The very minute I learned what HDR photography was, I was hooked. I instantly delved into the internet to figure out how to do it. After an extensive search and some experimentation I discovered the simplest way of creating these fascinating and surreal images. In this instructable I will be showing you a fast and easy method for creating HDR images.

Step 1: HDR Vs. Non HDR

Firstly, before you go taking a bunch of pictures or downloading software, do a google image search for HDR photography. This will not only show you what HDR looks like but will also give you some inspiration for your own images.

Also, here is a quick video that shows some photos before and after HDR processing.

Step 2: Getting Started

Now that you have a sense of what can be done with HDR, you are ready to begin. To complete the following steps you will need these things:

1. A Camera

 The camera must have some form of manual brightness control.

2. Tripod (optional)

A tripod is not necessary but i highly recommend it.

3. Software

Here are several options.

Photomatix Essentials (recommended for beginners)
Ease of use: 5
Control: 2
Cost: $39 (free trial)

Photomatix Pro
Ease of use: 3
Control: 4
Cost: $99 (free trial)

Luminance HDR
Ease of use: 1
Control: 5
Cost: Free

I recommend starting with Photomatix essentials because it is really easy to use and it has a free trial. Photomatix Pro gives you more control at the cost of ease of use and Luminance HDR is very hard to use because none of the controls make any sense unless you know the names of the algorithms and what they do.

For this intractable I will be explaining the process using Photomatix Essentials but a similar process would be used for the other two as well.

Photomatix download page

Luminance HDR

Step 3: Take Bracketed Photos

Now, holding your camera very still or using a tripod, capture a set of bracketed photos of the subject or landscape.

A set of bracketed photos commonly consists of 3 or more images of varying brightness. For the set of images here, I took the dark photo to capture the detail in the sky, the bright one for the boat shadows and water detail and the last picture is correctly exposed for the midtones. In the next step, the software will merge the photos together using the best parts of each image.

Step 4: Process the Bracketed Photos

Next, open Photomatix essentials and import your photos. A prompt will pop up asking if you want it to align your photos. I always choose yes even when using my tripod because the camera sometimes tilts down slightly while capturing the photos if I am using a heavy lens.

After that, the software will ask you if you want to remove ghosts. Ghosts occur when things move while you are taking the bracketed photos. If your photos contain plants, water, cars, animals, or people than you probably want to choose yes for this as well.

once these steps are complete the main window will appear. Here you will find settings on the left, an image preview in the center, and a list of presets on the right.

The first thing I do when I get here is flip through and try some presets until I find one that I like. Then, I will play with the settings until the image looks pleasing. Here is a basic explanation of the settings.

NOTE: You may have noticed the Method & Presets box in the upper left corner. A few words on this. One, the presets here are the same as the one in the column on the right. Two, I haven't found much use for the Tone Compressor or Exposure fusion, so I will be focusing on the settings for the Detail Enhancer.

Strength: The master control that adjusts how strong of an HDR effect you want.

ColorSaturation: Like it says, this controls the color saturation of the image.

Luminosity: This control adds fill light to the dark areas.

Detail Contrast: This is a basically just a contrast control. However instead of changing the contrast of the image as a whole, it changes the contrast in a way that avoids over or underexposure.

LightingAdjustment: This changes the lighting based on the bracketed photos. For example, the sky is actually much brighter than the water 

Once your settings are tweaked the way you like them, click Process & Save. Sometimes I will then import the HDR photo into another image editor to tweak some other settings but if you're happy with it the way it is, then you're done!

Thanks for reading and have fun creating HDR photos!
I am starting to experiment with HDR. I am using gimp to process the pictures and they seem to do pretty well. I do see the need for a tripod.

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