honestly the light sucked. It was an hour too late to shoot that area and no good light was getting down into the rock outcroppings, just a small area of great golden hour light was hitting the peak of one of those rock formations. 

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HDR Styles

There are many ways to process and HDR, many different styles. Certainly not everyone likes the same look and there are clearly some Battle Lines drawn with different sides vehemently defending the “Look” that they prefer. Is there a right style? Of course not, it’s photography, it’s art, everyone works and see differently.

But I thought I would show a few of the different styles out there. And recognize that these are not clearly set in stone and even my interpretation of a certain style may not be what you think it is. And also there are laterally thousands of interpretations in between.

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Shooting the HDR Night Cityscape

For those of you that have read my articles on shooting the natural looking HDR Landscape, forget everything you read…well almost everything… when it comes to Night Cityscapes. They are a totally different animal in shooting and processing.

Setting up to shoot

Before we get to exposures and processing, first lets look at how we should shoot a night cityscape regardless of if we are shooting HDR or not.

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The Black & White HDR


Thanks to Black & White artist and authority Cort Anderson for the inspiration for this article

Most times when people think about HDR they do not think about B & W images. A Google search for HDR Images did not turn up a single B & W image in 10 pages of image results.

Now I guess that is understandable because people do like the color pop that HDR can provide and it has become a staple of “That HDR Look”. But HDRs can make an outstanding Black & White image. Of the 1,000 HDR images in my portfolio 1/3 of them are a B & W conversion.

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Using Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 (or any Filter) as a Smart Object in Photoshop

Nik BannerUsing Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 (Or any Filter) as a Smart Object in Photoshop 

How many times have you finished tone mapping an image and made your final Tiff or Jpeg image only to think that you wish you would have done things differently in your HDR program when tone mapping or adding adjustments during the HDR process? 

Do you wish that you could just go back to where you left off in that process and make any change you wanted? 

Well of course you could just merge the images again and yeah you were smart enough to save the recipe you used as a preset. But what about the 20 control points you added to the image. Plus all that time spent remerging and aligning the initial images. There has to be a better way. 

There is, using HDR Efex Pro 2 as a Smart Object/Smart Filter in Photoshop.  Continue reading »

When HDR is Not Enough

When HDR is Not Enough 

I’ve been looking for a challenge. Something to really test me and I also wanted to really put HDR to the test. So I was trying to think what would really be a good candidate for HDR. So then I came up with the idea that a cave would be a great subject. Then I thought where am I going to find a cave? I thought about some of the old gold and silver mines but I must confess I have severe claustrophobia and some of them are pretty tight. 

Then it finally hit me, there is a cave right where I do most of my shooting,La Jolla,California. I had forgotten all about it and hadn’t been in it in probably 12 years. So on Sunday I headed down there I had it all planned out in my mind. (Lesson I learned long ago, never plan a shoot, they never work out…hmmm) 

You enter the cave through a little shop at the top of the cove. Down 100 dark, wet, slippery, mud laden steps with a handrail just as slippery. Finally you arrive at a boardwalk that takes you into the cave and an opening in the cave out to the ocean. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust, once going down the dark steps and then once again when you emerge out of the darkness to the sunlight coming through the opening. (Clue number 2). The opening looks like a profile of an Indian. That’s how it got its name Sunny Jim (the Indian) Cave.  Continue reading »

Hand Held Meters and HDR

Hand-Held Light Meters and HDR 

Friend of the HDR Image and Photographer Dale Smith wrote and asked; “Do you use a Hand-Held Meter and what do you think of them?” 

Well Dale the answer is, yes I do use one and like them quite nicely. So let’s explore this question further. 

First I’ll answer one really important question. Do I need a Hand-Held Meter to do HDR? Absolutely not. The reflective meter in your camera is more than capable of doing everything you need to do to successfully meter an HDR scene. But Hand-Held meter can make things easier in some instances and are also handy for other types of photography.  Continue reading »

The Definition of HDR

The Definition of HDR 

What is the definition of HDR? Of course we know the acronym stand for High Dynamic Range but what do we mean by that? 

The Look 

To the vast majority HDR is a “Look”. That image looks like HDR. Typically that look is a little out there, a little CGI doesn’t look like a standard photograph and maybe they are not supposed to. That look is very popular amongst HDR fans and photographers or it may be  abhorred by others. 

But of course just because something has that Look, doesn’t mean it is actually an HDR but to many, as long as it has the look,  that makes it one. But that look can be made without standard HDR methods, in fact using many HDR programs on a single standard image or using Post Processing programs such as Topaz Labs Adjust 5 or Nik Color Efex Pro 3 can yield images with that “Look” 









The Technique

Others believe it is all in the technique that is used, if you shoot 3 or more frames at different exposures and then combine them using sophisticated software. That makers it an HDR 

But are either of these definitions true? Does either thing actually make them an HDR? Did the scene that was shot have a wide dynamic range? Did that single image we tone mapped have a wide DR? 

