My first HDR tutorial class – after throughts

The Queen Victoria Building holds one of the most beautiful Shopping malls I have ever visited. There are 200 hundred small shops, including a Georg Jensen shop, with luxury goods to tempt you. Feel like shopping? If you ever get to Sydney, be sure not to miss this geogeous building. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

It’s been a little quiet for a while on my blog. I have been busy preparing an HDR course for a photo club. It was a friend of mine, who asked if I could do a course on HDR in his local photo club, which I agreed to do. It has been really exciting to prepare such a course. I knew that people had very different skill levels, which makes it really hard to make a course. I decided on a beginners level, rather than a more advanced level and had to find out what my primary objectives should be.

Teaching is a good way of honing your skills, because you have to understand what you do more precisely, to be able to explain it. But it also requires the skill to transform what you know to understandable words and examples. Not all has this skill.

Primary objectives when learning HDR

I decided to concentrate on the true basics that form the foundation. These include:

  • How to setup the camera to take bracketing shots.
  • How to merge your photos in Photomatix Pro to get the basic
  • How to improve your photo in Photoshop (or GIMP – the free alternative).

You have to understand how to set up the camera to do the Auto Exposure Bracketing, otherwise it will be hard to do the bracketing. The most important thing is, to remember to use Aperture mode on the camera. If you use Shutter mode, you will end up with exposures with various depth of field, and therefore not identical and unusable for HDR processing.

The HDR software Photomatix Pro is a new tool for most people and luckily it’s not too complex to learn – some of the sliders are difficult to explain what they actually do, but what makes it fairly easy, is that you can just move the sliders back and forth and see what they do. This helps a lot.

What’s important to learn from Photomatix, is to bring contrast into the photo and use the ‘Lightning adjusts’. The naked merged HDR photo is flat and dull. By introducing contrast the photo starts to pop. And the lightning adjustments is a part of the Tone Mapping algorithm, which changes the light in the photo. This can change the mood of your photo quite dramatically, but you have to be careful not to make something really nasty, which certainly is possible. The goal is to make something pretty. What’s ‘pretty’ is subjective and is something you learn over time.

The difficult part is to understand the overall workflow and how to work with layers in Photoshop. What comes out of Photomatix Pro, does not really qualify as a final images. You have to make the last 20%-30% by mixing parts of the original images into the output image from Photomatix. You do that by using Layer Masks in Photoshop: Layers is, if not a strange concept, at least something that you have to learn how to work with and how to master. A number of shortcut keys, ways of working with opacity, pen of different sizes, white and black masks. It’s something you have to learn, but when you master it, you do “get it” you can use the same principles for many things.

I have learned a new way of working with layers. It’s kind of inverted. Instead of working on “white” masks, I have started to work on “black” masks. The huge advantage is that I don’t have to merge layers all of the time and this allows me to backtrack or change what I have done. This I can’t do, if I merge the layers. I will revise my HDR and Blending tutorials for this type of merging soon.

Using this inverted mode of working with Photoshop Layer Masks I find much easier to explain, which is a good thing, as I like to teach.

What would be the next steps

What 2½ hours let you do, is to run through the basics of an HDR work flow, but not really touch the more advanced topics, like double tone mapping etc. This would require more time.

I hope to get to do more of these HDR classes. It’s really something that I both learn a lot from but also find to be great fun!

About the photo

The photo is taken in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. A place that my friend who invited me the photo club also visited, just 25 years earlier. Photography takes you to many different paths, in different times, yet places stay the same, more or less.

2 thoughts on “My first HDR tutorial class – after throughts

Leave a Reply