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HDR - High Dynamic Range Photography [Clouds]

As promised (eek- over three years ago!), here is my next HDR journal entry!

(taken with a Canon 5D MK II, 28-300 Tamron)

(taken with a Canon 5D MK II, 90mm Tamron)


As mentioned in my previous journal entry, motion is definitely a factor when it comes to capturing clouds in HDR. For best results, if your HDR involves multiple exposures, photograph distant clouds, so motion is less pronounced.

Even if things are moving around a bit, most processing will look just fine. However, programs such as Photomatix have automated pre-processing which gives you a choice of “match features” or “adjust for shifts”. Too much motion in clouds, particularly if they are a primary feature of the image, will result in the clouds being stable if you choose “match features”, and everything else not. This will give a multiple-exposure effect to your trees, buildings, horizon, people, etc… all because the clouds moved.

So, if clouds truly are your primary subject, choose “adjust for shifts” which looks at more prominent features such as the horizon. Here’s an example:

As with standard photography, a neutral density or polarized filter adds quite a lot of detail to clouds. However, HDR, and its close cousin the “Orton effect” will have very similar results to using these filters.

Don’t be seduced by your cloudscape; sometimes making the clouds more dramatic will also result in two common problems with HDR processing: halos and spotlighting. Halos, seemingly desirable to some from an artistic perspective, are a result of what I consider to be “overdone” HDR processing. Pushing the gamma or lighting when working on an HDR too far will give you this obvious effect, and I work carefully to limit its appearance on my images.

“Spotlighting” is the result of HDR’s tendency to over-exaggerate your lens optics. My preferred digital lens is a Tamron 28-300 VC- a wonderful all-purpose lens for landscape and macro work. However, it tends to collect just a bit more light right in the center (as many lenses do). HDR exaggerates this, and you end up with a bright spot in the middle of your image. Careful use of your software can limit this… de-vignette, raising the white level, and using smoothing such as that offered by photomatix, will help. In Photoshop or Aperture, this can be corrected with the Levels adjustment. Sometimes, however, your choice of lens can make all the difference in the world. I’ve discovered that so-called “pancake” lenses tend to collect light more evenly across their field. If you shoot digital with a Canon, as do I, then invest in the
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens … which, because of its simple optics, is an excellent companion for your HDR photography.There are similar lenses for every DSLR out there. I even use a Hexanon pancake for my Konica film camera.

Here’s an example of an image shot using the 40mm pancake on a Canon 5D MK II, converted to HDR, and then desaturated to black and white… notice the range of lighting in the clouds:

I welcome comment and discussion… what are your best practices and processes when creating HDR cloudscapes?

Journal Comments

  • Yannik Hay
  • Bill Wetmore
  • Bill Wetmore
  • Bill Wetmore
  • Jola Martysz
  • Bill Wetmore
  • Bill Wetmore
  • Bill Wetmore