HDR photography is a fairly complex subject. As an amateur photographer of several decades experiences, I’ve often encountered situations where a single photograph simply cannot capture both highlight and shadow detail. “Practical HDR” does a good job of explaining the basic problems with photography compared to vision, though it gives shorter shrift to RAW format in discussing this than it really should. Truth is, RAW captures 2-3 more Exposure Values of dynamic range than normally appear in JPG images, since the in-camera tone mapping tends to compress highlight detail severely to enhance mid-tone contrast.
As “Practical HDR” rightly points out, there simply is no easy solution mapping a high dynamic range image to ordinary monitors and prints. Any global change you make will sacrifice contrast in one range in order to enhance it in another, which is why standard tone-mapping throws away highlights. The best solution is to treat each area of the the image separately, emphasizing different luminance ranges in different parts of the image.
The book explains bracketing exposures, a familiar concept to many photographers even if they aren’t attempting to create a HDR image, and the basics of using three programs: Photoshop (CS2 or later), Photomatrix Pro, and FDRTools. However, “practical HDR” rarely goes much beyond what you’d learn from the manuals for these programs. Time and again, the book does little more than describe the purpose of program sliders, and tell you to play with the slider until you get a result you like. I could have figured that out on my own, thank you.
Toward the end of the book, “Practical HDR” dips briefly into photoshop techniques such as the Curves tool and blending two images using a layer mask. Both are extremely basic looks at fairly hairy subjects – it’s very easy to end up with a highly artificial looking result when using layer masks if you aren’t careful about transitions.
For a book that is often concerned about aesthetics, the book itself makes some highly questionable ones. The print is often a hard to read white-on-black, and sometimes there’s a faint photographic background behind the text making it even more difficult.
There’s also something of a coffee-table aspect to the book. Despite ostensibly being about instruction, there are roughly 40 pages of photos in the 160 page book which have no accompanying discussion at all. “Look at what I did” is hardly helpful for a photographer struggling with HDR when you don’t explain how you reached that result.
Sometimes the book skips over vital steps. In one example, a very drab looking intermediate result becomes a vibrant final result, and the book simply says “I applied a strong ‘S’ Curve to expand the tonal range.” This is extremely counter-intuitive, since he earlier deliberately compressed the tonal range. I strongly suspect the improvement has more to do with the author’s skill with the Curves tool than anything else, and the result is an example that isn’t very helpful to the reader.
If you’ve never done a bracketing exposure, or examined the histogram on the back of the camera after a shot, you’ll get more out of this book than I did, since it will serve as an introduction to those concepts. If, however, you’re looking for solid book on how to merge highlight and shadow detail in an image without losing overall contrast, you will be as disappointed as I was.
Practical HDR: A complete guide to creating High Dynamic Range images with your Digital SLR
HDR is both a technical solution to the limitations of digital camera sensors, and a creative tool that can give any image much more impact – but it is not without its pitfalls, and it’s essential to understand these if you want to take full advantage of this innovative technique. Practical HDR provides you with an abundance of step-by-step examples that will quickly make you an expert on the theory and practice of shooting and processing HDR images, allowing you to get the best possible results every time.
As well as practical advice on shooting and processing, the book also contains a global showcase of inspirational HDR images – you will quickly find that HDR offers unparralleled opportunities for indulging your creative instincts, from photo-realistic to hyper-realism.
*Create stunning HDR images – from photorealistic to the hyper-real
*Covers in-camera image capture and digital darkroom techniques
*Combines sound, step-by-step advice with an inspirational gallery of images
About the Author
David Nightingale is an intructor for the Perfect Picture School of Photography and director of Chromasia training.
- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Focal Press (September 14, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0240812492
- ISBN-13: 978-0240812496
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 8.2 x 0.3 inches