Starting a series of HDR tutorials

I'm planning on releasing the tutorials on a regular basis and I'm starting today talking about shooting in the worst of all lighting conditions:

Tutorial #1 - High Noon on a Sunny Day

It covers the entire workflow from shooting bracketed exposures to importing the pictures into Lightroom, process them in Photomatix Pro, do the magic in Photoshop and back into Lightroom again for the final touches.

Why another HDR tutorial?

I'm getting lots of questions by email or in comments about my HDR (or non-HDR) pictures and how I process them and instead of answering them individually, I decided to start a series of tutorials on how I am creating them and how my approach differs from the others.

There are many crappy HDR tutorials out there in the wild but none of them really covers the full range from bracketing up to the final product. The best in quality and probably also the most visited is Trey Ratcliff's Stuck In Customs HDR Tutorial in which he talks about topics from bracketing over Photomatix to masking and anti-ghosting in Photoshop.

I don't plan to write just another tutorial but rather want to concentrate on covering the topics that were left behind or didn't get enough attention. Most tutorials end with the image that comes out of the HDR processing tool but that's - at least in my opinion - just the start or where the magic begins.

Topics to cover:

  • different shooting/processing options for different lighting situations (high-noon, golden-hour, blue-hour, new-moon, full-moon, etc.)

  • what to avoid in HDR photography/processing

  • more detailed instructions on how to shoot bracketed exposures with ANY modern DSLR camera

  • post-processing in Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements

I do not consider myself a good writer nor is English my native language but I will try to provide an as detailed as possible step-by-step process for photographers that want to improve their HDR workflow and get better results.

Why I'm shooting HDR:

When I'm out shooting landscapes in challenging lighting conditions - like at or around noon in Summer - I more or less always shoot bracketed. I don't want to loose a shot just because the dynamic range of my camera was not capable of capturing all the details in the highlights and the shadows. Storage space on CF and SD cards has gotten dirt cheap, so why not use it?

A little history about HDR:

If you think HDR has been created in the age of Flickr and Facebook, you are totally wrong.
More than 150 years ago, a French photographer named Gustave Le Gray was working with a technique that allowed him to create an image made of two negatives:

"If a negative was exposed long enough to obtain detail in the foreground, the sky was overexposed and printed white. Le Grays solution was to make his seascapes from two negatives, printed together to give definition to both sea or shoreline below and the sky with clouds above. The resulting image is often referred to as a combination print."
Source: Getty

The technique was different but the reason for doing it exactly the same, he also extended the dynamic range of his image by combining two exposures.

We have it much easier today than back in Le Gray's time. Most of today's cameras, even cheap point and shoots have an automatic bracketing function to create multiple shots at different exposure parameters. Generally the aperture and ISO are fix and the shutter speed varies. My procedures depends on whether I'm shooting with a tripod or not. When shooting without a tripod I change my camera in Aperture Priority mode (AV) to Auto-bracketing. I'm shooting with a Canon 5D Mark II which can do 3 shots bracketed by up to 2 f-stops apart (-2/0/+2).
Oh, and btw: Always shoot in RAW - JPG is for loosers

My preferred method though is to shoot in Manual mode (M) with the camera on a tripod. I do not use the auto-bracketing function for that matter. I choose the aperture of choice, usually a very small aperture like f/13, f/16 or even higher to get as much depth of field as possible - I've tried shallow depth-of-field HDR's but wasn't pleased with the results. Based on the lighting conditions I set the ISO to my preferred settings of between 100 and 640 - I do not go higher than 640 when working on a tripod - I obviously could but I don't want to.