A few weeks ago, I went to the Golden Gate Park where I photographed the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time. Unfortunately, it was a gloomy day and the photos did not turn out as good as I had hoped for. When I got home, I sat in front of the computer for few minutes before deciding to try something I rarely do – HDR.

Original Golden Gate Bridge

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. A dynamic range is basically a range on the light spectrum that can be captured either by human eyes or a camera. Surprisingly, human eyes normally have a wider dynamic range than most cameras, and this may explains why sometimes the scenes we captured in cameras look different from what we saw with our own eyes. A High Dynamic Range image, as a name suggests, is an image that covers a wider dynamic range than the camera is capable of. It is usually merged from three or more images of different exposure so details seen in the different exposure levels can all be seen in one.

HDR is actually very easy to do if you have a copy of Photoshop. To use the HDR feature in Photoshop, go to File >> Automate >> Merge to HDR Pro… and it should bring up a Merge to HDR Pro window. This is where you select the source images you want to merge to form the HDR image by clicking the Browse button and navigate to the location of the files. Make sure that your images covers the range of exposures you want. Alternatively, you may select a location and Photoshop will import all the images from that location.

HDR Tutorial 1.5

When Photoshop finishes importing the source images, it will bring up another window that looks like the one below. Notice the image in the center and the panel with sliders to the right. The image shows you what the results may look like, and the panel is where you make adjustments to that image. There are no “correct” ways of doing this. Just experiment with the sliders until you are satisfied with the results, or use one of the preset if you don’t know where to start.

HDR Tutorial 2

I normally use the default or Scott5 presets and only adjust the radius and strength sliders, and occasionally vibrance and saturation to make the images more colorful. In this example, I used Scott5 as the basis and adjusted the Radius a bit to the right, then increased vibrance and saturation. I then imported the image back into Lightroom where I applied a graduated filter to even out the exposure between the upper half and lower half.

HDR Golden Gate Bridge

HDR can also be applied creatively. For example, instead of making the entire image HDR, I only applied it to certain parts of the photo below. I first created the HDR image using different exposure levels of the same photo, then bring another copy of the original image and lay them on top of each other in Photoshop. The next thing I did was to apply a layer mask and use the brush tool to mark the areas where I want the HDR portion to be visible. This adds a bit more details to the original photos while still making it realistic and believable.

SF Cable Car - Original

SF Cable Cars

There are people who shun HDR because it makes the images unrealistic. While I believe they have a point, I still find HDR very interesting and sometimes useful in my pursuit of photography. Please let me know what your thoughts are by leaving comments below.