What Is High Dynamic Range (HDR) In Digital Photography?

The Dramatic Effect This Photography Technique Has on Digital Photos

Cayaks on the Moraine Lake
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What is High Dynamic Range (HDR)? It's a digital photography technique whereby multiple exposures of the same scene are layered and merged using image editing software to create a more realistic image or a dramatic effect. The combined exposures can display a wider range of tonal values than what the digital camera is capable of recording in a single image.

Adobe Photoshop and many other photo editors and digital darkroom applications offer tools and features to create high dynamic range effects. Photographers who wish to experiment with HDR imaging in photo editing software must capture a series of standard photos shot at different exposures, generally with a tripod and exposure bracketing.

Merge to HDR Feature

Adobe Photoshop first introduced HDR tools in 2005 with the "Merge to HDR" feature in Photoshop CS2. In 2010 with the release of Photoshop CS5, this feature was expanded to HDR Pro, adding more options and controls. Photoshop CS5 also introduced an HDR Toning feature, which allows users to simulate HDR effects using a single image rather than requiring multiple exposures to be captured in advance.

Though a lot of the hard work is actually done capturing the images used for HDR, turning the resulting composite into a high contrast, high detail image usually requires one to have an intimate knowledge of the various tools in Lightroom or Photoshop to create just the right look for the final image.

Imaging Applications to Create HDR Images

There are a number of imaging applications whose sole purpose is to create HDR images. One of them, Aurora HDR, is ideal for people wishing to explore this complex topic without a deep knowledge of the manual techniques used to create these images. One really useful feature of Aurora HDR is that it can also be installed as a Photoshop plugin.