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High Dynamic Range vs. Manual Blending
As you all know, the human eye can see several exposures, but your camera can only capture one at a time, therefore making it very hard to get similar results when capturing a photograph. There is however a solution to make it easier as well as achievable. It’s also very enjoyable and the results are much more satisfying compared to a single exposure!
For both of these methods, I do recommend shooting RAW at all times.
There seems to be a wide variety of new photographers wanting to get into HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography these days. Many people love the unreal effect it has on a photograph, whether it may be the intense clouds, luminous and oversaturated colours, or the vibrant effect on a picture as well as the mystical feel it brings to an image. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to try this out. I did this for the first 3 years of photography and I always seemed to be impressed with my images.
There are several ways to do a HDR image:
First, you need to have three or more exposures of the same frame. This could be rather tricky to do depending what you shoot. Some objects / subjects move in a image such as plants, trees, people, animals, ocean, flags, cars, clothing as well as anything sport related such as cycling, anything to do with a ball, water etc.
If you are shooting still subjects, you can set your camera up to the bracketing feature. This means you are able to capture several exposures after each other. You should be able to adjust your exposures before pressing the shutter button. Most of the smaller camera’s can only capture 3 exposures at a time, which is perfect! You only need 3 exposures to make a HDR image. One would be a underexposed image, one would be a overexposed image and the last image would be a normal exposure, meaning it would not be too light and not too dark, just in the middle of the two other exposures. The purpose for the 3 exposures is to use the dark exposure for the shadows, the light exposure for the highlights and the medium exposure for the mid-tones. This then created a similar result to what we see! The more exposures you have, the better!
Some photographers shoot up to 16 exposures. Not only does it give you a more realistic effect but it also helps you to reduce noise slightly, if there is any that is. I shot a 50 exposure HDR a few years ago! The results came out really nicely, but the processing takes quite a while unfortunately.
Now you might be wondering, what if the subject is moving? How do I get identical exposures? It’s simple, you would need to shoot multiple frames of the same exposure (Make sure it’s a good exposure, if it’s too dark or too light, it won’t look as great as you would have wanted it to be)
Once you have chosen a good exposure, set your camera’s shutter speed nice and high, at least over 250/1 sec to capture your subject. If your subject still blur’s or moves in your picture, adjust your shutter speed a little bit faster in order to catch a nice still subject. When you have taken your image, you want to duplicate your RAW file 3 times, one exposure you would adjust slightly dark, one lighter and one you would leave as is. You would then convert these 3 RAW files you have created into Jpeg’s.
For both still subjects or moving subjects, you would use the following methods to create your HDR image:
You would need to import all 3 (or more) files into a HDR rendering program in order to create this image. Some people choose to leave their files as RAW’s and take those 3 (or more) files into Photoshop directly. You would then use the Merge to HDR function under: File>Automate>Merge to HDR. There you would select all your files and create your HDR Image.
There are several great programs to use to create HDR images:
Nic Software: HDR Efex
you can however find other programs as well, there are several on the market but the top applications are the ones above. Once you have finished tone mapping your image, click on the process button.
Once you have created your image, export it as a TIFF and import it into Photoshop for further processing.
MANUAL BLENDING in PS
as many of you know, it’s nice to make HDR images, its quick, it’s easy and it doesn’t consume as much time as manually blending images.
The great thing about manual blending however is that your images are much more realistic compared to HDR. Almost all the professional photographers use manual blending for almost every image they are shooting. Whether it may be models, sport, landscapes or waterscapes! The extra work on your images would most certainly pay off after doing it this way.
You also need to put your camera on the bracketing function, if you are unfamiliar about where to find it, you will have to search for it on Google or look through your manual of your camera. It’s not a big deal if your camera does not have a bracketing function! You just need to manually change your exposures every time you take a shot, make sure not to move your camera or tripod though!
Take multiple exposures of the same frame; make sure you shoot RAW before doing this though. Once you have your shots. You need to import all your exposures in Photoshop! Sometimes you will get a message that Photoshop does not support this file, it’s not a problem at all! Just go onto Adobe’s website and download the Camera RAW plug in for your camera.
Once it’s downloaded, install it and import your images. All your images would appear in the “basic” window of Camera RAW. You will see that you are able to change things like Clarity, Blacks, Whites, Exposure, vibrance, Saturation, Recovery etc. I usually don’t put up the blacks too much, not above 10 (also depends what time of the day you shoot, if it’s too light, I put the blacks up more. I change the whites to +1, vibrance to 10, Contrast to +35, Clarity to +10. You will also see there is a tint and white balance section; you will need to choose the correct white balance and tint to suit your image.
