Sunday, May 22, 2022

High Dynamic Range Travel Photography

Pushing The Boundaries

a photo of st michaels church cluj napoca romania hdr
St. Michael's Church - Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Digital photography provides a number advantages over film, such as the ability to see and share images immediately, along with documentation of camera settings and the date and time of each exposure.

One advantage is the ability to combine images to capture scenes with a high dynamic range. By combining a series of over and underexposed images, photographers can capture details in dark shadows and bright highlights. This is known as HDR photography.

a photo of banffy castle in romania
Banffy Castle - Romania

When this technique first became popular, people sometimes used it to create surreal and stylized images that didn't represent the original scene faithfully. I had no interest in this style of photography and avoided HDR techniques for some time.

My attitude changed when I saw a set of images by Trey Ratcliff. His photos looked perfectly natural. I would never have guessed that they were created with HDR techniques.

a photo of a monastery pained with outside fresco murals bucovina romania
Painted Monastery - Bucovina, Romania

I began to explore how to use HDR techniques in my own photography. One of the first applications that came to mind was photographing the interior of churches. If you expose for the dark interior, the windows will be over-exposed. Viewers can't see the beautiful colored windows. They're totally washed out. Exposing for the windows renders the church as dark as it would be at night with the lights off.

HDR to the rescue! I first attempted this technique in Venice, at the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. I took some meter readings, dialed in settings I thought I could capture handheld, took a deep breath and captured a series of five images in rapid succession. When I combined the images on my computer, I was delighted when I could see the blue sky through the windows.

a photo of brasov romania shops and restaurants at night
Shops and Restaurants at Dusk - Brasov, Romania

Since then, I have used HDR to capture a number high dynamic range scenes, indoors and out, day and night. It doesn't alway work. It can be complicated when there is movement within the frame, and it can have difficulty rendering highlights in water. But when it works, the results go far beyond what can be captured in a single image. HDR has become an essential part of my photographic toolkit particularly when I am traveling and I only have one chance to get the shot.

Sony a7R III
Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM

Light happens. Be ready. Shoot hard.
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