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Finally I am getting somewhere with HDR photography

Added: November 16, 2011

Tags: info mountains photos waterfalls
The first time I heard about HDR was about 6 years ago. After the first enthusiasm I learned it is not so easy. But I kept bracketing at occasions (sometimes quite often) and tried several different applications to process them. But I was never satisfied. I was never targeting surreal results, I just wanted to get good looking photos in situations cameras were not able to help. I was hardly ever satisfied, many times the result was pure frustration or even disgust. I have shown some of my results in this blog, just because the result seemed better than single exposure. But that does not mean I was happy with them.

My enthusiasm faded away, I used bracketing more often to get more possibilities for processing than having in my mind HDR processing until it nearly stopped. Just somewhere back in my mind it still kept nagging Let's try find another application, maybe this time it will be better. Last time it happened when I switched to Mac. No much success, but I found interesting application http://www.sns-hdr.com for Windows. It produced nice results so I started to take more bracketed shots. Unfortunately it failed under "real world photos" scrutiny and my high expectations :-(

I can do HDR!

But I found completely different approach in September. A workshop by Jay and Varina Patel about their iHDR technique. It consists from 4 parts, I have bought just the meaty part - 4. Why? Because their photos are just stunning (Google their Google+ profiles).

So what I do by days and evenings since then? Well, I go through old bracketed photos (but also not very nice single exposures) and process them with this new technique. I started to resurrect old photos just to get some training material and since then I got addicted and I am nearly finishing 3 years old photos I fortunately did not delete.

The first 2 photos when I realized this technique works well and gives better results than anything I have tried before were these photos from Milford Track evening 1. It was moody, dark and still clouds were shiny. Impossible to be satisfied with single exposure.


I have continued with more photos from our Round The World Trip and got more successes. Of course not all bad photos can be turned into good real looking HDRs. And also some well exposed (and bracketed) photos will turn not very good under my hands, but that is not the problem with this technique, but me or my workflow (DXO) and my camera (D200 - yes of course I need better and bigger camera now! :-) ).

San Juan in Bolivia (near Uyuni).

I never bothered to process this as HDR, because it simply did not work well for me. And plain photo was ugly too. Not any more! Loreto in Cuzco, Peru.

Are there any older photos I could look at? Yes, of course. Tens of never attempted to process photos from Iceland 2008. And also some turned into HDR disgrace and in some cases also published! Yes, I have been foolish!

Of all HDR fails I had, this one was the biggest. Svartifoss - one hell of beautiful waterfalls I had opportunity to bracket (and it needed to be bracketed, because it was after sun set behind it and the longest exposure took 14 seconds) and failed to process it properly for years. Plus it drained my battery and I was not able to take pictures of wonderful glacier nearby.

HDR photo of Gullfoss I have shown before was not as bad, but still it did not look very real. This one is better.



One of my favourite waterfalls in Iceland (also due to blue sky at that place) is Goðafoss.



Hvítserkur, it was not bad photo, but lifting details in foreground made it better.

Returning from hike to Glymur, the tallest waterfalls in Iceland. I miss the views like this.

To finish my travel back in time to the times when I could not believe HDR can produce good results, still I gave a lot of hopes into it, let's have a look at one waterfalls in Ystradfellte, Wales early 2008. If you compare it with photo published then you would not believe what I could show then. Notice those ugly things in trees where I tried manually to fix ghosting or something and I ended up with even worse results.

On the other hand, using masks created from single channel gives you really powerful tool, yet easy and quick to use. iHDR is simply pure genius. BTW, any ugliness in previous photos (and those I will publish in the future) is in no way result of weak method, just my lack of skills :-)