Anytime I find an easy to understand and wonderfully organized article on photography tips and trends, I like to pass it along to you. Here's a good one written by Terence Starkey. As always, should you have any questions, no concern is too small. Enjoy!

The rise of consumer priced digital SLR cameras has generated a great new following in photography. Amateur photographers find they now have more control over their photographs and ample opportunity to experiment outside the ‘point and shoot’ mentality. No longer do they have to wait until the whole roll of film has been exposed and then processed, often finding that the exposure wasn’t right on that one, or it was out of focus on another. Now the shots can be viewed immediately and appropriate corrective steps taken at relatively little cost. No longer ‘a moment lost’.

 "Chicago Dusk" captured by Mark Feliciano

This rise in popularity of photography has also spawned many post-processing computer applications. Admittedly some were around before the digital age, but many more have been born into the age, and one particular post processing methodology – HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is rapidly gaining in popularity.

High Dynamic Range (HDR), as the name suggests, attempts to extend the light and tonal range of images taken under normal conditions. Once a balanced HDR image is compared with the original shot, the results are often outstanding. 

When someone is showing off photographs, have you ever heard the expression, “You just had to be there"? What they are really saying is that their camera just cannot compete with the human eye when capturing the total range of light and dark areas in an image. 

OK - so it is about light – right? So why don’t we take more than one shot of the same scene at different shutter speeds and then combine them in a way to get the best of all of them? That is exactly what we do to prepare for HDR processing. 

Here are the requirements and steps to generate an HDR image.


1. A good quality SLR camera capable of taking shots at different shutter settings. If you have a camera with a bracketed function and multiple shot capability, with a quick scan through the manual you will find out how to take say three shots of the same scene – one at normal exposure, one say two stops below normal, and another two stops above.

2. A sturdy tripod. If you are going to be taking multiple shots it will help if there is as little camera movement as possible between shots.

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: for you perfectionists out there, a tripod is an absolute necessity. HOWEVER, please feel free to experiment. Maybe you'll discover a cool process or effect by blurring some aspect of the image (water? flowers? sky?) .... who knows?]

3. A high contrast scene. HDR works best here. An HDR photograph of a grey card will always be just a grey card, but one of a threatening thundercloud formation over a sunlit landscape can make one drool!

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: this means that it's one of those times when exposing your camera to the noon day sun, (i.e. not the 'golden hour'), may not be such a bad idea after all.]

 "Magical Streams" captured by Jim K.

4. You will need some HDR processing software. I use Photomatix. It has good reviews and I get good results out of it. It is also very flexible in generating images from the surreal to the sublime.

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: I use a great software program (recommended by Tashia Peterman) called HDR PhotoStudio 2]. 

5. You will need some time to learn and experiment. It doesn’t all happen by magic – you do actually have to work at it.

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: Yes! And this is where every ounce of your creative juices are put to the test. More on this in later notes. The key is to experiment and try not to fall in love with every wild bit of saturation that appears.] 


1. Find a high contrast scene. 

 [NOTE by Mark Jordan: please keep in mind this one aspect is what separates the professional from the amateur. Yes, HDR can make you look like a pro, but just not any ole' high contrast scene will do. Scour the area for something that tickles your eye, touches your heart, or intrigues your mind - or something that has the real potential too engender these responses in others once you've worked your magic].

  2. Place your camera on a tripod and if possible use a remote control to operate the shutter. Also if you are shooting with a remote, cover the eyepiece. 

 [NOTE by Mark Jordan: and if you really finicky, you may also want to lock your mirror in the "up" position.]

3. Preferably set your camera to shoot RAW images. These images will contain so much more exposure detail than JPG.

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: This is cannot be overstated. RAW is the ONLY way to go. I won't even bother creating a HDR image if my capture was not in RAW. If you want to know more, just ask...]. 

4. Set the camera to aperture priority. This will maintain the aperture setting to your chosen value and vary the shutter speed to obtain different exposures without upsetting depth of field.

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: personally, I prefer to create all my exposures manually. Generally speaking, I select first my aperture (depending on what sort of depth of field I want), then look in my viewfinder to see what my camera advises for the shutter setting, and then use my noggin to determine what reflective lie my camera is buying into, and adjust accordingly. For me, this more about the art and experience of photography]. 