Once you have finished your image, go to the window next to the basic window. This window would change depending which version of Photoshop you have. You want to look for the “detail” window. There you will see functions like “Sharpen”, “Amount”“Radius”, “Detail” and “Masking”.
I usually set my amount to +50, Radius to +3.0, detail to +30 and Masking to +10. You will also see that there is a noise reduction section under that; I set my colour and luminance to +50 on both those options.
Once you are done on the detail window, look for the lens correction window. There will be a section called “fix red/cyan fringe” and “Fix blue/yellow fringe”. This falls under Chromatic aberration. Lots of lenses have incorrect Chromatic aberration and you often need to correct those in order to get all the colours and edges perfect. This DOES however DEPEND ON YOUR LENS. On my Sigma 10-20mm EX DC HSM F/3.5, my RED/CYAN is -30 and my BLUE/YELLOW is +10. You will need to check up online where to find the correct aberration settings for your lens. It’s not always easy to find, so you need to look around till you find the correct settings and then change it on this window.
Last window to click on is the PRESETS window. You don’t want to change all this each time for every picture, so you want to save a preset in order to just repeat the whole action with a single click. At the bottom right corner, you will find a trash can on your right and another icon to the left of it, click on the other icon and name your preset. I am just going to name this one “Landscape- Chapmans peak”
Once your preset is saved, click on your other exposures / images and go back to the preset and click on the preset window in order to load the whole action on each image. Save each of these images as Jpegs, this option would be found at the bottom left corner.
Once all your exposures are converted to Jpegs, import each of these images and place them over each other in the layers section. You are then going to use the gradient tool to draw the darker skies into the lighter foreground. You can also use the brush tool if needed. Remember to set your foreground colour to black when you use the gradient tool or brush tool. Remember, black conceals and white reveals, meaning white it the top layer and black is the bottom layer, so if you were to draw with the black on the top layer, it conceals the top part you have drawn and reveals the bottom layer, but if you were to use white on the top layer, you will see the top layer as it is, no changes would be made on this layer, its only when using black that you are drawing the layer below onto the top layer. This DOES take LOTS OF PRACTICE, BUT THE RESULTS ARE WORTH IT!
If you are unsure about what I mean, search for MASKING TUTORIALS in Photoshop on Google, there are plenty out there. This is how I learned all this stuff J
After finishing your masking and blending. Duplicate the layer and then go to IMAGE> ADJUSTMENTS>BRIGHTNESS AND CONTRAST. In this section, play around with the contrast until you feel that the contrast is correct, remember not to add too much, it could make or break an image. Too much means dark shadows / areas or too bright skies. Make sure to keep it realistic, remember, less is more!
You can also try a little trick instead of using Saturation:
I use the Channel mixer; I find the colours are better and more realistic. Go to IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS> CHANNEL MIXER. Once the channel mixer has opened, you need to change the following:
Click on the Blue tab
Change the Blue to +150
Change the Red to -25
Change the Green to -25
Click on the Red tab
Change the Red to +150
Change the Blue to -25
Change the Green to -25
Click on the Green tab
Change the Green to +150
Change the Red to -25
Change the Blue to -25
Then change the opacity to 10 or 20 at most, if you do it anymore, the colours would be TOO rich or oversaturated, try to keep it realistic! Thanks to a UK photographer, Alex Nail, I am able to use the channel mixer instead of saturation!
Last but not least, there are two ways to sharpen your image:
The first way is to use the unsharp mask function:
Go to Filter>Sharpen>unsharp mask.
Set your Radius to one, your Threshold to 0 and your amount to your desired preference.
The second way to do this is to click on Filter>Other>High pass
MAKE SURE YOU DUPLICATE YOUR IMAGE BEFORE DOING THIS!
Once you have clicked on high pass, you need to select the amount you would wish, I keep it low, around 1.5 to 2 at most, but once again, it’s your image!
When you have clicked on the OK button, you would need to change your blending mode from normal to overlay. When this is done, you can adjust your opacity until your image looks right.
The only thing I don’t like about high pass is that it distorts your image every once in a while, I do prefer using unsharp mask on my images.
Once you are done, merge all your layers into one layer by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + E, then save your image as a Jpeg!
There are many other things you can do to a image, this was just a idea. Feel free to ask other questions in needed!
Hope you are all able to use this tutorial and that it helps you one way or another.