January 17, 2010

HDR photography

I have recently become interested in a photographic technique known as High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. The intention is to allow the full range of dark to bright tones to be captured by the digital sensor (most digital sensors are limited to a very small brightness range) and printed on paper (which has even less tonal range).

So as not to bore you with the details, I won’t describe the science, technique, or process here, but the photo used for this blog header and the photos below are the result of an HDR process. The header photo originated as five different photographs of the same scene, each one set to a different exposure to capture a different portion of the full tonal range. Each of the pictures below is compiled from at least three photos of differing exposures.

As I learn HDR photography and improve my understanding and technique I will post more of these pictures. I hope you enjoy them.

More HDR pics

I drove over the bridge between Rt. 66 and Front Royal, Virginia, just as the sun was beginning to set over the mountains. I noticed the beautiful sky and parked at the end of the bridge. I pulled out my camera and tripod and walked to the middle of the bridge to get this picture of the Shenandoah River. I love the mountains in the distance with the sun just barely visible over the crest.

Shenandoah River taken from the bridge heading into Front Royal

Ever since we moved to Front Royal, we have wanted to get some pictures of the old Front Royal water tower. So about a week ago my son and I drove to the water tower to take some pictures. When we got there we noticed this unique building with a circular turret-type corner. It was about 18 degrees outside and holding the tripod was incredibly painful, but I love the resultant picture.

We found out just yesterday that the unique brick building was built in 1913 to house a silk manufacturing plant. The plant produced silk for quite a few generations before it was sold to another commercial enterprise.

Front Royal silk factory established in 1913 – and old Front Royal water tower

The de facto logo or symbol of Front Royal is a gazebo built 30 years ago by the man who is now our mayor. This central area of Front Royal is a wonderful focal point for the town’s activities and we have enjoyed the many photographic opportunities there.

The Front Royal Christmas tree can be seen inside the gazebo on the left side of this picture. I noticed the sun setting over the top of the bank in the distance and wanted to get a picture of it. The HDR technique allowed me to include the wooden slats on the underside of the gazebo roof in the same picture as the bright sun setting over top the bank. And the front of the bank is clearly visible with good detail as well.

Front Royal Christmas tree and gazebo

After taking the photograph of the Shenandoah River (above), I continued taking pictures around Front Royal for another hour or so. It was quite dark by the time I made my way back home. As I turned up the street behind our house, I noticed our house in the distance. The longest exposure used for this photo was more than a minute long. The long exposures resulted in a much brighter sky than I noticed at the time. In fact, the brightness of the sky may have been impacted by the fact that Jalisco restaurant is just down the hill in front of our house and the light from the restaurant signs may have cast a glow on the sky during those long exposures.

Our house after dusk

This last photo (of my office in DC) required 11 different exposures to capture the full tonal range. You can see evidence of the multiple exposures in the traffic lights, which show the red light and the green light as glowing simultaneously. My office is the building across the street on the right side of this photo. This building backs onto the Potomac River and is directly across from Washington, DC, specifically across from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

If you count from the first set of windows towards the bottom of the building up to the fourth row of windows (where you can see a bank of lit windows), my desk is visible behind the second window from the corner of the office building. This is actually the eighth floor, but the lower four floors don’s have windows because they are not office space but rather cafeterias and facilities offices.

My office building in Washington, DC



  1. Nice HDR...good treatment..not overdone

  2. Excellent stuff, Rich!! It's hard to imagine your photos getting any more life like, but they have. Pretty soon the stuff is gonna jump off the page and be a virtual world....


  3. Thanks, Mary. I actually considered how fun it would be to write a Fantasy or Sci-Fi story using HDR photography as illustrations. It could launch a whole new genre.

  4. This sounds funny, but I'm serious - the photos look much more rich. More lifelike. I know nothing about photography.

  5. Lynn - I was drawn to this photographic technique for that very reason. HDR photos just seem so real. It feels like a window into the actual scene rather than just an image.


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