Why do your pictures look different?

Recently, I have had a few people ask about my recent that have been posted here. One friend said, “Why do your pictures look….different? Not that they are bad, just different.”

The “difference” comes in the processing, something known as HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. So here’s a short explanation of what that involves.

First off, you start with not one but three photographs. Yes, three pictures of the same thing. But the pictures aren’t exactly the same. One is shot normally, one is underexposed (too dark), and one is overexposed (too light). Then a software program is used to combine the three into one photo, bringing the bright parts of the dark photo and the dark parts of the bright photo into the main photo. Make sense? And I should point out that others use five exposures, and some even use seven. But still the same principle.

The point behind it all is that one photo by itself can’t capture things the way our eyes see them. Too much shadow, too much brightness. But by combining different exposures, you can get a better representation of everything in the frame.

Once you have your HDR image, you then run it through another process called tone mapping. This is the process that really brings out colors and such, and gives it that special look. With tone mapping, you can give your photos a more natural look (such as this one of Cinderella Castle), or you can do something a bit more artistic (such as this motorcycle shot). Several more examples can be found in the Photo Gallery.

Most digital SLR cameras these days can be set to automatically take the three different exposures mentioned above. More exposures than that takes a little more work sometimes. And it is really best to use a tripod, although the different computer programs can attempt to align the different exposures if they are off slightly.

As an example, here are the three exposures used to create a recent picture, along with the final picture itself:

This shows how much more vibrant the colors can be, even if the original photos didn’t appear to have quite that much color in them.

So hopefully that explains things just a bit. For a more detailed explanation, and some really eye-popping photos, check out StuckInCustoms.com. There is a longer - and even better - explanation there, which is why I just hit the high points here.

Happy photographing!