In the past when photographers wanted to record a landscape or some other subject where important details were on one hand dramatically illuminated while others fell within deep shadow areas we were forced to compromise – to choose between exposing for those highlight areas of the picture or opening up important shadow detail with a longer exposure loosing all that highlight detail in the process.

Along came Photoshop and the ability to work with layer masks, allowing for a process of stacking multiple exposures we could hide or reveal portions of in order to build a composite that more closely resembled what our more sophisticated, built-in recording device – our eyes and our mind – are better able to realize. Regrettably, our mind's eye doesn't share with others so easily as the printed page or a backlit screen.

From the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century a number of resourceful individuals strove to devise methods combining multiple exposures on film into a final print, much like what Photoshop is better able to do now with layers and masks using a computer to generate the final image.

In the 1980's and 90's Greg Ward and Steve Mann produced methods that would kickstart the evolution of the imaging process we have only recently become more familiar with principally by way of the overly surreal HDR pictures that are all the latest rage of photoshopographers.

In "Practical HDR, A complete guide to creating High Dynamic Range images…" David Nightingale provides his readers a brief history of HDR imaging and goes on to explain how today's sophisticated digital SLR's contribute to a workflow for building HDRI's from within five applications he has been using in his imaging experience. He lays out a clear-cut, rational foundation from camera capture to image prep with a Raw editor and then comprehensively examines the mechanics of merging exposures. After that it's on to creating either a photorealistic or the more surreal "hyper-realistic" method of rendering a final output which seems to be what many folks refer to as HDRI's if you run a search on the Net.

I have somewhat half-heartedly been experimenting with both Photoshop and Photomatix over the past couple of years and established what I felt was a reasonable HDRI workflow on my own. I had always waited to fix imperfections like sensor spots, noise, chromatic aberrations and affecting White Balance in my rendered, merged HDR images. However, I learned from this book that it is best to do these things first, preprocessing a series in advance of putting photos through any HDR imaging software. There is much here for everyone, at any level of experience working with High Dynamic Range imaging as a part of their photography portfolio.

The author provides relevant screen captures of each application's workspace and controls with numerous beautifully reproduced images representing each step or method he outlines for working in each of the software packages and creative processes he explains in detail.

He provides a principally objective explanation of each, stressing that all have their individual strengths and weaknesses. (Thank you for that Mr. Nightingale. It is not at all uncommon for "experts" on any given subject to choose a favored product or methodology then filibuster for that One Way or the highway.)

I also admire the author's effort to include photographers' work besides his own in helping to illustrate the promise of creating remarkable images with the evolving technology.

Altogether a most worthwhile investment for anyone seriously considering this process of photo illustration!

(posted 4/26/12)

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