Step Up Your Landscape Photography Game With These HDR Tips
Landscape Photography Long Exposure Photography
May 25, 2018

A year after I had heard the term HDR, I actually got to know the unabbreviated form of it. Another couple of years later, when I got into serious photography, did I actually understand the meaning of High Dynamic Range. This might be familiar to a lot of you. Well, so what is this high dynamic range? 


In a landscape shot, you have varying exposures at different parts of your frame. For example, the sky is too bright compared to the mountains. The trees will appear dark. The rest of the landscape might have medium tonality. No matter how good your camera is, it is not possible to capture this entire range of exposure tonalities perfectly in a single shot. 


The solution to this is by taking multiple shots of the same frame, each different from the other by a certain number of stops of light. For example, take a shot with each of the following settings (these are sample settings just for an example and not to be taken as a formula).


  • Shot 1: Aperture f/8 Shutter speed 1/400 sec ISO 100 (-4 stops)


  • Shot 2: Aperture f/8 Shutter speed 1/100 sec ISO 100 (-2 stops)


  • Shot 3: Aperture f/8 Shutter speed 1/100 sec ISO 400 (proper exposure)


  • Shot 4: Aperture f/8 Shutter speed 1/100 sec ISO 1600 (+2 stops)


  • Shot 5: Aperture f/8 Shutter speed 1/25 sec ISO 1600 (+4 stops)


These images then combined in the processing software to produce the final image which now has the entire dynamic range properly captured.





Let’s take a look at 5 ways to improve your HDR landscape photography:


1. Stability Of Your Shots


A tripod is almost mandatory to shoot these images. Of course, there are other alternatives in case you forget to carry one. You need to take multiple shots of the exact same frame and hence you cannot do it handheld. 


If you don’t get the exact same frame in each of the shots, the camera or your post-processing tool will not be able to merge the images properly. There is absolutely no scope of shakes in HDR photography. Hang a bag of sand from the middle leg of your tripod, if possible to stabilise it further.


2. Shoot In Manual Mode:


HDR is actually an automated mode in your camera. The corresponding manual mode is the bracketing feature. In this, you will have the option to shoot in raw as well. Shooting in raw will enable you to bring alive your image in post-processing. 


Choose the number of images you want to take. Typically it is between 3 to 5 images each with a specific gap of exposure values between them. Once you get the shots in raw, you will have huge control over the image during post-processing.


3. Composition:


Well, we are back to that aspect of photography that actually brings about the difference. No matter how good your camera is, or how fine your processing skills are, it is composition and composition alone that will make heads turn. 


Try to show the drama in the sky. Bring in all the colour contrasts nature has to offer. There are a lot of colour conflicts in landscape shots. Reproducing the actual colours is the key to making the perfect landscape shot. With the help of very slow shutter speed, you can bring in an entirely different perspective too. 


The other option is to change the angle of the shot. Try shooting from ground zero level to introduce the majestic feeling into your image.





4. Motion Blur:


This is one of my favorite genres of photography. With the help of very slow shutter speeds, you can introduce a lot of drama in the images. Movement of the clouds, the flowing water all contribute to the making of a motion blur image. The conflict of nature comes to the fore in this type of photographs. 


A tripod is a must for these kinds of shots.  You may also require an ND filter to reduce the light entering the camera since the slow shutter speed will introduce a lot of excess light.


5. Post Processing:


Post-processing is absolutely mandatory in digital photography. It can actually make or break your image. No matter how powerful your camera sensor is, a complete replication of the actual environmental conditions through the lens is highly farfetched. Hence, post-processing steps forward. 


Ideally, I would like to start processing an image by reducing the highlights and recovering the details that were lost due to too much brightness. Once highlights are tuned, I recover details from the shadows. Increase the contrast a little to bring about the punch in the image. 


Change the saturation and vibrancy according to your taste and your image is almost done. However, in the case of multiple exposure shots, you can initially merge the shots into a single frame by using the hdr merging feature available in Lightroom. Once done, follow the above processing steps to make your final image.


However, the real challenge is knowing when to stop touching the various sliders in the processing tool. You have to replicate the actual colours of nature without overdoing it. Operating with several sliders, we often have the tendency to change too much. This leads to a high over-processed image that not only looks artificial but has amateurishly written all over it!







HDR images look brilliant when shot and processed properly. However, there is a very fine line between brilliance and amateurish. You will need to know how not to tread past that line. This will automatically come to you with a lot of practice. 


Get your image reviewed by experienced photographers. Shoot a lot of HDR shots both with the auto HDR function and the manual bracketing option, and explore for yourself what you are comfortable doing. At the end of the day, it is going to be the image on a display that matters!

Landscape Photography Long Exposure Photography
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