I've been taking lots of pictures of local DFW running and biking trails lately as part of the CityRecGuide.com project that the twins and I are working on. I've noticed how difficult it can be to get a good picture with the light balanced across all areas of the photography when you are shooting around lots of trees- there are always so many dark and shady areas.
So I thought about trying the technique that the amazing Trey Ratcliff specializes in - High Dynamic Range photography, or HDR. Trey was one of our speakers at OpenCamp last year and takes some incredible photos. The technique utilizes taking multiple photos of the same scene, but with the exposure set differently for each frame. My aging Canon Digital Rebel can "auto-bracket" up to three frames changing the exposure each time (0, +2, -2 stops). Trey uses five, but three can work (he also has a $7500 camera). You can even use just one frame, shot in RAW mode for "Fake HDR", with decent results.
Above is a single-shot FHDR photo from Rowlett Creek Preserve - somewhat oversaturated, but not that far off- I shot it near dusk with the sun coming in strong from the left site, and the sky really was that blue.
Below are some more natural shots from Spring Creek Natural Area (a gorgeous three mile trail near Renner and I75). The first is the "normally exposed" frame, and the next is the photo I created using the normal, over-exposed and under-exposed versions of the same scene.
I've discovered a burgeoning collection of tools to assist in preparing HDR photos:
- HDR EFEX Pro by Nik Software. At $159, it ain't cheap, and it requires Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom to function. It has a ton of features, functionality and presets.
- HDRtist by Ohanaware. It's free and standalone, so I already like it. It supports one (for Fake HDR) or multiple photos and produces good results. The HDR photos above are from HDRtist.
- Trey Ratcliff recommends Photomatix Pro, which seems to produce good results (at least at my low skill level) but is the hardest to use. It is $99.
- Photoshop CS5 has some built in support for FHDR.
You can download and try out and of the tools above and see which works best for you. I'm looking forward to taking my photography skill up a notch.