July 21st, 2009

Creating HDR – Resources for Tutorials

HDR of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Pool by Andrew Perreault

Nightshot HDR of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Pool, St Thomas, Virgin Islands by Andrew Perreault

Today I will share all the best links of excellent HDR tutorials and add  my perspective to what I think they missed for those really starting out. If you’re brand new to photography, and you’ve seen the term HDR being used on all the major photo sharing sites, you need to know what it means, and how it works.

First, when you’re in the learning stage, read as much as you can, so here are the links that helped me learn HDR this year and others I have found recently that are excellent [don't forget to save these links, or mine, to revisit]:

1.] Vanilla Days

2.] Trey Ratcliff – Stuck in Customs [My favorite and the Flickr community favorite photographer]

3.] Doing it with Photoshop CS4 – BackingWinds

4.] Pop Photo

5.] Before the Coffee – teaches the secret of masking different HDR results of the same photo

6.] HDRsofts Photomatix Resources [by the company itself, please visit these links]

Things You’ll Need to Learn

1.]Learn about Bracketing – If you own a mid-range DSLR, your camera should have the ability of “Bracketing”. It’s important to grab your camera manual to learn how to setup bracketing. As discussed in the tutorials I left, you’ll want to have the ability to bracket your shots +/- 1 Exposure setting. You should take 5 pictures instead of 3, which would mean -2,-1,0,+1,+2. If your camera doesn’t have the ability for bracketing don’t fear, I went through the same thing with my current camera. My camera brackets at .7 and only does 3 frames. To get the 5 frames I need at the exposure levels I’m looking for,  I use the button located on my camera to quickly change the exposure before each shot. All my HDR photos are done using this manual method.

2.] Learn how to use Photomatix: Most of the tutorials above will teach you just that. Word of advice by me, save any “Presets” you like or even dislike. What most tutorials fail to mention are presets. When you complete your Tone Mapping and “Process” the image, you can do two things, 1.] save the finished photo and more importantly, 2.] you can “save settings” which is the preset. The preset remembers the exact settings you choose to use in “Detail Enhancer” before you processed the image. Saving the preset is huge and saves you time in the future. When I say “save even the ones you dislike”: If the photo was enhanced with unique improvements, they may work out better for other photos. You’ll learn using Photomatix that depending on shots, require a specific preset. I learned this from my Virgin Islands trip, where the sky and water had a unique blue and brightness, compared to the photos I took in Washington state that mostly had dark clouds and deep green trees. As you use Photomatix more and more, you will learn what works well with what and saving your presets with teach you faster. When you create a good set of presets, share them with your friends, you simply have to copy/paste them in the Photomatix folder in the Presets folder. It’s also good to back them up from time to time to! You don’t want to lose them, because it takes a long time to prepare and play with them.

3.] Learn how to use Photoshop: A common denominator that separates the real pros from the wannabe pros is their abilities to use Photoshop. Many photographers use Lightroom or Aperature, because they find Photoshop difficult to learn. Those photographers rely more on plugins and pre-designed actions to process their photographs. Take classes, read books, learn from friends, join forums, do anything to learn. Do you have what it takes to learn Photoshop?

4.] Watch your “.HDR” storage – I didn’t see this in the tutorials either and you have to remember this, which is important because each photo ranges from 20-40MB of storage space. 1,000 photos and you’re at 40 GBs of storage taken up. When you do the normal manual conversion, clicking on the “Generate HDR image”, there is a step where you can save the .hdr file for future toying with, which most people never do. No fear there. But, if you do “Batch Processing” or “Single File Conversion”, be careful on the .hdr files. On the batch processing, you can check off on the highlighted area on the picture shown below. Keep in mind, this doesn’t “remove” all the .hdr files. A little glitch in the software that they’re working on, so revisit the folder that the files were created in and erase the .hdr files if you don’t need them, I’ve had a few not erase in several batches. I love to do “Single File Conversion” and that’s how I learned how fast I could fill up my laptop’s hard drive. You have to manually remove the .hdr files from the folder they were created in after the process. Don’t forget to purge these files if you don’t need them, or you’ll see your hard drive maxing out really fast.


Some things I had to learn the hard way. One of those things was the fact that you should always be shooting in RAW. At the beginning I didn’t want to, then I moved to JPEG+RAW shooting. At that point, I realized the benefits of RAW. Think beyond HDR or your quest of basic photography when you’re thinking format. In the future, when you improve your skills, you’ll want to revisit old photographs and tweak them again. You’ll kick yourself if you didn’t have them stored in a RAW format. With RAW converters, you can adjust a photograph 10 different ways, and use 10 different layer masks to pull specific things out of the photo with Photoshop. You have endless possibilities using RAW compared to JPEG.

As I come up with other things I’ve missed, that are important, I’ll add to this post. Hopefully all the links I provided above with give you all the tools to learn HDR.


Photography . Tutorials