Experimental HDR – The Fritz Re-Lighting Method
HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography is an amazing technique that captures elements that a standard photograph cannot. It can be used to create a very surreal look or a very natural look, both displaying a wider spectrum of light than an average photograph can. I personally love the way HDR and tone mapping exaggerate and accent detail. To achieve the maximum amount of detail and other subtle nuances, I push my processing as far as I feel comfortable with (as far as I can go without those pesky Halos showing up) and I bet a lot of you reading this feel the same way. The one disadvantage of pushing your processing this far is that the image tends to appear somewhat flat. The shadows and highlights start to seem very even in tone. To resolve this issue, without sacrificing my precious detail that I worked so hard to achieve, I have come up with a very simple method that can be used in many different situations to enhance the visual impact of your HDR images.
Here are pictures from before and after the technique I’m about to present:
What you will need…
- A tone mapped HDR image
- Adobe Photoshop
- Hasselblad H4D Camera (Just kidding)
Step 1 – Open your image in Photoshop
Step 2 – Duplicate your background layer two times. (CTRL+J Windows – CMD+J MAC) You should now have 3 layers
Step 3 – Make it so that the only layer visible is the bottom layer, then create a Levels Adjustment Layer for that layer. To do this select the layer and click the half white half black circle at the bottom of the layers palette and select Levels. Drag the white “output levels” slider to the left so it is about half way (127). This number isn’t an exact figure. It will be different for every image.
Step 4 – Turn the layer above that on and create a layer mask HIDING it. ( a black mask ) Do this by selecting the layer and holding down the ALT key, sorry I’m not sure what that is on MAC, and clicking the mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.
Step 5 – Do the same thing to the layer above that one. Then turn the layer mode to “Screen”
Before I go any further I would like to put you in the correct mind-set for this technique.
What we have now are three layers, each with a different exposure quality to them. The bottom layer is dark, the middle layer is normal, and the top layer is bright. Sound familiar?
You can even name the three layers “Dark, Normal, Bright” if that is easier for you. The normal layer and the bright layer are hidden by layer masks. What you need to do from here is “light” paint them in very gradually and in specific areas that will make sense to your image. The main goal here is to intensify your shadows and highlights while retaining the details that your HDR image has.
Step 6 – Select your middle (normal) layer, and paint on the layer mask using a soft, white brush at a low opacity (or flow if you’re using a tablet) to reveal the areas of your image that you would like to accent while leaving the areas you would like to be in shadow.
Step 7 – Do the same with your top layer, except this layer is your brights. You can use this to accent spots of the image where the sun may be hitting or use it to further accent other areas of the image.
And that’s it! Pretty east right? Experiment, Experiment, Experiment!
This is a great way to turn an otherwise mundane photograph into a dynamically lit work of art. I use this technique in a lot of my work these days and I hope to see you do the same.
I have also used this to simulate light rays coming through trees and windows.
I would love to see your take on it, so if you would like to share it with me, send it to me! I’m looking forward to it.