When to (not) use HDR in your photography

Last updated on May 29th, 2017 at 05:09 pm

I love HDR (High Dynamic Range) and most of my landscape work used to be, and sometime still is HDR based.

I use(d) HDR to take out the details in the over/under exposed areas of my photo. Camera have evolved in the last few years and with that the sensor quality. This is to say that nowadays the dynamic range of the new sensors is pretty awesome, especially when full sensor, even at an higher ISO

If you decide to shoot in HDR keep in mind that there are few cases when it just does not work and other cases when the end result is awesome

Interior pictures of buildings

Great results in close environments, even more if lots of light is coming through the windows. This is a typical case when the photo has substantial areas under exposed, with shadows that will be black and without details.

The window area will be most certainly over exposed, with an annoying white halo. With at least 3 photos we will be able to collect information about all areas, to have details not only in the shadow areas but also on the exterior, this could be a tree or a nice sky with clouds.


Sunset and sunrise

This is a great time to make photos generally speaking. If it is your goal to have details in both the shadows and the bright areas, like the sun and the sky, than HDR is one solution. Plan to take 5 photos with different exposure (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2 EV, Exposure Value), or at least 3 exposure (-2,0,+2 EV).

In these hours of the days HDR gives great result however it is not essential as the single exposure can be as awesome, if not more, than HDR.


Forest and gardens

I have personally mix results with HDR in an environment with a predominance of trees and grass.

The amount of details is sometime overkilling the photo and the green colour becomes too artificial. Post production take a long time and I tend to avoid using HDR at all in forest and gardens

Action photos

Just forget about it. Do not use HDR, just use the right exposure for one unique shot. In case you still want to give the dreamy, Harry Potter, effect, you can always process it later on as a single HDR picture or increase the contrast to a steep value, although the results may be not great, and it depends on the quality of the camera you are using.

People portraits

They do not come out great, unless you want your friend to look like Terminator in a futuristic film. It works actually the other way around. You want to smooth the skin, and software as Lightroom have a brush to do just that.

My last comment here is that there is a time for HDR and there is a time for other photography techniques.

Plan the photo in advance and never hope for the best.

And most important, enjoy your photography time 😀


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Stefano Ferro
Stefano is a travel and landscape photographer with a background in cycling, movie and lifestyle photography. When in Melbourne, his hometown, you will see him cycling around at sunset or sunrise looking for the best spot for a photo of this beautiful city. It is quite amazing how much photography gear he can pack on his bike :o

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