Those three little letters are enough to make many photographers start twitching.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a polarising topic amongst photographers, many of whom are of the firm belief that the often unrealistic results are more fantasy than photography. Others consider it part of the ever changing art form we all enjoy.
I've never been a fan, but not having given it a good go myself, I couldn't in good conscience stand by and judge. So I dusted off an old copy of photoshop and gave it a whirl.
I used an older version of Photoshop CS because I had it handy, but here's plenty of free alternatives if you're just dabbling. A quick google will reveal all.
The process in photoshop itself was surprisingly easy and boiled down to 3 simple steps.
1. With photoshop open, go to File -> Automate -> Merge to HDR Pro (In CS2 and below, I believe this is simply Merge to HDR)
2. Select the images, try to aim for at least three, with one frame exposed for the highlights and one for the shadows. I used 3 camera raw files at a +3 & -3 bracket for these shots. Select 'Attempt to automatically align source images' and OK.
3. You now have the opportunity to process your resulting HDR image, this is where you can let your creativity run free.
If you're likely to have a few goes at processing the same HDR. Select 32bit instead of processing the HDR now, and save a copy of the 32bit raw file. You'll be able to open this as many times as you like and re-process from the Image menu.
As I soon discovered, it's all too easy to bump one of those sliders (particularly the Detail and Vibrance/Saturation controls) too far in either direction, resulting in the surreal painted look that HDR processing is so hated for.
It's also important to keep an eye out for another tell-tale HDR peeve; glow around the high contrast areas where the software has layered in your under and over exposed images.
After a few experiments I found I liked the results more when I processed the HDR as a fairly realistic and flat image, and stayed away from the vibrancy and saturation sliders. then jumped over to Lightroom where I'm quite at home, and edited as if it were a standard single exposure image with fantastic dynamic range.
As I was still looking for an image that made you feel like you were there, in a realistic scene, I made sure to keep some shadows and highlights. Aiming for closer to what the human eye would see in person, instead of an obviously surreal image.
You might have picked it straight away, but the frames above and below are not HDR composites.
This is a single exposure, taken in RAW and processed through Lightroom. Some pulling of the shadows and dimming of the highlights was performed, without pushing things too far and creating noise in the shadows.
The most obvious sign is around the setting sun, as you can see, there's a large highlight completely blown out. Despite the impressive dynamic range of the 5D body, there's no getting any detail or colour back into that section without painting it in (a whole other can of worms).
As with any photography, it comes down to what you enjoy. HDR has its place, and it's not going anywhere, so why not have a go and see if it's for you!
And if you ever find yourself in the beautiful state of Tasmania and near Hobart, I thoroughly recommend taking a drive up to Mt Wellington. This took the place for single best sunset I've ever photographed. But be sure to take some cold weather gear, despite the temperatures at sea level. It was a brisk 5 below when I was shooting these and I'd have loved to take my time but frostbite was taking hold!