After all, we first must acknowledge that our final product (Print or screen image) in not truly a High Dynamic Range but merely a compressed representation of what our eye sees…Ohhh wait are they even that? Do they truly represent what our eye sees?

As the eye sees

Which brings us to my definition of HDR. Now you don’t have to agree, that fine in fact I don’t even need to debate it. You should believe what you want to believe. I will simply give my viewpoint. 

My definition of an HDR is based on the “Scene’s dynamic range” as measured and then corresponding with that, it is reproduced in the final product, “As the Eye Sees”. 

Now of course there is debate about what constitutes a High Dynamic Range Scene but for my purposes I like to use the contrast ratio of 1000:1 or higher as my threshold of HDR or close to that. That roughly works out to about 10 stops or a 10EV range or better. 

Now you may be saying, wait. A lot of us are doing HDR images with just 3 Exposures of +- 2EV or a 4 EV range, even you recommend that.  And we think those are HDRs, so how can you say 10EV or better? 

Well we must remember that each image we take does not make up just 1 or 2EV. Each image has its own dynamic range. Typical DSL’s have a dynamic Range of 7 to 11 stops. So in our typical example, you have your 0 Image that has 8EV of DR and we add 4 more stops which gives us a range of 12EV. 

We do have to consider that every exposure we take will not have the full dynamic range of the camera. The end exposures are limited by both the Noise Floor and the Highlight Ceiling. So some of your exposures especially if you are doing 5 or more may have smaller total DR in those shots. Also one other th9ought to remember is that DR decreases as ISO increases. 

The second part of it for me is processing the image, As the Eye Sees. Now our visual memory may not be all that good but that is why I take a moment and don’t constantly shoot during a session. I take a moment not only to sit there and enjoy what may be a magnificent scene. But I take a look around me. How does the ground at my feet appear, how does the sun look right now. The sky the clouds, the tree line and I try to record that into my memory for when I am processing the image later to try my best to bring back in that image, what I saw at that time. Not always easy but I try. 

So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It doesn’t have to be yours. That’s why we have Artistic vision and it is different for all of us. 

Hope that helps 



Edit my HDR – Challenge

Reader Stephen P reminded me the other day that I haven’t had you guys edit one of my HDRs in a while.

So I thought I would make it a challenge and a GOOD one.

I’m not going to make it easy on you. This is a very difficult fact it may be so difficult, I’m not even going to tell you if it is possible.

AND to make it even  more difficult, I’m not even going to show you My finished version of the image…if I even have one.

So for the challenge I have included 6 full resolution JPEGs of 6 exposures 2 stops apart. I want back a full resolution JPEG or one that is at least 2000 Pixels on the long side.

Send that image to pt (at) (you know how to fix that right?) The Deadline is Saturday February 25th at 12:00 Midnight PST

OK, here’s couple guidelines though and a few hints

  • There are 6 images, you may use all 6 or as little as 1, your choice
  • Since you have no idea what the image looks like when I was there I will give you this. It is a desert scene and there was a haze in the air in the distance
  • I made a major mistake with my equipment when I took the shot. You have to eliminate that mistake and for extra points tell me what I did wrong
  • You may use any program or programs you wish, however please provide a brief summary of what you did
  • This is for fun and learning. I retain full ownership and copyright of the image. You may use the images only for your personal use and may not be used in any commercial manner

And that’s it, the rest is up to you

OK, so lets take it one step further. If you thought, ehh why bother? Let’s put a little prize onto this. The winning entry (Judged by me cuz I’m king) will win their choice of the following:

  • Their image printed at 18″ x 12″
  • My version of the image printed at 18″ x 12″ – Signed
  • Or, any image of mine at Fine Art America Printed 18″ x12″ – Signed

I know Whopty Doo. What do you expect? I don’t have Trey Radcliff Bank 😉

So here are your files

 Edit This.ZIP

Ready, Set, EDIT!


Just Steps to the Beach

Canon 5D

Canon 17-40L @ 17mm

3 Exposure AV Bracket. @ f/16 ISO320. SS .6, 2.5, 10 seconds

Photomatix Pro 4.14. Usual PT Preset

Levels Adjustment layer, High Pass Filter Sharpening Layer

Paradise Lost – Behind the Scenes at the Salton Sea

Over the past weekend I ventured out to  one of my 3 favorite spots  to shoot, The Salton Sea – California. (the other 2 that complete the 3 are, The Anza- Borrego Desert and Yosemite NP)

The Salton Sea may be one of the strangest and most bizarre places in America. What was a large dry sink in the middle of the desert, it was filled by man’s mishap and the run off of irrigation water from the fertile Imperial Valley. With no escape for the water except to evaporation, the sea quickly became more saline than the ocean  but much more vile and poisonous.

