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Unhappy with HDR? Try this ~

The Watchman, Virgin River, Fall Colors, Zion National Park

The Watchman Mountain in the distance was in full sun and the Virgin River was in shade, this scenic situation needed help


El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, Fall Colors, yellow cottonwood, merced river, Yosemite National Park, California

El Capitan is bathed in full sun and the Merced River is in deep shadow, exposure surgery is in order

I have very little success achieving what I want to do with HDR (high dynamic range imaging). HDR promises to deliver tonal detail throughout the dynamic range and a fine promise that is. My goal with HDR is to produce high dynamic range photos that are photo realistic, but I rarely achieve that goal. Granted I am discouraged enough that I don’t invest the time to master the HDR process and to short of time to peruse it as I should.

I have turned to an alternative that others may find useful. Having bracketed and shot a series of photos with the goal of HDR processing I have the information I need to make a photo realistic photo the hard way – in layers.

Swiftcurrent Falls and Grinnell Peak in Glacier National Park

Swiftcurrent Falls needed digital help

Upon failure of achieving an undetectable HDR masterpiece I color correct and optimize them in Aperture of Lightroom. I then do some finishing touches in Photoshop then I go back into Adobe Bridge ———–> tools    ———–> export to Photoshop layers. I select my three most representative photos of the range I desire then place them in the order that will work, usually darkest on the bottom, medium exposure in middle then the lightest on top.

I than selectively erase portions of the layer to reveal the more desirable exposure below. When necessary I vary the opacity of the eraser to more subtly reveal parts of the exposure below.

When working around hard edges as where a mountain meets the sky or trees extend into the sky, extra special care needs to be exercised to achieve a believable blend.

When all looks well I flatten the image than blow it up to 100% or more, sometimes $400% and I will do the necessary cloning and other touch up where the exposure merges didn’t marry in a believable way.

When finished I have a HDR image without funny glows, halos, or colors that defy believability and appear as our eyes perceive the landscape.

I will continue trying to master HDR as time allows but until then I am glad that because HDR has incentivized me to expose extra images that I can use in an alternative creative process.

HDR example, Zion National Park

HDR example, Zion National Park


El Capitan, HDR example

El Capitan, HDR example


Swiftcurrent Falls, HDR example

Swiftcurrent Falls, HDR example

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One thought on “Unhappy with HDR? Try this ~

  1. Thank you for this information, I have used stacking layers when painting with light and looking at your photos I would say it works very well the way you use it. Beautiful photos!!

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