hdr photography

What is HDR Photography?

HDR photography is a very specific type of high-contrast, high-definition photography that makes an image jump off the screen. While there is no denying the beauty of HDR photography, capturing these types of photos isn’t always as simple as it seems.

The good news is, I can help you get a better grasp on HDR photography with this simple guide to understanding its basics.

What is HDR Photography?

If you aren’t already taking HDR photos, then there is no better time to start—and if you aren’t already familiar with HDR, what it means and what HDR photography entails, it is more than just clear, high-quality photos.

If you aren’t already familiar with the term, HDR stands for “high dynamic range.” And while it may sound like rather high-tech lingo, HDR is pretty much just the difference between the lightest light and the darkest dark you can capture in a picture.

Once your subject has exceeded your individual camera’s dynamic range, you will notice. The highlights will wash out whites and the darks will become heavy, big black blobs. It is very difficult to get ap hoto that captures both ends of the spectrum, where whites are white and blacks are dark—but with the right technique, and some post-processing software, you too can capture HDR photography like this.

HDR Photography Definition

All of the explaining aside, if you are looking for a simple, clear-cut definition of HDR photography it would be “a specific photo style with an unusually high dynamic range that couldn’t otherwise be achieved in a single photograph.”

When to Use HDR Photography

You can technically use HDR photography whenever you want. However, it is best when shooting scenes with a lot of different color and light contrast. Due to the nature of HDR and because of exposure bracketing, you probably won’t be able to capture things that move as your subjects.

HDR photos simply are meant for subjects that stay stationary. This is because, at its most primitive level, an HDR photo is just a few different photos, taken at different exposure levels and mashed together to create a better picture.

If you try to shoot a subject that is moving, you may end up with a blurry mess.

What Kind of Camera Do You Need for HDR Photography?

If you are ready to start shooting HDR photography, there are a few things that you will need—including the right camera. The good news is, there are actually a few different ways to achieve an HDR photo, so you don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest camera in order to do it—you just need to know what to do.

HDR Photography Process

When shooting HDR photos, you will want to take several “bracketed shots” to get this final look. This is because a HDR photo is a complication of the same image at different exposure levels.

You will also want to make sure you are able to shoot in RAW. The amount of bracketed shots you take varies. Some say 3 to 5, others say 7 to 9. However, it really depends on the image you are shooting.

mcgee creek fall colors

Here is a shot I took creekside. Using an ND filter really helped create movement in the shot.

How to Create HDR in Lightroom

Most people today, will create an HDR image in Lightroom or a similar editing software. Here’s the best way to do it in Lightroom:

  • Select your images in Lightroom.
  • Choose photo > photo merge> HDR.
  • An HDR Merge Preview dialog box will come up. In this box you will see Auto Align and Auto Tone already selected. You will need to determine if this is best for your photo or if you need to deselect—you will be able to preview these effects within your dialogue box.
  • After your photos are merged, sometimes areas of the HDR image will appear semi-transparent, which can look unnatural. In your HDR Merge Preview box choose “None, Low, Medium or High” to correct this issue. Again, you will be able to preview.
  • Create a group for your exposure-bracketed images and your HDR images putting them into a stack after they are merged. Simply click the “Create Stack” option and your HDR image will display at the top of this stack.

That’s all you need to do!

How to Create HDR Photos in Your Camera

The best way to shoot an HDR photo is with a camera that has an Auto Exposure Bracketing, or AEB, function. This is a great feature because it means you won’t have to adjust your camera settings manually between each shot.

Remember, at its basic level, HDR photos are a mash up of the same photo at different exposure levels, this will help ensure you get a clear and more defined final photo. Make sure you also use a small aperture, so everything is in focus and start snapping away.

sagehen summit fall

You can get some amazing compositions if you use a telephoto lens and isolate trees

Focus Stacking HDR Photography

Focus stacking is a process that lets you shoot with the best aperture and shutter speed combination. It is very similar to the stacking process we just discussed. The goal of focus staking is to make sure that you get sharp images from the front of the image to the back of the image.

Shooting for focus stacking is similar to shooting for HDR. However, with focus tacking, your images are captured with different focus points before you combine them in photoshop. Here’s how to do it:

  • Place your camera on your tripod, frame your subject and determine your exposure for the scene—the exposure is constant for every image.
  • Set your camera to Live View and aim the focus point to the nearest object you want to be in focus. Use the zoom to preview, then switch to manual focus and fine tune for sharpness.
  • Take the first exposure.
  • Don’t move the camera or adjust any settings, just move the focus point to an object mid-way. Refocus. Take the second exposure.

Repeat this process until you have four images—then merge as detailed above in Lightroom or your preferred editing software.



If you’ve always wanted to create those mesmerizing HDR photos, there is no better time to try. With a little extra time and effort, and the right knowledge on how to do it—it can be easier than you think to create the HDR images you’ve always wanted.

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