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Sitting here in front of my computer, thinking about writing this feature, I was struck once again about how much has changed photographically since the advent of digital cameras. In the good old, bad old days of film (and especially if you used transparency or slide film) what you shot was pretty much what you got and there was not too much you could do to change things in post.

If you needed to shoot panoramic images then it was off to your favourite camera shop with a wheelbarrow of cash to buy a Linhof Techmorama 6 X 17 body, a Fuji GX617 or, if you had budgetary constraints (like me) a Hasselblad XPan that shot 35mm film. And even then, if the scene you were shooting had too much contrast, aside with fiddling with some graduated ND filters, there was not much you could do about it. Only after things went digital did we start working with HDR (High Dynamic Range) images, and stitching together pics to create panoramas (or other composite images) was very much a dark art - whispered about over a bottle of wine perhaps. Today, it’s different and you can do amazing things by merging photographs in different ways.

For this pic of the deck at Dwyka Tented Lodge at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve we used two Image Blending techniques - HDR and Photo Stitching to create this HDR panorama. (We'll cover panorama creation in a future feature)

For this pic of the deck at Dwyka Tented Lodge at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve we used two Image Blending techniques - HDR and Photo Stitching to create this HDR panorama. (We'll cover panorama creation in a future feature)

HDR Images

The Dynamic Range of an image, scene or subject, is the range tones it has, generally from pure black to pure white. Note that white in this case is the absence of any tones and not like a piece of white paper. Digital cameras have a limited range of light levels that they can record - about 12 to 14 stops, the best being about 14.8 stops. So, what do you do if your subject has a range of tones greater than your camera can record?

That’s where HDR images come in. The process involves shooting a sequence of pics at varying exposures so that the brightest and darkest tones are all recorded correctly. These images can then be combined, utilising the best parts of each one. You can do this manually in Photoshop, masking out the areas you want to eliminate, but the process is quite complicated and laborious.

Both Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom have automated processes for blending images and I would recommend that you follow this route. There are other apps that also do this but, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick to these two for now.

For this process to work the subject and camera need to be static - preferably no movement at all. While you can deal with a little movement by aligning the images in post it’s not ideal so put the camera on a tripod and avoid subject movement.

Shoot a range of images at metered exposure and then under expose and over expose until you have a set of pics that correctly expose all parts of the scene. If the subject’s dynamic range is not excessive then you should be able to capture it with 3 images 1 stop apart. 5 images are sometimes necessary and, occasionally, 7 are needed. You’ll end up with a sequence of images like the ones below of one of the Safari Tents at Tuli Safari Lodge in Botswana.


Import these images into Lightroom, select them and go to Photo - Photo Merge - HDR… and you’ll end up with a dialog box like the one below. Make sure that Auto Align and Auto Settings are ticked, set Deghost Amount to Low and click Merge.

HDR Merge Settings

The computer will do its thing and after a little bit of tweaking - levels, contrast, vignette, colour etc - you are pretty much done and you'll end up with a pic like the one bellow.

Tuli Safari Lodge. Northern Tuli Game Reserve. Botswana

You can also do this in Photoshop, although the process is a little more complicated: Open Photoshop and go to File - Automate - Merge to HDR Pro… This opens a dialog box which, by clicking Browse, enables you to select your series of bracketed images. Make sure that Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images is ticked and click OK.

The computer does some considerable thinking and a dialog box pops up with Tone in ACR in the bottom right corner. Click this and more thinking happens after which the HDR image is opened in Adobe Camera Raw - ACR.

ACR is the RAW conversion engine that powers Lightroom, so the controls are very similar. I would begin by clicking Auto just below the colour controls and then adjust as necessary. Click OK when you’re done.

While this process will work if you shoot jpeg images, best results will be achieved when you are shooting RAW images.

Be sure to check out our other Photo Tips and tutorials.

As always, if you have any questions or suggestions for future articles, do drop me a mail. Hook up with us on Instagram (@RogerdelaHarpe) and Facebook ( Roger and Pat de la Harpe Photography).

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Photography and stock images of wildlife, travel, conservation, lodges and lifestyle in Africa.

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