In December 2010, I spent two days on an HDR photo-shoot of a Civil War battlefield in Murfreesboro, TN. I have shot some HDR images before this, but it’s safe to say that this was still one of my early forays into the HDR (High Dynamic Range) field.

If you’re not familiar with HDR photography, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

“In image processing, computer graphics, and photography, high-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI or just HDR) is a set of techniques that allow a greater dynamic range of luminancebetween the lightest and darkest areas of an image than current standard digital imaging techniques or photographic methods. This wide dynamic range allows HDR images to more accurately represent the range of intensity levels found in real scenes, ranging from direct sunlight to faint starlight.”

The reason some photographers use the HDR processing is today’s cameras cannot accurately capture images as the eyes see them. They fall short in properly exposing (exposure: amount of light falling on a subject) all elements in a composed photograph. HDR allows the opportunity to expose all those elements properly, and it usually results in some stunning photographs.
First: Some background on the Stones River National Battlefield. I chose this location for two reasons; first, proximity, but most important is the story, which is always my favorite part of any media.

The Stones River National Battlefield was the site for one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War in December 1862. 81,000 soldiers fought here and nearly 27,000 men never returned home. 148 years later (in December 2010), the memorial to their struggle still tells their story, and these photos capture a beautiful glimpse at some of the fields that were bloodied and equipment that was used during that battle. If you’d like to learn more, here are links to information about the Battle of Stone River and the National Park.

The timelapse at the top of the page shows the sun setting on the Stones River National Cemetery and features The Dirty Guv’nahs for background audio.

You can view the HDR gallery from my Stones River National Battlefield excursion on the newly-launched HDR Photography page.

The fun part about HDR processing for photos is the creative flexibility it allows. Compare these two images:

They were created using the same set of source images, yet with HDR processing, I can drastically change the look, tone, drama, and overall effect of the photo to say something completely different–and neither process here is wrong. The left photo is more realistic, just emphasizing bright spots and color. It has a very vibrant and alive feel. The right photo is much more dramatic, however, with its emphasis on the sky and more equal exposure across the frame.

As a last point, I want to mention understanding your intended purpose and audience in creating the right image. Let’s examine these three photographs.

Like the example above, all three of these images were created using the exact same source files. The only difference was how I processed them.

The first photo is a “full color” image that I actually like the most out of the entire shoot. It’s most appropriate purpose or audience is probably as a typical household centerpiece large print or decorative medium print. It’s not the most accurate representation of the subject or topic, but this image will have the widest appeal. That also doesn’t mean it’s the best image of the three, just the most appropriate for general or common display.

The second photo is a heavily desaturated color image. I feel like this image best represents the topic at hand: War. It’s much more bleak than the left photo and it holds more weight in telling the story of that cannon. This image would be appropriate for use in a Civil War book, display in a gallery show on war, or any medium that’s ultimate purpose is to tell the story of the war and give its audience the best visual immersion and representation possible.

The third photo is a very striking fully-desaturated black-and-white image. I must admit, an HDR B&W photo is absolutely arresting compared to a common B&W photo. This image has a much broader audience or potential purpose than the other two photos because many artistic individuals are drawn to the look of a B&W image. It is a popular style, and because HDR B&W is even more beautiful than standard B&W, I imagine this would draw in the popular crowd. It also evokes similar bleakness and seriousness that the second photo did, plus the historical (or “past”) look that black and white can often provide.

As you can see, audience and purpose can significantly effect how you post-process your photos. The gallery I provided was edited specifically for an online audience. If I were providing the images for any one of the purposes I detailed above, I’d make sure to further process and achieve an even more _______ (fill in the blank) look specifically for their intended audience and purpose.

Now, for those that want to know how I made these photos, I’ll give you a few nuggets, but I won’t walk you through step by step. I don’t want to quash your creative juices by giving you the path. Most of the creative process is being inspired and forging my own path.

Equipment: I used the Promote Control (B&H link) for capturing and bracketing my source images. I like to take seven bracketed images because this gives me a wide array of exposures and some room for error if I select a median exposure that is a stop or two off. I always shoot on my Canon 5D Mark II for stills and video these days.

Software: I purchased Photomatix Pro for this project, and I loved using it. It’s pretty straightforward, so I won’t provide much info on it here. I’ll definitely use it again in the future.

Thanks for stopping by…now, go create your own HDR images!

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