HDR using NIK HDR Efex

HDR Photography

High Dynamic Range photography is, well, there are lot of technical reasons and explanation about this method but personally, I feel HDR is the process of making landscape shots more awesome-er.

Let’s say there is a nice sunset landscape scenery that you are looking at. You have the sun, the beautiful clouds, trees, a river flowing, birds flying around and its paradise. You want to frame that moment in time. You want to show others what you see. So you take your camera out and take a picture, but the camera is not giving you the picture that you expected. What you see on your camera is just not the same as what you were able to see with your eyes.

This is because in this scene there is a huge difference of exposure between the highlights, mid-tones and the shadows. A camera can only see one exposure level at a time. If you reduce the exposure to get the highlights right, the shadows will go too dark. If you increase the exposure to get the mid-tones and the shadows right, the highlights will be blown out. There is no middle ground here. There is no one exposure at which the camera can get all the details exposed right.

See these three images for example. Each shot at -2, 0, +2. These are called bracket images.

bracket images

The -2 has good detail on the sky and the sun but the buildings have all gone dark. The shadows are just pitch black. The one at zero is quite ok but the sky has lost details. +2 is exposing the shadowed regions quite well but the sky is totally blown out now. This is a limitation in DSLRs when it comes to handling high dynamic range.

HDR photography is all about overcoming this draw back and bringing out images the way you actually see with your eyes with all the areas of the image; the highlights, shadows and mid-tones, properly exposed. What we will do here is take multiple images of the same scene at different exposure levels, choose the best exposed areas of all the images and merge them to create one image, adjust the exposure, highlights, shadows and mid-tones of the image such that they are all properly exposed.

So we will take these images that I have shown above, merge them all together and create this image.

hdr with nik hdr efex

Shooting bracket images

When you are shooting HDR images, choose a scene with high dynamic range between the highlights shadows and the mid tones. The best way of choosing a high dynamic scene is to start with shooting a sunset or sunrise where you have a lot of back lighting.

Now to shoot out bracket images. Some cameras come with an auto bracketing feature. They take the bracket images with a single click. If you do not have this feature on your camera, follow these steps. Keep the ISO at minimum.

  • Set your camera on a tripod and compose the scene
  • Dial in your shutter speed and aperture settings such that you are getting a perfect exposure of 0 stops. It’s best to choose an aperture size of f/8 or less to get everything in focus.
  • Now take another image by setting the exposure to +2 stops. Increase the exposure by decreasing the shutter speed.
  • Increase the shutter speed to get an exposure of -2 stops and take another picture.
  • Vary the exposure only by changing the shutter speed. Do not change the aperture size because it will change the depth of field and create a huge difference between the images.

Here I have shot 3 bracket images. You can also choose to shoot 5 bracket images at -2, -1, 0, +1, +2. Once you are done shooting your bracket images, it’s time to head home to your computer to make you HDR image.

Things you will need

You will need two pieces of software

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Google Nik Suite

The second one is a plugin that attaches itself to adobe Photoshop and