What is an uncomplicated way of making High Dynamic Range images?

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April 30, 2015 at 10:30 am  •  Posted in Q&A, Tips & Techniques by  •  0 Comments

My camera does not have an HDR mode for automatically making images with high dynamic range, but I would love to try this type of imaging with another technique. I don’t have Photoshop CC or expensive HDR software, but I do own Adobe Elements 12. Can you describe how I would make HDR images, including the shooting technique and using the HDR features in my software?
—Luka R.

In the March 2011 Q&A item Is HDR Mode better than the Dynamic Range Expansion function?, I discussed the HDR concept regarding cameras equipped with this mode, but I did not cover the more conventional techniques. There are several shooting methods, Luka, including some that are sophisticated but complicated, like the ones discussed (and illustrated in a video) in Nikon’s HDR Photography. Since you are just getting started, however, here’s a method that’s simpler and more straightforward.

As indicated in the text, the difference in exposure among the three photos should be significant. After merging the three, the software should be able to produce an HDR image with detail in both highlight and shadow areas. © Peter K. Burian

As indicated in the text, the difference in exposure among the three photos should be significant. After merging the three, the software should be able to produce an HDR image with detail in both highlight and shadow areas. © Peter K. Burian

Find a scene that includes both bright areas and very dark shadow areas. If shooting outdoors, do so on a day without wind since it’s best to avoid any movement (of leaves, etc.) when making the photos. Mount your camera on a solid tripod and set exposure compensation to +2 (or +3, if available with your camera). Trip the shutter using a cable release or the self-timer to prevent jarring the camera, and take the first JPEG photo. Then, set the exposure compensation to -2 (or -3, if available) and take another photo that’s identical to the first, except for the exposure. Finally, set the compensation to zero and take the third shot.

Transfer the images to your computer and in Elements use the File>Open command to and open all three of the JPEGs. Next, use the Enhance>Photomerge command; select Photomerge Exposure from the drop-down menu that appears. After you do so, the software will analyze the three images and blend (merge) them to display a preview of the HDR effect in about 30 seconds. The menu on the right side of your screen provides manual options that you can use to modify the effects. (Older versions of Elements also include Photomerge but the available options may differ.)

After using the automatic Photomerge Exposure process to merge the three exposures, the final HDR photo exhibits more detail in the dark areas and in the moderately bright areas. Even better results are possible by using the Manual features in Elements or with more advanced shooting techniques plus more sophisticated software such as Photomatix Pro. © Peter K. Burian

After using the automatic Photomerge Exposure process to merge the three exposures, the final HDR photo exhibits more detail in the dark areas and in the moderately bright areas. Even better results are possible by using the Manual features in Elements or with more advanced shooting techniques plus more sophisticated software such as Photomatix Pro. © Peter K. Burian

For now, use the default Automatic setting and click on DONE at the bottom of that panel on your screen. Elements will now blend the three JPEGs into one. The final (Output) image, with high dynamic range, will be available in less than a minute. You can tweak this HDR photo as desired with the various tools in Elements and then save it to your computer (File>Save As). For a demonstration of the software process, including the use of the valuable manual overrides, check out the How to Create HDR in Photoshop Elements tutorial. This video shows the use of Photomerge in Elements 11, not Elements 12, but the differences are very minor.

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