High Dyanmic Range Photography

"I Hate HDR" and "I Teach HDR the Right Way"

Natural-looking HDR image.

I teach HDR on most of my workshops. The next HDR workshop will be in Atlanta, GA later this month. We'll shoot at Old Car City and the Southeastern Railway Museum. Great fun!

Want to have some fun? Do a web search on "I hate HDR." Tons of pages will come up.

 In that search you will find a photographer who says, "I teach HDR the right way."

As my dad used to say, "To each his own." I say, "Why hate anything?" And, my take on teaching HDR - or creating HDR images - is that there is no "right way" and no "one way."

Natural-looking HDR image.

Natural-looking HDR image.

It's all personal, like all art.

Some folks like realistic-looking HDR images, such as the image above, while others like super-saturated images with the grunge look, like the images below. 

Super-saturated HDR image.

Super-saturated HDR image.

I don't teach HDR the right way, I simply teach it my way - which covers creating all types of HDR images.

The HDR program I recommend most is Photomatix from HDR soft. You can save 15% on Photomatix when you use this code - ricksammon - upon checkout from the HDR soft web site.

Here is post I did on the latest version of Photomatix. The above image is from that post.

One tip I do offer when it comes to HDR: The subject often suggests the HDR effect. For example, you probably want a natural-looking HDR image for a landscape, while the super-saturated/grunge effect may look good on a photo of an old car.

Magic Beach Motel, St. Augustine, FL.

Magic Beach Motel, St. Augustine, FL.

As with all your photography, I say follow your heart. Or as Ginger Baker wrote, "Do what you like."

South East Railway Museum near Atlanta, GA.

South East Railway Museum near Atlanta, GA.

If you want to get good at HDR, put yourself in a very high-contrast situation: shoot indoors and get details inside and outside. If you can see into the shadows and if your highlights are not blown out in your final HDR image, you are on your way to creating a good HDR image - your way. The image directly above illustrates that technique.

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All my 2016 photo workshops are listed on my 2016 Workshops page.

Explore the light,

Goodbye HDR! Hello EDR?

1 © Rick Sammon.jpg

Goodbye HDR! Hello EDR?

Digital HDR (high dynamic range) photography has been around for years. Before digital HDR, film and wet darkroom photographers, including Ansel Adams, created HDR-like images by using various techniques – including, but not limited to, burning and dodging.

I've always liked a good HDR image, mostly where the image does not look as though it was processed with an HDR program such as Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix - the two HDR programs I use to create images that don't look like HDR images . . . if that makes sense.

Info on those programs, both of which I teach, is on my Save on Plug-ins page. 

HDR, as you may know, has gotten a bad rap. Do a Google search on "I hate HDR" to see what people are saying. (As an aside, I had a bad wrap a few weeks ago at a roadside deli. The tortilla was soggy, as was the lettuce.)

2 © Rick Sammon.jpg

Recently, someone said about my work, "He's overly fond of HDR." Perhaps that's because I teach HDR, in addition to teaching natural light photography and speedlite photography, on my workshops. Or maybe it's because I have an HDR app - iHDR. That's only one of my 12 apps. Most of my apps feature straight, non-HDR shots.

Fact is, I only shoot HDR about 10 percent of the time. Anyway . . . .

I still like  HDR - the shooting part and the processing part. Mostly, my goal these days is to create an image that does not look like an overly processed, or "over cooked," image. That said, I have been known to go over-the-top when it comes to HDR. That was, and is, good fun.

3 © Rick Sammon.jpg

Because HDR has such a bad rap, I thought I'd change the name of my HDR images to EDR images. EDR stands for Extended Dynamic Range.

To bring out the detail in that top left scene, HDR shooting and processing was needed to create the image on the top right. By the way, we shoot at this temple on my Rick's Backyard Workshop, which is a ton of fun.

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Even the opening  image for this post is an EDR image. I created it in Lightroom by cropping and then by adjusting the Shadows, Highlights, Contrast, Exposure, Whites, Blacks, Clarity and Saturation . . . and then by making it a black-and-white image. The train was moving fast when I took the shot. So I guess you could say this is a one-shot HDR image, but now I'm calling it a one-shot EDR image.

4 © Rick Sammon.jpg

By the way, many of my fellow pros are now using Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW to create HDR, oh I mean, EDR images. It's amazing how, with these programs we can open up shadows and tone down highlights to create EDR images. So much so that you don't need to shoot and process HDR in medium contrast situations.

5 © Rick Sammon.jpg

In extreme lighting situations, such as the one above, a series of images is needed and processing in an HDR program is required.

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Above is also an EDR image that I made in Iceland. It's a JPEG HDR, with a bit of tweaking, of three RAW files that I took with my Canon 5D Mark III, which has built-in HDR. My tweaking included using the Detail Extractor filter (which I call the HDR simulator filter in Nik Color Efex Pro).

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So whatta ya think my friends? Should we replace the term HDR with EDR? Hey, maybe I could write another book or do another app!

In reality, it really does not matter what we call HDR/EDR. Because what's in a name?  Art is art and a photograph is a photograph. My guess is that not many people asked Ansel Adams, "How much burning and dodging did you do on that image?"

Leave a comment here in the Comments if you'd like. I'd like to hear from you. 

