The Lowdown on HDR - Part VI


As we've seen in this series, HDR and tone-mapping are fine tools used in the right hands. We've explored some of the obvious situations we might use one or either of them over the previous weeks, but today we're going to show you a really exciting technique that can add some punch and sizzle to your landscapes, seascapes and even environmental portraiture. Like everything with HDR you can go too far, but we're sure you'll find this technique a valuable addition to your post processing arsenal.


Spectacular skies


There are some genres of photography where the sky's the star, but we've all waited around for a sunset to develop and been disappointed that it didn't give us the money shot. Sometimes, however, the sky just needs a bit of help in post-production to bring it out of itself. This is where tone-mapping a single RAW file can produce something spectacular, but it’s not without problems. The following image was printed onto a large canvas and looks incredible on the wall, but if we'd simply tone-mapped it and left it at that it would look terrible. Why? Let's take a look...



As you can see the sky looks stunning. The tone-mapping has enhanced the swirling clouds and allowed us to bring out the colours beautifully. But take a look at the bottom left hand corner where the land's in deep shadow. In the original tone-mapped image the HDR software attempted to brighten these shadows and bring out detail. That might have worked in a multiple exposure HDR shot, but from a single RAW file it looked horrible. The noise and colour rendition destroyed the shot. So what did we do? We simply laid the tone-mapped image on top of the original in Photoshop, created a layer mask and rubbed out the image below the horizon. The result, we think you'll agree, is pretty spectacular.


Enhancing environmental portraits


We used the same technique as above to turn this next shot into a head-turner. The use of speedlights to light Lynton up against that beautiful tone-mapped sky has added the little something extra to this portrait that makes it a keeper.  



As you can see there are many, many ways to use HDR photography and tone-mapping single RAW files to creatively enhance your images before printing to canvas. Remember the simple tips and guidelines set out in this series and have some fun!