HDR vs. HDR

General Thoughts
Early Morning — Muir Woods NM, CA © jj raia

Early Morning — Muir Woods NM, CA © jj raia

As is usually the case, going through the images from this most recent trip to California for the fourth time, I found a series of exposures that held promise as an HDR. During the trip, there were many times that a series of photos were taken at varying exposures in anticipation of combining them in software later to properly reveal the wide range of tonality. But it was discovered with thisimage, it may not be as simple as originally thought; namely, select the images and export them to your HDR software, make a few adjustments in Lightroom, and like magic, the scene is properly revealed as it was seen. The image above at Muir Woods is an example. The sunlight on the branches of the redwoods was extremely bright which left most of the dark trunks in shadow. The dynamic range was way beyond what the sensor could properly record, so a series was taken of about three-stops. After they were combined and adjustments made in Lightroom, it seemed unsatisfactory (see comparison below). Some blown out highlights still remained and when I tried to darken them with an adjustment brush, they just became grey and lifeless.

I decided to try a group of three photographs of the same scene, this time without the brightest exposure and try to eliminate those offending highlights. Instead of using the default HDR combination, the “dark” option was used and the final process eliminated those bright highlights.

Early Morning — Muir Woods NM, CA (first attempt)

Early Morning — Muir Woods NM, CA (first attempt)

Early Morning — Muir Woods NM, CA © jj raia

Early Morning — Muir Woods NM, CA © jj raia

The first attempt (top) was darker and lifeless, with the hideous highlights. The second attempt revealed more detail in the massive trunks and showed the sunlit needles more accurately. The color overall was much more accurate as well. A few minor adjustments in Lightroom, mainly darkening the shadows beyond the sunlit branches, and the image was done. So it was simple, but only after first failing miserably.

I suppose the take away from this is to make sure you have sufficient images of varying exposures to properly record the entire range of light values within the frame so you have at least one frame without blown out highlights and another without blocked up shadows. Then, if after your first attempt at combining all these exposures is not satisfactory, it may be necessary to try again eliminating some exposures that may ultimately improve the final HDR image.

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