8 stupid simple tips for great HDR photography

Tips. Rules. Guideline. And MORE tips, rules, and guidelines across the Internet. Surely you can throw a dart and hit thousands of website and blogs sharing something. So why are my TIPS so important?

Shhh…. They are not… except that I put some feeling into my tips. So read on my friend. Read on.

And before I share… here is my final image from Highway 530 at the bridge that crosses over the Stilliguamish river and into the town of OSO Washington. OSO is famous for the mudslide that killed 47 in March of 2014.

ISO 80 – 16mm – f 11 – 1/125 second

Next… my 5 frames in RAW direct from my Nikon D750 into LightRoom. These frames are where the story of this photo begins.

Now… the stupid simple rules for capturing and creating awesomeness with your camera and HDR software.

Tip 1: Show me your composition AND story – Photo schools are great at teaching and preaching composition in your photography. They will drone on and on about what makes a great photo, how each photo should be sectioned off into 9 quadrants and in each quadrant you should have something of interest. Really good stuff they are teaching you. Really good… but there is more. The more is the story.

Story will be the glue that sticks eyeball and minds to your image. You are charged with creating feelings and grabbing memories from those seeing and thinking about the photo you are presenting.

Today many photographer can capture a great composition but not all can do it with story attached. So… if composition is KING in photography, then story is the GLUE that locks eyeball and minds onto your image.

Tip 2: Shoot em up RAW – This one is a NO BRAINER. Just set up your camera (if you haven’t already) to RAW and forget it. Simple. Boom. Done.

Tip 3: Spark it up dude! – So as I began my HDR photo editing career the truth is I sucked. I truly sucked. My images were dark and felt like they had too much contrast. This was because I was a newbe to the HDR thing. I practiced and practiced and then practices some more. I took critical feedback and used it to my advantage.

What I found out through my real estate photography was that the agents wanted bright images. I had to improve or go out of business. I improved. 🙂

A couple of things.

First, ISO matters. In the Pacific Northwest we can get darker overcast types of days. Shoot landscape and street photography demands a lower than normal ISO. I use ISO 100 as my baseline from most images and bump down to 80 when shooting indoor HDR real estate images and let the camera choose between 200 and 800 outdoor when shooting street. These setting seem to work for me, however you should practice for yourself.

Second, dark HDR images was a result of my Photomatix Pro black setting. I was using 50 plus at times. This kept the shadows and overall final image darker than normal. A secret tip just for you because I like you…. always always always set your black at .01 as your baseline. Your images will be much brighter when finished in Photomatix Pro. You can adjust for more drama if you like, but for natural bright images use black at .01.

Tip 4: Keep it rock hard and steady – If you are serious about your photography and capturing the sharpest in focus images possible then you MUST use a good sturdy and light Tripod. HDR editing can make your images appear soft so tack sharpness is a must. I use my T-024X Traveler Light Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10S Ball Head for every real estate (indoor and outdoor) frames, plus landscape photo.

On the street I cannot use a tripod so I need to keep my aperture between 200 and 250 to get better sharpness in people and movement. That is my only rule I break. 😉

Tip 5: 5 frames Johnson… 5!! – Sure use brackets if you like… and at your own peril. Bracketed shots are the lazy photographers way. Suck it up buttercup and be the greatest by ignoring bracketed shots and capture in camera 5 frames with your internal meter.

Disclaimer: 1 frame if you are on the street capture street people.

Here is a peril of bracketed shots besides laziness…

You gamble with tack sharpness when you set your camera to bracket 3 shots.

By capturing 5 frames you gain sharpness and depth when edited into HDR with Photomatix Pro. When I stopped being lazy my images skyrocketed in quality. Try it for yourself. 5 frames will gain you depth in your final image.

Like this: Camera on manual, ISO 80 to 100, aperture based upon meter lighting, f 11 to 18, dial down to zero for exposure, focus, snap, dial to 1, snap, dial to 2, snap, dial to -1, snap, dial to -2, snap, review, keep or adjust and try again.

Tip 6: Nail YOUR Style – I think style, voice, or art is a personal preference. It is keenly subjective to the individual artist. Do what makes you happy. Do what becomes your fingerprint on the photography world.

I will do primarily realistic HDR for real estate and landscape. When it comes to street photography and urban types of settings, or even funky places like bars and taverns I will do more artistic versions of HDR. That is just who I am as photographer. HDR helps me share the right story through images that I am after.

Question is… who are you?

And the journey to really find out may take many photos and years. Stick with it until it feels right and fuck the crowd who tells you they don’t like your stuff or to follow some ridiculous rules. Those people are posers and losers in the photography world… my opinion only.

Go be a unique photographer and artist.

Tip 7: Man up and use only the best software -I prefer using Photomatix Pro for my HDR editing. I also own Aurora 2017 HDR editing software and HDR EFEX Pro 2 editing software. So when I tell you that Photomatix Pro is THE BOSS of HDR editing I am not speaking out of my ass. I have experience.

The only reason to buy Aurora HDR would be if you are a fan of Trey Ratliff and want to help him be richer than any other photography God.

And the only reason to use HDR EFEX Pro 2 would be if you are broke or cheap.

You have chosen to create awesome HDR images and be the best you can be at it so choose only the best software available… Photomatix Pro.

Tip 8: Go ghost hunting – Creating an HDR image is not a simple a clicking on a pre-set. Again this strategy to create your images is the lazy photographers way. Avoid pre-sets in most cases.

I have been a violator of my own rule and when I look back on some of my images I cringe and wonder “why the fuck did I do that?” Choose professionalism first.

In Tip #3 above I gave you one key HDR editing habit, which is to set your black at .01 as your baseline and the second habit is to alway de-ghost your images if you have anything moving. 😉

Take the OSO Bridge image above. At first glance you might think that nothing was moving. But you have wind and moving water in this case… oh and potential a moving car or person on the bridge. It is so subtle sometimes.

Wind is especially the arch nemesis of ghosting. You will see it in your trees and branches when you look closer.

This is so easy even a cave man could do it. First, in the pop up box select “show dialogue with options to remove ghosts.” Then click the radial button for “selective de-ghosting.” Now drag your mouse around the area to be de-ghosted and click done.

In the OSO Bridge image above I selected primarily the entire image for de-ghosting because there was some much going on. I grabbed the left lower edge and drew a straight line across the image and lassoed around from left to right and back to my starting point at the bottom left edge. Finally, I cropped off the part that was left moving so that I did not distort or affect my photo.

Not all photos need so much de-ghosting. Some are pretty simple; a moving tree leaf, or moving object. Review each image with the magnifying glass and make a critical judgement about how much de-ghosting to accomplish.

I wish you good fortune with your photography and HDR editing. I love it and really enjoy the final image I create and the feeling that accompanies each finished HDR photo.

Go be righteous and create your next HDR masterpiece using some, all, or none of these tips. They are all meant to be subjectively applied or ignored. The point is simply to create your best art ever with your own lens and artistic flair.



P.S. I choose and trust Photomatix Pro as my HDR editing software of choice. It is the Mercedes of HDR editing. Get Photomatix Pro here and enter ‘hdrbyspencer’ for a 15% discount.