High dynamic range imaging (HDRI or just HDR) is a set of techniques that allow a greater dynamic range of luminances between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than standard digital imaging techniques or photographic methods. This wider dynamic range allows HDR images to more accurately represent the wide range of intensity levels found in real scenes, ranging from direct sunlight to faint starlight.
Tone mapping techniques, which reduce overall contrast to facilitate display of HDR images on devices with lower dynamic range, can be applied to produce images with preserved or exaggerated local contrast for artistic effect. (Source)
Different photographers do it differently and prefer different HDR looks. Most would say that a tripod is absolutely necessary to match the bracketed images up. I personally shoot a lot of HDRs just handheld. If one considers Joe McNally’s tips on how to actually hold a camera still, doing HDRs handheld is not a big miracle. However, I also use the inbuilt bracketing system, this way I just need to keep the shutter pressed, and wait till a series of 5 or 7shots is taken. There are photogs out there that would only shoot HDR manually setting the shutter speed manually – but that certainly means you need to use a tripod!
So here is how I go about it:
Step One: Set your camera to Aperture Priority Mode (A on Nikon, AP on Canon)
Step Two: Set your camera to bracketing (BKT) and select your settings. I normally choose 5 frame with 1stop exposure increments. THis will result in 2 shot underexpsed, 1 correct exposure, 2 over exposed.
Step Three: Frame you subject, Hold tight, and push the shutter.
If you’ve done it right, your should now have a set of 5 frames to photomerge. I always! shoot RAW to get the most captured data out of images. To actually create an HDR image, software like Photoshop or Photomatix is required.
Step Four: Import the images into Photomatix (for example) and select “Generate HDR Image” . Select the 5 frames you took. Click “Generate HDR”. Photomatix will then do it’s bit and present you with an image that looks nothing like and HDR. – But there is another option to select, called “tonemapping”. When selecting “Tonemapping” You get a stak of other options such as Strength, Color Saturation, Luminosity, Light Smoothing etc. I normally only select the Light Smoothing option. THis allows you to really alter the look of your HDR, to either look like a very soft HDR with all the high dynamic range features – but without the HDR look, up to a very harsh HDR look, which may work or may not – based on your subject and preferences.
Step Five: Make your adjustments and hit “process”
Step Six: Save the HDR that was generated as a tonemapped tiff file
Step Seven, import it into Lightroom, Aperture or Photoshop to make the final adjuste and processingg to create the look you want. You could try and do that in Photomatix, but I prefer above mentioned programs as they give you a much better result and are easier to adjust and use.
So there you go. HDR done.