HDR Photography Basics

HDR Photography Basics

HDR photography is popular among nature photographers and others who work with natural light, such as real estate photographers. That’s because sunlight can create a higher contrast between highlights and shadows than the camera can capture. Exposure compensation may help, but often it’s not enough. You need to expand the camera’s ability to capture dynamic range. And that’s exactly what High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography stands for.

What Is HDR Photography?

HDR photography is a technique that allows you to capture scenery with a wide dynamic range. It helps you preserve the details of the very bright and dark areas and create the perfect exposure that resembles how the human eye sees the scene.

Photo by Mike Burke on Unsplash

For example, on a cloudy day, the sky may be a bright gray and require a fast shutter speed for good exposure. However, because it is overcast, the objects close to the ground are in the shadow and require a longer exposure time. Another example is photographing a room with sunlight coming through the windows. The interior is much darker than the windows, which results in overexposed or underexposed areas. HDR photography allows you to create the perfect photograph by taking multiple identical shots except for exposure settings and smartly overlapping them.

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How to Create HDR Photographs

One can create HDR photographs by taking multiple identical shots of a scene and overlapping them using software that supports HDR editing (e.g., Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, Luminar, Affinity Photo, etc.). For optimal results, the camera should be on a tripod to avoid the slightest alteration of the framing. The photographer changes the exposure from one shot to another to ensure highlights and shadows are perfectly exposed in one of the shots. For example, the photographer may change ISO or shutter speed (one step at a time) or use the exposure compensation function. At least three images are required.

HDR merge in Affinity Photo

Another method to create HDR photographs is to use the camera’s HDR mode. Most modern DSLRs provide one. In this scenario, you tell the camera how many photos to take and how much difference in exposure between them. Then, frame your composition and press the shutter release, letting the camera take the shots and produce the HDR image. While this method is safer than the manual one, you should still consider using a tripod to avoid moving the camera.


HDR photography may save a situation where getting the exposure right is impossible. And if you use a camera that provides an HDR mode, you don’t have to do much. However, please don’t overdo it. HDR photography is sometimes used just to create more impressive scenery, and the result is slightly artificial (especially in the case of nature photographs). Use techniques that follow your artistic vision and respect your principles.

Cover photo by Andreas M on Unsplash

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