HDR: High Dynamic Range Imaging

How to Create HDR Image

  1. You need a digital camera with auto bracketing or at least exposure compensation. Most digital SLR's and some of the point-and-shoots have these features.
  2. Take 3 photos of the same subject with normal, under exposure and over exposure settings. The auto bracketing feature will do this automatically for you.
  3. It's better to use a tripod but, if you don't happen to carry one, just hold the camera steady. DON'T TILT the camera between shots. Some HDR programs can align the images and compensate for the horizontal or vertical camera move, but they will have a more difficult time if you tilt the camera even slightly.
  4. DON'T FORGET to turn off auto bracketing when you are done. This is important. If you forget to disable it, it may take a while until you realize why the images are so bright or dark next time you use it (which could be some time later).
  5. Use one of the HDR programs mentioned below to combine the shots into one HDR image.


See the HDR images on my Smugmug site.

How HDR Works

Even the latest models of digital cameras cannot capture the colors and details of the bright and dark area of the image at the same time. In these three below, the orange glow only shows up in the middle (under-exposed) image and the bright blue color on the pool only in the right (over-exposed) image.

An HDR program simply takes "the best part" from each shot and combines into one image.

By adjusting the parameters, the effect can range from subtle to artistic, unreal, psychedelic or just plain gaudy. ;)   You can see all kinds of examples on Flickr.

HDR Tools

I use Photomatix Pro by HDRSoft to create HDR images ($99). I also used FDRTools (Full Dynamic Range Tools) briefly but it seemed easier with Photomatix to tweak the parameters (between subtle and extreme). Both Photomatix and FDRTools offer basic freeware version and advanced shareware version. The shareware versions can be downloaded and tried for free but they add watermark (logo) to the result.

If you are familiar with GIMP (free, open-source equivalent of Photoshop), then you can follow the tutorial on Instrutables.com listed below to create HDR. I believe (the new version of) Photoshop includes HDR support also, but I haven't tried it myself.


"HDR" is such a Google-friendly keyword that always gives you good search results. Here are some of the sites I like:

April 21, 2009 - Komei Harada