Chicago Architecture Photography & Sunrise Blog

HDR Photography Work Flow


Since October 2013 I have started shooting High Dynamic Range photography. HDR Photography takes a minimum of 3 frames and compiles them into a single frame. Through the use of certain software like NIK, Photomatrix, or Photo Shop, a person can take a minimum of 3 images and create one single image using the range from all three.

Use a Tripod

When shooting in HDR I usually use a tripod to minimize movement so that when aligning the images in whatever software I am using I don’t see too much variation. A tripod ensures you have the same frame 3 times. The 3 frames you shoot are shot at regular exposure, then over exposed by 2 stops and under exposed by 2 stops. That range is a good typical range and good for this example.

Take at least 3 Exposures

This gives the software a regular exposure which has all the mid tones, an over exposed image which will make the foreground very light and most likely the balance of the frame will be washed out (but that’s ok b/c you are only using the part that isn’t visible in the under exposed frame.) and an underexposed image which will make the lightest part of the frame very deep and richly colored, any area that is already dark will be extremely dark after being underexposed but again, no worries because you are only using the best parts of each image.

So, you have 3 images shot in RAW. RAW format is what should be used because when you shoot in JPG you are actually allowing the camera to process the image to what it thinks is the best way. That’s not a good thing. We don’t want a camera to THINK for us, we want to KNOW we have an image that works for us.

Shoot in RAW

That being said, you have to bring the RAW file into an editor that can work on that image format. Some people will actually pre-process their RAW image which up to this point, I have yet to really do that b/c my workflow is already quite long and I just don’t have the time to take apart every frame in a pre-process environment.

We’re now at a point where we have shot all the images and have imported them onto a machine. I use my Mac desktop at home to process images and since I have started using Photomatrix my workflow has been shortened substantially because Photomatrix allows you to work with the RAW image files in that format vs. NIK which requires you to create TIFF (or JPG) files to work within their software.

NIK Photoshop Or PhotoMatrix?

I like both, but I like how I don’t have to export every file into TIFF better with photomatrix because that’s a lot more time and storage needed to process images than just using the raw files. Once you have the RAW images on your CPU you can bring them into Photomatrix (or TIFF Files for NIK) and begin to create the HDR image you want.

Choose the 3 bracketed images (bracketed images are the regular exposure, over and under exposed frames you have shot) and select whether you have shot them on a tripod or handheld. The difference is here, the software will try to align them if they are handheld and not as much if they are on the tripod.

Creating Your HDR Image

Once you have selected your images, choose hand held or tripod, you can begin to create the image. When the image has been created you will be shown a great deal of levels that you can change. Strength which is the overall strength of the HDR, Tone Compression, Saturation, White, Black, Gamma, Contrast, Lighting Effect, Saturation Highlights, Saturation Shadows and a few others.

Before you start messing with the levels you should select a filter you like which in Photomatrix are on the right hand side. Each preset or filter has been created to achieve a different effect, some are very realistic while others are very exaggerated and over the top to create that fantasy effect. It’s important that the one you select works with you as your preference is what ultimately will make the photo good in your eyes.

Back to LightRoom We Go

After you have decided the levels satisfy your eyes you can then save the image as a TIFF file for a final round of touch ups which requires you to bring the photo back into LightRoom. From there you can use a variety of tools to achieve the final look you want. I usually knock the exposure down a stop or two which makes the image a bit more vibrant, lower the highlights again making the image a bit more powerful, I will balance white/black levels, sharpen the image and finally reduce the noise.

After all this is done I will export the image out into a JPG that can then be uploaded to Google Plus, my artistwebsite or Taking all that into account from shutter depression to uploaded/shared image I would say 30 mins per image is a fair assessment. What do you think? How long does it take you to make a good photograph?