For three years and some change I’ve been shooting HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. I got hooked after seeing some amazing work by Trey Ratcliff and Ben Wilmore. And putting aside all of the arguments still going on in the photo community regarding HDR, I happen to like what you can do with it.
Everything starts with the shoot
HDR is not the “end all be all fix a bad photo and make it cool” technique. In the end, it’s another tool in a photographer’s arsenal and should be treated as such. Creating an HDR of everything you see doesn’t mean you’ll have a good image or print.
That means you’ve still got to do work as a photographer. Lighting, composition, time of day, and interesting subjects. All the basics are still necessary. Without those basics all you’re going to do is find yourself making highly stylized bad photos. Nobody wants prints like that.
In the case of my personal work I’ve gotten to the point that when I look at a scene I have a pretty good idea of what the HDR is going to turn out like. As you work with HDR more you’ll find the same to be true. You can visualize pretty easily how the HDR will look in it’s finished state. The more stylized you want to be, the harder it is to get that initial feel. But if you’re going for more realistic HDRs, then the scene in front of you as you see it should be what you have in mind.
Post Processing with Print Making in Mind
If you’re like me, once you return from a fun location shoot you immediately start off loading your images. Skip dinner, skip that oh so necessary shower, and sit in front of the computer in your filthy dirt covered hiking clothes. Ah, photographers are so much fun!
After getting images off loaded I’ll often do a first pass in Lightroom to see what jumps out at me. Often times I’m looking for an image that I told myself would work while in the field. Once I’ve found what I’m looking for I usually do an initial test HDR just to see where the image is going. 9 times out of 10 that test HDR is not my final selection.
Why you ask?
Simply put, I always have prints in mind. And HDR lends to a lot of problems before printing. If you’re looking to share that final image in print format it stands to reason that it should be really polished. Often times, HDR images aren’t polished. They’re processed in Photomatix or a similar program and the photographer calls it done. Big mistake.
HDR is well known for haloing, enhancing “bad features” (that dust spot on your lens is going to look very pronounced), and exacerbating chromatic aberrations like you wouldn’t believe! Now, if you process 3, 6, or 9 frames to create your HDR those small flaws on individual images will become really big flaws in the final image. Clean things up beforehand if you can.
Finally, there’s one additional step you need to take before putting HDR to Print. Calibrate everything. Your printer and your monitors. Otherwise I can assure you that what you get in the final print isn’t going to be what you thought you were getting.
Here’s a simple example of how much calibrating your screen means to your final HDR. My good friend Josh Gosell comments on my web posts regularly. Several months ago he pointed out that he could actually tell which images were processed on my home computer vs the office computer. How could he tell?
See, the home system wasn’t calibrated with my Color Munki until Josh made his comment. And yes, when I brought images into my shop the were always a little off from what I was looking at while working at home. Since his observation I’ve used the Color Munki on every display I own!
And finally we print
I know, you’ve been waiting for this part. But it’s relatively easy at this point. The final step in the process. And provided you’ve checked everything off getting to this point there’s little else to do. Print that image!
Currently I use an HP Z3100 and a Canon IPF8300 for reproduction work. Each printer has been calibrated, my displays have been calibrated, so I’m working in the world of “what you see is what you get.” And that’s the type of world that guarantees the best results.
Both the Canon & HP have generated amazing prints on gloss, satins, metallics, and canvases. A good portion of my work can be seen on Breathing Color’s Chromata, Lyve, Optica One, & Allure Rag. Now I’ve started working with Vibrance Rag which is a big step up from Allure, and HDRs look fantastic on it!