I’m a big fan of HDR photography (so is Scott). HDR unlocks shots that we just can’t get otherwise (especially with challenging lighting situations). But many photographers are wary… and justifiably so. When used incorrectly, HDR tools can give an image a telltale look. Let’s objectively explore the technique of High Dynamic Range photography and what it can achieve when used correctly.

Here are few of the reasons we choose to shoot HDR.

Dramatic Colors

The possibility of boosting color in a HDR photo is one of the main reasons people choose them. It is possible to get a deeply saturated image. This is both because the image is often starting as a raw file and that the improved contrast helps balance out the punchier colors.

One thing to be wary of though are colorcasts. Pay particular attention to lighter colors (white, silver, etc.) that may soak up the blue from the sky or other lighting sources. This is one of the reasons that some people are put off by HDR. You can always color correct these after the tone map using an application like Photoshop. The Select > Color Range command combined with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer often does the trick.

Skies to Die For

One of my favorite parts of a landscape photo is a dramatic sky. Often this is the first area of a photo to be lost due to the contrast ratio limitations (especially for JPEG files). However HDR allows you to shoot for the sky and the subject. This allows you to properly see the whole image and not suffer from backlighting problems.

© Scott Bourne

If the skies have a lot of visual interest (such as lots of cloud details) this alone is a reason to shoot HDR. The textured surface of a cloud is the epitome of contrast. As light details mix with subtle shadows to create definition. If you have a sky that your naked eye loves, give it the HDR treatment. In fact if your sky seems a bitty hazy, HDR can make it that much better.

The bright sun hanging in the sky can be difficult to capture as well. If the sun is prominent in your scene, you ideally should bracket seven instead of three or five shots. This can be done manually if your auto-bracketing in-camera won’t handle that many exposures. Want to know the best time of day to shoot? Determine your golden hour and shoot in it. You can visit http://bit.ly/goldenhourcalc to help determine timeframe.

Great Textures

Details… clarity… texture. Seems these days that people love seeing the grit, cracks, and lines. Why does texture matter? It lends a dimensional quality to photography. Since photography is a 2D medium and we live in a 3D world, photos that show texture have a particular appeal.


HDR images are great for showing texture in your subject. Whether it’s a distressed surface, a rusting metal sign, a splintering door. You can use texture either as a main subject or as a compositional tool.

Heres a trick to working with texture. Look for side lighting or light that comes in at an angle. You can also block the light from one or more directions, this will subtract it and add detail to what remains. This will increase the viewers awareness of texture.

Disclaimer: This post presents several ideas and techniques that we hope help you. These are just some ways of approaching HDR.. Combine with your own skill for best results.

Remember to explore the HDR Learning Center for more on High Dynamic Range photography.