Book Review: Practical HDR

When I first learned about High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography last fall.  I was very excited about it.  I had some early successes but some were not coming out as I had hoped.  My December trip to Walt Disney World brought even more confusion as to what I was doing wrong.  Some worked, most didn’t.  I searched and read about HDR all over the Internet.  It’s easy, just set your camera to bracket at -2,0,+2 exposures once you set the 0 exposure.  Let me tell you, many online tutorials don’t go into a lot of detail on how to create the photos beyond that.

Click Here to Order Practical HDR by David Nightingale

What I found out in reading Practical HDR by David Nightingale is it’s more involved than simply shooting a three bracketed set of photos at plus/minus 2 stops.  The author describes how to properly meter for HDR image processing.  Like all digital photography, if you get it right in the camera, the post-processing becomes a lot easier.  I learned how to use the histogram to do this.  See, the histogram is good for something.  I, also, learned why it is better to take more than three bracketed photos and to keep the difference in the +1 EV range rather than +2.  I now understand why certain HDR photo sets I took at Walt Disney World were not very good candidates to create HDR images from. Their histograms show they (meaning me) did not cover the entire dynamic light range which is very important for good HDR images.

Practical HDR: A complete guide to creating High Dynamic Range images with your Digital SLR (I’ll use the entire title here once) then does something I wish other photography books would consider.  David’s idea was to use three popular HDR software products (Photoshop CS3, FDRTools and Photomatix) and show how to use each of them in creating HDR images from the same set of photos. This takes out the generic statements and instructions he would have had to use.  Since I already had the Photomatix plugin for Aperture 2.x, I skipped over the parts he was talking about Photoshop or FDRTools.  He steps you through each program and describes what each button and slider does and how it will affect an HDR image.  Something I had been looking for.

The books breaks up HDR images into two categories: Photo-Realistic and Hyper-Real.  Photo-realistic being more closely to what the real scene looked like to the photographer and using HDR to do so.  Since our eyes see many times more light than any of today’s (note: March of 2010) digital camera sensors, HDR adds dynamic light range by processing a set of photos which cover that range.  Hyper-real is where HDR is cranked up to look totally unlike what the scene was before the photographer. Some people do not like hyper-real HDR or HDR in general.  To me, it’s another way to express myself photographically.  I am sure the debate will go on and on about HDR.

For each category, you are shown how an HDR image is created.  The settings used and why.  For most of the HDR images the author created in the book, he lists the final settings in the various programs.  A big help.  The only criticism I have and of other reviews of this book is I wish I had the same images he used so I could follow along on my computer.

The last part of the book goes into post-production of HDR images.  Yep, you still need to finalize the images in Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture or your own favorite photo/image editor. Details on how to use Curves, remove noise and halos and enhancing low contrasted scenes is shown.

At the end of some of the chapters you will see HDR Showcases of some of the best HDR images produced and the photographers who created them.  They are all stunningly beautiful and really gets one excited to go out and create photos to produce HDR images.

This is not a beginner’s book on post-processing photos.  You will need a good understanding of that and how to use your camera’s features for histograms and bracketing.  If you don’t know how, there’s a book called a Manual for your camera you’ll need to consult.  For me, as someone who has dabbled in HDR and was getting frustrated with some of my results, this book gave practical advice and instruction on how to create HDR images.  Thus, I fully agree with the title chosen.

Click on the link to pick up your copy of Practical HDR: A complete guide to creating High Dynamic Range images with your Digital SLR

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12 Responses to Book Review: Practical HDR

  1. milkayphoto says:

    I was looking forward to this review, Scott, and you delivered! Very thorough and this book sounds exactly like what I’ve been looking for. Thank you! I agree – online tutorials do not go into any real detail in how to produce fantastic HDR images. So, when do we get to see you put what you’ve read into action? 🙂


  2. Deanna says:

    Great post! I’m a beginner and have been hearing about HDR, but hadn’t really looked into it yet. Thanks for enlightening me – it looks very tempting.


  3. Anna Surface says:

    Excellent post and I will definitely order this book. I read an article on HDR in Digital Photography, Issue 93. I tried the steps, in which you use manual and not auto bracketing. Using the shutter speed to bracket (camera on tripod) and with mirror locked. One thing I forgot, though, in which you mentioned is the use of the histogram and definitely suggested in the article I read. I’m struggling with HDR! What I need to know is the why of the steps of HDR instead of my hit and miss, and the post processing. So, this book is in order. Thanks for the post!


  4. Scott: thanks for the kind review, and I’m glad you found the book useful.


  5. I think I shall put this on my list to get the next time I put a book order in… and yes I will have to read the manual to figure everything out. But that is okay – just a bit steeper learning curve. Thanks Scott for taking the time to share this resource. Terrill Welch


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