5. Set the camera to manual focus and focus on your scene.

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: personally, I trust my Canon D5 Autofocus much more than my eye].

6. If possible select Auto Exposure Bracketing from your camera menu options, and select multiple shot mode.

7. Take your three shots.

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: As noted previously, create an exposure 2 stops over, one right on and 2 stops over. ALSO, if you have a great exposure sitting around in your files with but no bracketed images, try creating the needed exposures in Lightroom - you'll be stunned at what you can create!]. 

8. Back home, download your photographs and import them into an HDR processing application. Generate the HDR (which will look awful on the limited capabilities of your monitor), and then tone map the HDR to your liking. There it is!

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: I use both Lightroom to PRE-tweak my colors and then merge and tweak more in HDR PhotoStudio 2].

Note: if you don’t have bracketing or multiple shot then you will have to manually change the shutter speed between shots – but don’t move the camera!


1. Good side.: spectacular images can be produced with the right scene and the right tone mapping.

2. Good side: the process is simple and flexible – you are the maestro!

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: yes, it is 'simple' if compared to something like 'bull-fighting.' However, don't fool yourself into thinking 'anyone' can do it. Sure, anyone can follow the recipe, but an artist is one who intuitively knows when and how far to wonder from the prescribed formula. You will be presented with thousands of choices, each affecting the look and feel of your image. My only suggestion here is to think in small increments, and more often than not, less is more. Trust your gut too. If something does not quite feel right - you're probably right.] 

3. Good side: it lends a ‘fresh string to your bow’.

 "Rail Car" captured by Michael Price

4. Bad side: it takes time to get it right. It’s a bit like riding a bike. You get the basics weighed off and then you start on the tricks.  

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: enjoy the process - it's actually the fun and a large part of why we are photographers.]
5. Bad side (well - a consideration): not all images lend themselves to HDR imaging. High contrast images work best.

6. Bad side: HDR will always introduce a degree of noise into your images. This looks like grainy film. However, this issue has been recognized and some noise can actually add a special effect. Should you want to limit or remove noise, there are software applications to do just that - "Noiseware," is one of them.

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: HDR PhotoStudio 2 has this feature built-in - sweet!]

7. Bad side: you can go completely overboard with HDR and produce some of the most hideous images imaginable. Take it easy and focus on creating an image that you feel truly represents what you – or your eye, was seeing.

[NOTE by Mark Jordan: Point #7 cannot be overstated. For every one HDR image I create and like, there are probably a dozen I toss and remove any evidence that it ever existed...]

8. As stated previously, not every HDR image will turn out a success so be patient and learn.

About the Author
Hi, I’m Terence Starkey. I am a long time camper and a keen photographer especially when out camping. I have made several modifications to my camper to make life easier and I have included some photographs and drawings there. On the site I have a photograph gallery of special shots and a selection of my favourite HDR images. If you would like to know more use the Contact Us page on the site.

©Photosical - the photographic, philosophical observations of Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan



Mark Jordan Photography specializes in crafting stunning contemporary, traditional, classic, and storytelling family portraits (high school seniors, children portraits, babies, maternity, pregnancy), headshots and pets. Mark Jordan, a Photography Hall of Fame photographer in Rancho Santa Margarita and provides portrait photography throughout Orange County. The portrait studio also serves San Diego County and Inland Empire. Studio Photography Services are also provided in Riverside County and Los Angeles County. Local Cites where photography studio services are offered are in Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Brea, Costa Mesa, Coto de Caza, Cypress, Dana Point, Dove Canyon, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Ladera Ranch, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Northwood, Orange, Orange Park Acres, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster, Yorba Linda, Corona del Mar, Murrieta, Murrieta Hot Springs, Quail Valley, Riverside, Temecula, Winchester, Woodcrest, Chino Hills, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Montclair, Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, Coronado, Del Mar, Escondido, La Mesa, Oceanside, San Diego, San Marcos, Solana Beach, Vista, Carmel Mountain Ranch, Rancho San Diego, Rancho Santa Fe, and San Diego Country Estates, Turtle Rock, Shady Canyon. Portrait Photographers everywhere (photographers in O.C. as well) are welcome to contact our portrait studio for mentoring/guidance.