A short guide to High Dynamic Range photography

A lot of people have never heard of HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, but those who have are often divided as to whether it's "true" photography, or just a cheap post-processing trick. While it's most definitely the wrong way to go about getting a natural-looking photograph, when done well, this new technique can bring an amazing degree of luminosity and contrast to landscapes and portraits, as well as being an interesting way to overcome problematic lighting - particularly sunsets.

In simple terms, HDR photographs are a composite of three or more shots of the same subject, each taken at different exposures. These are then combined to produce a much wider tonal range than a single photograph usually contains, using software like Adobe Photoshop CS2 or HDRsoft Photomatix Pro. As you can see from Figure 1, the results can be pretty striking.

You'll find the trial of Photomatix Pro and three of the shots I used to create this panorama of Sydney Harbour Bridge on the Cover Disc of the October 2006 issue of PC World Magazine, so you can try it out for yourself. There will also be instructions for Photoshop CS2 owners. Please note that these images are for non-commercial purposes only and credit must be given if you use them for anything else.

Where to begin

You'll need a camera that offers a full manual mode (i.e. lets you set both aperture and shutter speed) and a tripod. Because you'll be shooting numerous exposures of the same scene, you can't really take shots of subjects that are moving, unless you want them to look blurred and shifted in the final product - which is why HDR photography is generally reserved for landscapes or static portraits. Look for subjects with a wide range of lighting; HDR is particularly useful at overcoming poorly-lit interiors with bright windows (like cathedrals and stained glass), or cloudscapes where you want to expose the land as well as the sky (which would normally involve the use of a graduated neutral density filter).

Frame and focus your shot with the camera on the tripod and set it to the aperture you want for the scene's depth of field (deeper is better for HDR landscapes), then pick the shutter speed that gives you the "normal" exposure that you'd usually aim for. Use manual focus, and use either a remote control or the timer to activate the shutter without moving the camera.

Drop the shutter speed down a couple of notches for the next image, and then set it two notches higher than the original for the final shot. You can add more shots to the process by repeating the process, taking the exposure two stops further each time. If your camera supports it, you can use exposure bracketing of +/- 2 stops to automatically take three shots at differing exposures. Just bear in mind that you'll typically get better results with more exposures, which requires the use of the full manual method.

Note: While you can change the exposure settings using aperture settings instead of shutter speed, this may affect the depth of field, causing blurry results. If you intend to use exposure bracketing, be aware that some cameras adjust the aperture for this feature.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Laurence Grayson

PC World
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?