What was to be the next Palm Springs in the late 50’s and early 60’s of the last century, it fell victim to it’s own toxicity and it became a wasteland of water and abandonment. But that’s probably what makes it interesting.

It was not the best day to shoot, It was a clear sky but with a huge haze hanging over it from water vapor of the Sea and I arrived at a bad time to shoot just past noon. But sometime you have to take what you are given. I knew I wanted to shoot the interiors of some of the abandoned buildings so I couldn’t wait for the better light of later in the day.

It’s a scary place to shoot. The people well, they are there for a purpose, either outcast of society. Or the senior citizens that can’t afford any better and who remember better times at the  sea. But the areas I go to are not quite a place one should go alone. But I do. I’m not as afraid of the people as I am of the Dogs. And of the Birds, that fly out of the building with a roar of flapping wings that scares the **** out of you as you enter a dark door way.

But I have to say the thing that creeped me out the most…were two young girls on bikes that rode up as I was shooting an old trailer. They rode up without a word and stopped and stared at me. I smiled and waved, but they just stared with blank expressions, and then without a word to each other they simultaneously rode off. It had all the looks of one of “Those” movies and if nothing else, I feared they may return with their Dad…and his shotgun. So I made haste.

So with those conditions it made it very difficult to shoot HDRs. But I did but you have to adapt to the situation. The need to get out of a place in a hurry meant no time to set-up tripods and try things over and over again. Most times I had to park outside of what I wanted to shoot with the engine running and the door open. Mean dogs run fast.

So all of the shoot was done handheld. This meant using some higher ISOs than I would have liked.But if you expose right and then  process for natural look. Noise is not much of a problem at all. I was at ISO 640 for a lot of the interior shots. Sometimes going as high as 1600. And outside I kept it at ISO 200-400 remembering I was handholding everything.

All the exposures were done using Aperture Priority and Automatic Exposure Bracketing. When necessary, I used Exposure Compensation to shift the point at which the exposures were centered

I was happier with the interior shots than the outdoors ones. The light luckily was Low Winter light but it still wasn’t perfect light or time of day.

I spent about 3 hours in and out of buildings, homes, trailers and even outhouses. I got what I wanted and then to relive some of the stress of shooting under those conditions I headed up to the North shore where there is a nice State Park where I could watch the birds, count the  thousands of dead fish and watch the sunset which is always made beautiful by the water vapor and the dust of the desert in the air.













To see all 90 of the shots from the day, please visit my Portfolio page blog at


Reader Feature HDR Image of the Week – Kenn Stamp

This weeks Reader Feature HDR Image of the Week  comes from Kenn Stamp.

Kenn saw the Shooting Architectural Interiors post and knew some of the information would come in handy for an upcoming shoot he had.

Here is a result of the shoot and I would say it came out perfect












Here is the Shoot info that Kenn provided

Specs: (from what I remember)

Flowchart of editing:
Photomatix Pro (32 bit, then optimized for interior, then another optimized for exterior, then a 3rd optimized for contrast (B&W))
Photoshop (CS2) combined all layers and masked out areas.
Nik Color Efex plugin for whitening the whites
More masking in CS2
Nik DFine to remove stubborn noise
Lightroom 3 for lens distortion correction and overall fine tuning/re-sizing/exporting
Bed to pass out from exhaustion
Haha, I know what you mean Kenn, sometimes we spend way too much time in front of the computer and this was not the only shot you had to edit.
Like I said I think this is an excellent example. Full detail, Full range of shadow to highlight. Good exposure even into the niche’. I like that you didn’t turn on any light in the adjoining room as that would have been a distraction. And look at that view out the window. Can you image what that would have looked like without HDR?  If you look close Kenn also did an interesting thing. He did a combination of HDR and Blending. Making 3 HDR images optimised ofr different areas and then brought them into Photoshop – Stacked and then masked the areas he want for the best image.
Thanks for the image Kenn!

Remember if you would like your image Featured or Critiqued on  The HDR Image follow the instructions here 

Image is Copyright Kenn Stamp do not copy, reproduce  or use without permission

Try YOUR hand at processing my Automobile Image

Reader Miguel P. asked if I could let others have a try at processing the image I did in our Shooting Automobile series and I thought that would be a great idea.

So I have  made available for download the three images I used and also the preset I used as both a starting point in Photomatix Pro and also for Nik HDR Efex Pro.

The Photomatix Preset is THI Exp.XMP and the Nik Preset is Example.NP. Load them in the Tone Mapping under Load Preset

So download the file and have a ball. Take it where ever YOU want to go with it. Mild to Wild!

If you like submit the image back to me at pt (at) and I will post a bunch of the reader versions , IF I get any back.

Or just have fun and learn for yourself

Here’s the Zip File Automotive.ZIP