Carson Peak, HDR

Evolving HDR Techniques

I’d like to think that I’m not too old or set in my ways to learn new things.  Especially when it comes to photography.  Although I’ve been at it for quite awhile, I admit that  there’s a lot I don’t know.

I find this especially true when it comes to HDR.  When I first discovered it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  The images were so detailed, and has such a huge range of color and contrast.  I knew this was something I wanted to learn.  Searching online led me to Trey Ratcliff’s website – Stuck in Customs.  Not only were his images beautiful and inspiring, but he was giving away his techniques!

More searching on the web led me to other folk’s HDR work.  Most of it was pretty grungy.  And, I have to admit that I kind of liked the grunge, especially when used on old cars or machinery.  That was when I was trying to come up with my own HDR workflow,  and got caught up in the grunge.

Time has passed, and I continue in my quest to produce very clean and less “overcooked” HDR images.  The old saying that “less is more” certainly seems to be true here.  Lately I’ve been revisiting some of my previous images, and in some cases cringing.  Some of my HDR attempts were really pretty lousy.

One of the smart things I started doing is to shoot just about everything in RAW.  This has allowed me to go back and work with the original image files, and being RAW, there’s so much more adjustment latitude available.  While Jpegs are ok, they aren’t as flexible as RAW files because they are preprocessed by the camera.  That’s one reason why Jpegs look better straight out of the camera compared to a RAW file.  RAW files are meant to be post processed!  Unfortunately, I also discovered that all of the images from my Sony NEX3 were set to Jpeg.  Oh well, that’ll teach me to pay more attention to detail!

As the title of this post suggests, my techniques are evolving.  I’ve gone back to basics and worked on single image RAW files (no HDR), just to make sure that I actually had something worthy of all the processing time.  After all, if I was making nothing but crap images and tried to make them masterpieces with HDR, I was wasting a lot of time.  One of the things I discovered by doing this was some of my images really didn’t need the HDR treatment, while others would benefit with a more subtle or restrained approach.

My point to all of this is to keep learning.  Keep refining your techniques whether it’s HDR or a more traditional approach.  There are a lot of great free resources out there, and I have shared them in previous posts.  I’ll mention one of them again – HDR One.  There’s a wealth of HDR knowledge on this site and it’s worth the investment of time.

To illustrate my point, I’m going to share some of my dirty laundry, before and after processed images.  Hopefully you’ll agree that the after images are improvements.  Don’t be bashful with your comments, I can take it!

Carson Peak

Above – Before.  Over processed, poorly processed.

Carson Peak, HDR

Above – After.  In addition to a more subtle HDR approach, this image was cropped slightly differently.

Silver Lake

Above –  Before.  I’m almost ashamed to share this one. It’s hideously overcooked.

Silver Lake, HDR

Above – After.  I think this one is much better.  While it retains its wonderful detail and contrast, the colors are more natural.

Hopefully I was able to help you see what I meant by evolving techniques.  For me, it seems that I’m never quite done with processing an image.  I’m reminded of this quote – “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” ~ Ansel Adams.

Don’t be afraid to revisit some of your pictures and apply new or refined techniques to them.  You may be surprised at what you get.

Until next time – Happy Shooting!