Your artistic vision as a photographer is projected through the choices you make in creating your images. These choices include a subject or theme, focal length of lenses, camera settings, composition, framing of subject, adjustments in processing, time of day to shoot and type of lighting. Each of the choices you make have a direct impact on your photographs, and should be consistent with the image you visualize creating as you press the shutter release.
HDR Photography, the blending together of bracketed images, augments your artistic vision by expanding the options available to you as you make your choices.
The first option occurs when you take your photographs. You must decide whether HDR is right for the subject or theme of your image. Does the scene have high contrast ? Do you want to accentuate details or colors? Do you envision a photograph that appears surreal or gritty?
If your answer is “yes,” or “maybe” or “I am not sure,” then you should probably bracket your images and leave the door open to a wider range of future choices, as you process your images.
Your next decision is what exposure to use for each of your bracketed images, and how many images to take, to ensure that you are properly exposing for highlights, midtones and shadows. You may only need to take two or three, or the scene may require five or seven depending on the range of your shadows and highlights and the outcome you are envisioning.
Once you have taken your images you must choose how to process them. If you decide to blend bracketed images, what tools will you use and what adjustments will you make once the images are merged? If you still aren’t sure if you want to combine images, go both ways, compare your final photographs, and decide what you like best.
Images can be blended in Lightroom or Photoshop, or with a third-party software such as Photomatix. More decisions. Lightroom and Photoshop do a good job with basic functionality. Third-party applications such as Photomatix offer many more choices and more controls for merging your images, eliminating ghosts, and making adjustments.
Remember, nothing is set in stone. You can blend your images in an application like Photomatix and compare results with a single, non-blended image, or an image combined through other software. Again, you evaluate your choices to decide what best represents your vision.
I like working with third-party applications that include presets. I have more choices. When I use Photomatix I can click through the presets and see my image in all different styles. I can move adjustment sliders and make selections to fine tune. I become an artist, sculpting my final image with the tools at hand and sparking my imagination. Many times my images become much more than what I initially visualized.
I am new to HDR photography. I use to think HDR images were too surreal for my tastes. But with experience I came to understand that my images can be as real as I choose them to be, and that HDR is a platform from which I can expand my creative visualization when I am taking and processing images. And even when I choose not to make a HDR photograph, in making that decision I carefully consider all my options and decide what imagery best reflects my artistic vision.