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What is an HDR Photograph? This is a question I frequently hear from my customers.
There are usually 2 things that prompt this question: 1) The fact that virtually every cell phone today has a camera that offers and HDR option (that most people don't understand what it means), and 2) That when they were searching for a photographer, they came across the term, "HDR Photographs" in ads and on a number of websites. Unfortunately, none of those ads or websites ever actually explained what an HDR photograph is.
But, I'll be more than happy to explain to you what an HDR photograph is, how it's created, and both when it's appropriate to use, as well as when it's inappropriate to use. So, here we go.
First of all, it's good to understand that the letters HDR stand for High Dynamic Range.
We've all seen photographs that contain large very light areas and very dark areas, such as in a photo of a sunset like the one to the right, where the sky appears to be extremely bright in some places, yet portions of the land are extremely dark.
Well, this photo is an example of a wide range of light differential, from extreme bright light to extreme darkness.
That's what photographers refer to as a high dynamic range, or HDR.
What is an HDR Photograph?
Well, in order to create a single photograph in which you can actually see the full spectrum of light within both the light and dark areas, rather than just the light in the sky and the relatively indefinable black area (which is common when taking a single photograph of this type of scene), the photographer will take several shots of the same scene using various exposure levels on the camera, as shown in the photo strip on the right.
The photos will be layered on top of each other to create a single photo in which the full spectrum, or the full dynamic range of light and all of its details are brought out (below).
When is it Inappropriate to Use an HDR Photograph?
As I just explained above, the use of high dynamic range (HDR) photos is most appropriate when there are large areas of both extremely bright light and darkness that tends to prevent a single photo from reasonably presenting the full spectrum of viewable area to the viewer.
However, like just like almost everything else in life (and in photography), there's no one photographic technique or editing that is appropriate in every circumstance. And, that includes the use of HDR photography.
For example, in situations where there's not a great amount of difference in the spectrum of light to dark, such as in a controlled photographic environment, such as in a studio or inside a residential dwelling, using the high dynamic range technique tends to make the finished photos appear unnaturally dark. It gives the finished photos a dingy, lifeless look.
The only exception would be, when shooting inside a home when Sunlight coming through a window is extremely bright. In this case, the use of the HDR technique will be necessary to create a balanced, good quality photo in terms of the viewable spectrum of light.
It's also not a good idea to use the HDR technique when shooting vivid colors, such as when your subject is a floral arrangement, or when shooting a portrait where your subject is wearing a bright colored sweater or neck tie, because the HDR process will significantly tone down the colors, again creating a drab finished photo.
I hope I've answer the question, what is an HDR photograph, as well as how an HDR photograph is create.
I also hope I've given you an understanding of when it's appropriate and inappropriate to use the HDR photographic technique.
You should know, that in my photography business, Kenneth Jones Photography, Ltd., I use what every photographic technique will get the most desirable end result possible to make your photos look as beautiful as possible.
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