Author: Ferrell McCollough

Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography

Publisher: Lark Books (Sterling Publishing Co.)

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography presents an opportunity to capture pictures that look more like the real world. Even though this book is not perfect, the subject is important enough for serious photographers to take the time to read the book and experiment with the technique.

Because the range of light that the human eye can see is far greater than what cameras can photograph, it’s not uncommon for photographs to show impenetrable shadows or burnt out highlights where the human eye saw detail. Photographers have had some success ameliorating the condition with things like levels and merging and masking in Photoshop. Now HDR promises to extend the light range a great deal further.
After an overview of HDR photography, the author discusses methods of capturing images for HDR processing. He next presents a discussion of two major tools of HDR photography, merging and tone mapping, and then describes the processing of an image in one of the HDR programs, Photomatix Pro. Next he describes the HDR programs available (including Photoshop’s apparently second-rate facility) and compares the results of the different programs using several images. The book then discusses post processing of the HDR image, and provides additional tips on making the original capture. The author finishes up by describing special techniques like flash merging, panoramas and single image HDR processing. Sprinkled throughout the book are the portfolios of several HDR artists.

Because I found it difficult to grasp the processing techniques just from the written word, I downloaded trial versions of some of the available HDR programs, and I prepared a set of photographs with different exposure values to use whenever McCollough suggested a particular technique. Even though I felt that McCollough could have given more explicit instructions on the use of the various converters, I was able to create images that demonstrated a far greater range of light then any individual image I had captured, or then images that I was able to adjust in Photoshop.

Because our eyes have become accustomed to the limited range of standard photographs, many of the author’s photographs appeared to be too vivid, although when I considered the sample HDR images I had created, I realized that they seemed to reflect the actual light values I had seen when taking the pictures. On the other hand McCollough has no objection to pushing the range of light beyond what the human eye can see to create surrealistic pictures for artistic impact.

I wish that, rather then providing a step-by-step explanation of processing of an image in Photomatix Pro, the author had provided an actual tutorial that the reader could follow on his or her own computer, using downloaded images that the author provided. I guess I really want a book called “the Complete Guide to Photomatix Pro”. On the other hand I would also have liked to see full demonstrations of the other available software, similar to the demonstrations provided in “Mastering HDR Photography” by Michael Freeman.

Because HDR works best where there is no subject movement, the techniques contained in this book are most likely to be applicable to landscape and still life photography. However, it appears there are also opportunities in single image HDR photography for moving subjects.

I am certain that as HDR matures we will be presented with many volumes that can show us how to use this technology, but for now at least, this an excellent place to start.