Author: David Nightingale

Publisher: Focal Press (Elsevier)

Reviewer: Conrad J. Obregon

A physicist acquaintance who specializes in digital imaging tells me that increasing resolution or reducing noise in digital sensors are much easier problems to solve then extending the range of light of sensors to equal the human eye. In the unlikely event that you are a serious photographer who has been waiting for the dynamic range of digital sensors to increase rather than deal with high dynamic range (HDR) it would be better to get over it. This book is an excellent place to start.

Nightingale’s book, Practical HDR: A complete guide to creating High Dynamic Range images with your Digital SLR is divided into chapters that include understanding dynamic range, shooting for HDR, merging bracketing sequences, creating photo-realistic and hyper-real HDR images, and post-processing.

The author recognizes that there are many HDR software packages on the market and rather than try to describe them all, he only touches on three. They include Photoshop, which at least as far as the CS4 version, he dismisses as not very useful, and the quirky but occasionally useful FDRTools. The lion’s share of the instruction is devoted to Photomatix Pro, which is rapidly becoming the standard for HDR. Unlike several other texts, he explains what each of the sliders and buttons in Photomatix does and what compensating adjustments have to be made if you select one of the more specialized sliders. He also covers post-processing of HDR images in Photoshop at a level of detail sufficient for those familiar with Photoshop to clean up the HDR image, rather than just suggest the tools that might help. He also provides several examples that give detailed step-by-step explanations of how he used the options available in both HDR software and post-processing and the reasons he selected those settings. Sprinkled throughout the book are HDR examples created by several expert photographers.

Nightingale writes concisely and clearly. I particularly liked that he distinguished between images where the range of light was extended but the images remained realistic, and HDR images that seem almost surrealistic and more like illustrations than photographs. The author shows you how to create both types of image, and clarifies which controls lead to which results.

Although this is one of the best books about HDR that I’ve encountered it is not perfect. For example in capturing images, I’ve found that it pays not only to insure that the bracketing images are made by varying the shutter speed rather than aperture to keep the same depth of field, but also to turn off auto-focus and auto-white balance to prevent too much variation from image to image. Moreover, when it comes to processing, other than to refer to FDRTools’ capabilities to deal with motion between bracketed images, there is little other discussion of the motion problem. On the nice-to-have level, it could have been useful to deal with tools like Photomatix Pro’s Lightroom plug-in which extends the utility of the software. Similarly, providing images that were downloadable or on a disk might have made it even easier to follow the examples, especially with available trial versions of the HDR software.

Nevertheless, I still find this one of the best books available on the subject, and I intend to keep it in the small library of books next to my computer to which I regularly refer.
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