HDR Tips and Tricks, Part One

HDR Tips and Tricks, Part One

Guest Author, Gavin Phillips

High Dynamic Range Photography (HDR) is a creative technique in which you combine 3-5-7 images shot at different exposures, which are then merged into a single image. The advantages are far more detail, vibrant color and control of lighting than you could ever achieve by manipulating a single JPG or RAW image in Photoshop.




Taking an HDR image


You need at least 3-shots to create an HDR image.  With three shots you would have 1 shot regularly exposed, 1-shot  2-stops overexposed and 1- shot  2 stops underexposed. Most point and shoot cameras allow you to change exposure settings. Advanced point and shoots and DSLR’s have a bracketing mode. This makes it easier to take sets of HDR images.




With bracketing, you can set-up sets of shots to be taken at different exposure levels automatically. Once set-up,  all  you do is hold down the ‘fire’ button and it will automatically run through the 3-5-7 shots at the exposure levels you set-up.


For most of your HDR, you will require a tripod to eliminate any camera movement between the shots.

You can take HDR sets handheld, but you must be leaning against a railing or wall in order to keep the camera perfectly still during the shots.






You can work with JPG or RAW images. It’s preferable to shoot RAW if your camera supports that format. Shooting in RAW gives you more editing flexibility. And Photoshop’s Camera RAW filter is constantly being updated to support different cameras manufacturers RAW settings.  


Merging your images with Photomatix


Although Photoshop does have a ‘merge to hdr’ feature, there is a better way to go for the merging and tone-mapping of your HDR sets. Photomatix is the program I use to merge my sets of HDR. It is easy and intuitive to use, and gives you great control over your image. All the images in this article were processed with Photomatix.  It is also available as a free trial download, so you can try before you buy. 


Photographing people with HDR


You can photograph people with HDR selectively.  This expands the ways in which you can utilize the benefits of HDR. For weddings, I take some HDR at the church. This captures the occasion in a way I could never achieve otherwise.





Avoiding oversaturation or surreal HDR


It’s important to remember that you have complete control over your image.  It is easy to stay within a regular color range but still gain a significant advantage by using HDR. You have to watch you do not overdo it with skies in particular. I usually keep the saturation slider in Photomatix  between 50-60.


The same is true for the overly processed ‘look’ that I often see on Flickr. There is a place for going in a different direction creatively with certain images. But you do not want all your images processed this way. On the other hand,  you do not want to be so conservative with your HDR that it looks virtually the same as a regular image. 




Creative Freedom


There are no limits on your creativity. I use a full range of Photoshop adjustment layers, filters, masking and plugins to go in many different directions with certain photographs.  We have so many amazing creative tools to work with today; I’m not going to limit myself to staying within a regular photograph all the time.  As the late famous photographer Fred Picker stated, ‘Photographers owe nothing to reality.’


I offer my clients both types of images. This increase sales and gives them more creative and marketing ideas. It also allows you to sell these unique images at art fairs and online.





Gavin Phillips is a nationally-recognized author and educator in the field of High Dynamic Range Photography. Some important links for more info:


Webinars for HDR:





Photoshop ‘actions’/movies 7-sets

Lightroom Presets 2-sets,

My readers and subscribers are qualified for a 10% discount. Use the coupon code SAFFIR.

I have upcoming Fine Art Printing and Fine Art Reproduction seminars in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. These one-day intensive sessions start at the beginning of October 09. For more information, go here.






3 thoughts on “HDR Tips and Tricks, Part One

  1. Great post, it gives a good quick run down of HDR. Although I find there is no restriction to the number of images you use. I have achieved wonderful results using two, three, four and even ten or eleven images.

    What matters is capturing the effective dynamic range of the scene. There is no “magic” number of exposures and symmetrical exposures, simply for the sake of symmetry provide no benefit.

  2. Dear David,

    Thanx for these tips on HDR. I have a query related this HDR technique. how to shot some scene, with people present there, in difference exposure like the above shown wedding pic?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s