When you mention the term HDR, many people’s thoughts automatically jump to tonemapping and the results that can produce. That’s not what this post is about. If you don’t understand what HDR is all about or why you might want to use it in your photography, I suggest starting here: Why Use HDR? I’ll wait…
Okay, welcome back. I recently acquired a Sony A7R III and one of the features of this camera is that it has a very wide dynamic range – 12 to 14 stops are claimed. To that end, HDR capture with this camera isn’t often necessary. However, a friend of mine and I were out at Victoria’s famous Butchart Gardens last weekend and I wanted to try bracketing a few exposures just to see. Now, when it comes to the question of how many exposures to make and at what EV levels, there’s really only one answer: it depends. It depends on the scene and it also depends on the camera you’re using and what capabilities it has. For my experiment I decided to shoot 5 bracketed exposures at -4/-2/0/+2/+4 EV. Here’s an example of one of those combined images after having been pushed around a bit in Lr.
I wasn’t planning to make bracketed exposures that day and so didn’t have a tripod with me. Fortunately most HDR software has at least some auto-alignment feature. Since the camera is still new to me, however, I wanted to do a proper test. I dug out my old Cullman tripod and set it up. I chose this section of one of our bookcases for a couple of reasons. The first was that the titles (all by author Deborah Harkness) offer a broad range of colours and graphics along with white text. The second was that there’s a strong light coming from the right side, which consequently added a deep shadow. Starting from the top left, the five images were made at -4/-2/0/+2/+4 EV.
There are a number of different software packages that allow you to do HDR image stacking. I have five of them, four of which are connected to Lightroom. They are:
- Adobe Lightroom 6.14
- Affinity Photo
- Nik/Google/DxO HDR Efex Pro
- Photomatix Merge to 32-bit HDR plugin
- Timothy Armes’ Lr/Enfuse plugin
Affinity Photo is the one standalone program. I used the same five .arw files for each stack and did as much as I could to equalize the output – .tif, 16 or 32-bit, Adobe RGB, no noise reduction or tonemapping, etc. but the software packages themselves have variances. The Photomatix plugin for example creates a 32-bit half-floating point output whereas the internal LR HDR merge uses a 16-bit floating point output that creates a .dng file. To some extent these factors are irrelevant; the bottom line is the results themselves.
In the image below are six files. Starting from the top left is the single-image 0EV exposure, output as a .tif file then re-imported into Lightroom. Next to that are the Affinity Photo image and the HDR Efex Pro image. On the bottom row are the Lr/Enfuse, Photomatix and internal Lr HDR merge files. All six images are as they were after exposure blending. As you can see, there was quite a difference in output.
Each image would need to be processed differently, but in order to get them to the same starting point I selected them all, used the 0EV exposure as the most selected and used Auto-Sync in the Lr Develop module to set an auto White Balance and an auto Tone. Here are the results of that:
There are some contrast and lighting differences but any of them could produce a usable result. It’s also worth noting the image in the upper left – the single-image, 0EV exposure. The Sony A7R III is largely ISO-less, and so exposure bracketing with this camera has somewhat less use than it would on other cameras. Someday I’ll do a comparison post on making HDR and panoramic images using my cell phone.
Okay, that’s it for now. Go out and make some photographs!
P.S. In addition to Lightroom 6.14 I’ve also been playing a bit with Capture One 12 from Phase One. The HDR merge files generated by the Photomatix Lr plugin are unusable in Capture One. I don’t know why, but they look like the image on the left. In comparison, I took the Lr HDR Merge-created .dng file, exported that into Capture One and created the image on the right. As mentioned, I don’t yet know Capture One very well or I’m sure I could have done a better job of it.
P.S. II. the sequel: Making these blends involved working with 5, 85MB images. To that end I haven’t made the raw files available. If you really want them to try out on your own computer, let me know either by leaving a comment here or by filling in our Comment form and I’ll let you know where you can find them.
P.S. III! There are some 85 posts on our blog now on digital photography and Lightroom. You can find them all here.