To HDR or not to HDR...

Often times I am asked questions at workshops and presentations that go like "Is there more detail in a HDR shot than a single frame shot processed to look like a HDR shot?" or "How do I know when I should take a HDR shot vs. a single exposure?" or "How much difference is there in an HDR shot vs. a single frame shot?".

Well, I always answer the "When to take a HDR shot" question with an answer like "Whenever the dynamic range in your scene is greater than your camera can handle within a single frame.".  This basically means if you can't get all of the highlight detail and all of the shadow detail in a single shot, then it's time to HDR.

As far as the other questions about "Is there more detail in a HDR vs. non HDR" and "How big a difference is there" questions...I thought I'd try to show you.

This image is a single shot processed in Adobe Lightroom and OnOne Perfect Effects Software.

This was shot at F/16, ISO 100 and 1/3 second.  The focal length was 50mm.

Now, here's a shot that was 5 combined shots at 1 stop apart with the same aperture, F/16, same ISO and focal length.

Right away there are several differences I notice.

  • The detail in the barn behind the firetruck is better in the HDR shot.  (I don't really want you to see that, so I like how it looks better in the non-HDR shot)
  • The detail in all the shadow areas of the hoses are far greater in the HDR shot.
  • Highlight detail is much better in the lights in the HDR shot.
  • All the fine details are greatly enhanced in the HDR shot.

None of these are "goods" or "bads" for either case.  In this instance I personally perfer the non-HDR version.I believe having the shadow areas "plugged" creates a mood that I am going for.  Not to mention, these areas I couldn't really see with my eye standing here either.  I'm also able to isolate my subject better in the non-HDR shot and not have as many distractions.

So, to answer a few questions....

Is there more detail in a Merged HDR shot?  Absolutely!  There is simply more data to work with, so there will be better detail and information.

When should you shoot HDR vs. not?  It's all personal preference, really.  In this case, The dynamic range of this scene was greater than my camera could capture in a single frame, however, I ended up liking the non-HDR version better.  Mostly because it fit the mood I was going for on this particular shot.  

When I am in a place like Old Car City, where this photo was taken, I typically bracket for HDR and then decided when I'm at my computer if I like a single frame shot or the HDR shot better.  

I'm a big HDR fan, it just happens that this time the single frame shot won me over.

Manually Focusing using Live View

So, for probably 90% of the type of photography I do, I am using manual focus.  There are several reasons for this, but mostly it allows me full control and consistency from shot to shot.

I manually focus for all of my Landscape shots, HDR shots, Macro shots...pretty much the only time I use auto focus is if I am hand holding and my subject is not much ;)

Often times people will ask about my method of manual focus and I tell them I always use Live View Mode on my camera.  Again, there are several reasons for this, but the biggest two are the ability to zoom in on a scene to dial in very fine focus detail and my failing eyesight.

Here is a video that is a segment of a longer video I am trying to put together and I thought I'd share it with you.  In this example, I am using the Sony A7R camera body, but I go through the exact same procedure with all of my Canon DSLR bodies, too.