FYI: When I first heard about HDR and saw some cool HDR images, I thought HDR stood for High Do-it-Yourself Rockin' Images. :-) 

Explore the light,

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P.S. When it comes down to it, I think I like photographing people the most. Check out my World Portraits gallery to see some of my favorite images. However, my favorite recent photograph is this one of several Camargue horses running toward me at top speed.

Cool HDR/Model Photography Workshop in Hot'Lanta - Two $200 Goodie Bags Await 2 Lucky Photographers

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Glenn Taylor and I have a few spots open on our February 28  - March 2, 2013 Atlanta, GA workshop. Here Glenn offers some tips on how he got the shots at our shooting locations.

Info on the workshop is on my Workshops page.


Before Glenn gets going, here's some cool news!

The next two photographers who sign up for the workshop will receive:
• Lexar 32 GB Compact Flash Card

• Copy of my book, Exploring the Light

• My Rick Sammonisms t-shirt (L and XL only)

That's about a $200 value!

Simply sign up on my Workshops page and shoot me an email to tell me you signed up - to ensure your goodie bag.

If you already signed up, your goodie bag will be waiting for you in Atlanta!

* Originally, this said "the next five," but for photographers already signed up.

Take it away Glenn.

Model Shot

My niece was visiting Atlanta for the holidays and I was fortunate to have her model for me at the Rail Museum for some simple off-camera flash images with a nostalgic feel. This museum has some great vintage rail cars and buses that offer some amazing backgrounds to work with.

For this image we set up in the mail car exhibit. It has a nice warm tone with the canvas bags, wooden floors and tungsten lighting. It was very overcast and this car is located within a large shed, so there was no other light than the bare bulbs in the ceiling. I wanted to keep the background warm and rich while getting a little pop from the flash on the model to help her stand out from that background. My niece found the amazing chair in an adjacent rail car and we be both agreed it would make a great prop.

The lighting diagram shows the set-up using a Lastolite Ezybox 20” softbox on an extension pole held over my head as I knelt down with the camera to get an eye-to-eye level with the subject. The car is cramped inside and I wanted the light to reach down to her her boots. I elected to go with the softbox straight on, from over my head, to spread the light evenly and feather down to the floor.

The settings I used are listed here:
Camera: Canon 5D Mk II on manual setting
Lens: Canon 24-70mm L at 40mm
ISO: 800 (I opened this up to help bring up the ambient light in the car)
f 4.0 (to keep focus on the model and let the background be less distracting)
1/60 second exposure to keep the ambient opened up

Canon 580EXII hot shoe flash on manual at 1/8 power
1/4 CTO (color temperature orange) gel on flash to keep skin tones warm
Extended cord from camera hot shoe to trigger flash and control with camera

Okay, let's move on to HDR and details.


During our workshop we'll be shooting at two of my favorite locations to shoot HDR and detail images: The Southeast Railway Museum in Duluth, GA and Old Car City in White, GA. Both locations are a treasure trove of heavy metal grunge images. The colors, textures and little details are just amazing!

Sightseeing/cocktail car at the SE Railway Museum (opening image for this post). I can always picture a scene from Mad Men taking place right in this car. This is a 5 exposure HDR, merged in Photamatix Pro and finished in Lightroom - taken with a Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 24-70mm L series lens. This is shot wide (around 34mm) while mounted on a Gitzo tripod with a RRS ballhead.

SERM HDR Stove.jpg

Kitchen car at the SE Railway Museum. The patina of the metal surfaces adds interest to all the geometric shapes in the composition. This is a 5 exposure HDR, merged in Photamatix Pro and finished in Lightroom - taken with a Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 24-70mm L series lens. This is shot wide (24mm) while mounted on a Gitzo tripod with a RRS ballhead.

Old Car City

Old Car City is a similar location with a completely different set of subjects: classic cars that are weathered, rusty and full of character. Just like the trains at SE Railway, HDR and details are everywhere you look.

OCC Office.jpg

The “Office” at Old Car City. The texture around this part of the facility just jumps out at you. This is a 3 exposure HDR, merged in NIK HDR Efex Pro and finished in Lightroom - taken with a Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 24-70mm L series lens. This is shot wide (34mm) while mounted on a Gitzo tripod with a RRS ballhead.

OCC Detail Blue.jpg

Hood ornament detail at Old Car City. I shot this with backlighting from the morning sun that would emphasize the selective focus feature of the lens. This is a single exposure, processed in Lightroom, taken with a Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 90mm Tilt/Shift lens on a Gitzo tripod with a RRS ballhead.

Shed Cars.jpg

Ladies in waiting at Old Car City. I liked the way this group looked like a beaten down car lot. This is a 3 exposure HDR, merged in Photomatix Pro and finished in Lightroom - taken with a Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 35mm lens. This is shot wide while mounted on a Gitzo tripod with a RRS ballhead.

Ford Emblem.jpg

Ford emblem fender detail at Old Car City. I captured this handheld at f2.8 to bring focus on just the emblem detail and let the rest of the fender fade into the background. This is a single exposure, processed in Lightroom, taken with a Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 35mm lens.

• • • • •

Thank you Glenn for a super post.

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Glen and I hope to see you on our Atlanta HDR/Model shoot workshop. Again, info is on my Workshops page.

Explore the light,