Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Using HDR for Interior Commercial Photography

There's been quite a bit of discussion online lately on blogs and forums about the use of High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography and I reckon it's fair to say that some people love it, and some people (clearly) hate it. Scott Kelby wrote on his blog recently asking for peoples thoughts on the subject and boy, did some people really let their thoughts be known.

I first became aware of HDR when a Photographer / Photoshop Guru by the name of Ben Willmore began posting HDR images he'd put together during his ongoing journey along Route 66. He'd edited them in such a way that gave them an almost surreal, futuristic look and to be honest it was this look that I associated with HDR and never considered it's other uses...until fairly recently.

Ultimately HDR enables the photographer to produce images (when not over processed) that capture much more detail in the shadows, midtones and highlight areas and so resulting in a closer interpretation of what can been seen by the human eye:

Over the past couple of months aside from my Portrait work, I've been finding myself getting commissioned to photograph interiors of Hotels and Restaurants and rather than adding in bursts of light during longer exposures I've opted for HDR for two reasons. One reason being the speed it enables me to work and secondly (& more importantly) it gives me exactly the kind of look I'm after...a definite win, win situation!

To create a HDR image, the process involves photographing a 'scene' but rather than taking a single photograph, a number are taken. Five is a generally a good number of photographs to take as the first photograph will be 'properly' exposed and then two photographs are taken either side of this exposure each 1 stop apart:

Setting the exposures for each shot can be done manually but by doing this there is always the risk of knocking the camera so that it becomes out of line. Most modern SLR's and some 'Point and Shoots' like the Canon G series, have this facility (known as Bracketing) built into them where you can select the number of exposures you want the camera to take.

Once you have your five photographs, it's then a case of combining them so that the full range of exposures can be put together to make one final image. I generally combine three of the images together: the 'properly exposed image plus the image that is 2 stops under exposed and the one that is 2 stops over exposed. Photoshop does have a built in 'HDR' creating function but to be honest it still needs a little work, so the software of choice is Photomatix, and I tend to find 99% of the time that the default settings work just fine. Once the images have been combined (tone mapped) I'll then do a little tweeking in Photoshop just to add some finishing touches.

Here's a couple of examples of 'overly' processed HDR images where I went for the surreal/drawing kind of look (just for fun you understand)

So, what's your opinion of HDR? ... like it or dislike it? HDR is no magic wont make a bad shot into a good shot. The old saying of 'Garbage in Garbage out' still counts for HDR because you still need to have good quality images to combine in the first place. Personally I think there is defintely a place in the 'tool kit' for it but I'd love to hear your thoughts / feelings on the subject so please leave a comment. If you've got any examples feel free to send them over and I'll post some up here in an 'update'.

Also, if you have any questions about this post or would like to see a video tutorial then just let me know in the comments section below or send me an email, message on Facebook etc... and I'll 'get on it'.

Bye for now.


Jon W 18 February 2010 at 09:34  

Like 'Father Bob' says everything in moderation, I stick to that, I've played with HDR and kinda like it, not for portraits, with regards to landscape or interior work it is a must have 'tool'

Jon W ;^)

Glyn Dewis 18 February 2010 at 10:10  

Hi Jon,
Hi Jon,
Thanks for the comment.

Yeah I do tend to agree with you Jon; It's certainly a great tool to have, so long as it's not overdone. I'm guessing it's the overprocessed look that is getting all the bad publicity. Personally I like to use it now to create a more realistic/as the eye sees it look as I imagine you do for the landscape work.


Ambient Life 18 February 2010 at 10:10  

Lots of opinion on this most of the time in any quarter and I know that I get 'accused' of it a lot where people often get mixed up with layer adjustment exposure refinement and full on HDR. Accused being also an interesting term as people still seem to view the practice as unacceptable, an interesting view as I don't know a single successful commercial photographer that does not use this tool to some extent. The important points here are very much that it should be used a tool and not a support recovery device for a bad image, and that indeed it is a tool that is very useful used in moderation.
Good piece Glyn as always.

Glyn Dewis 18 February 2010 at 10:20  

Absolutely Tim; totally agree with you there. I wonder sometimes if the 'nay sayers' are actually envious of what they see and as a result look for something negative to say...or am I just being controversial?? lol

Im gonna put it down to a lack of understanding for the negativity because clearly when used correctly and subtly it only serves to enhance an already great image, as your work so wonderfully shows.

Thanks for the comment Tim, I appreciate it but something tells me this isn't the end of the 'love, hate' relationship with HDR :o)


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