Discussion about the use of HDR Photography

Article by Andrew Steel

This is a bit of a ramble and some follow up thoughts from last month’s input to HDR One.


I love what HDR can do and have been using this technique for the last 5 years on and off. For the first 4 years I kind of had this love/hate relationship with HDR. Whilst I really liked that the light could be balanced to enhance shadows and highlights, I often felt that the finished image was somehow false. The sky a little too blue, the grass a little too green or the impending storm that was never there with heavy heavy clouds. I could quite understand the views of the detractors of HDR and every so often would abandon the processing method in search of something purer. I really could not understand why after spending time developing an image when looking at it the following day I wasn’t happy with it. Just over a year ago this began to change. At the time I was admiring the work of some urbex photographers and decided that the look of some of these photographs was what I wanted to emulate. This completely changed the way that I took ‘pictures’. Before when taking a shot I would bracket just for the sake of it, knowing that I would bang it through some HDR software and come up with ‘something’. This was my big mistake, now I was looking at a scene and beginning to visualise what I wanted in the final image.

So starting with the shoot, before getting the camera out of the bag I will walk round and just enjoy the scene. I think that we can be so involved with taking pictures that we sometimes forget to appreciate properly our surroundings. Pretty soon I will get a feel for what I am looking for in the finished images, whether through sense of scale, architecture, texture or features. Also I feel it’s important to convey not just the image but a feeling of the location.

Into the shoot, for architecture I use three lenses (on an APSC sensor) an 8mm fish eye, a 10-18mm zoom and for detail an 18-55 kit lens, I will start off with the widest and work my way up, I find this works well as I notice more and more detail the longer I’m on a location and make a mental note to return to these later.

Processing, generally all of my HDR images are processed as a 32bit tiff. I do not use tonemapping software but prefer to edit images in Lightroom and Photoshop. I also use Silver Efex Pro2 to enhance textures and find it invaluable. Although when taking the initial picture I am already heading towards a finished image, it doesn’t mean that I have a bunch of presets or macros to run and ‘hey presto’ 2 minutes later I have a finished piece. Each image is edited as an individual and for a two hour shoot will probably spend up to 10 hours to get 5 finished images. The complexity of the processing can vary quite substantially, from some simple highlight, shadow and clarity adjustments in Lightroom to multi layer editing in Photoshop.

I’m a big fan of horror and science fiction and like to use photography to generate pictures with a spooky feel about them, this is where that first HDR image is more of a foundation to build on, being able to balance the light and shadows allows for some enhancing of texture that is normally lost. Often when working on this type of image during the processing stage I will darken the shadowed areas for after all, there’s always something lurking in those dark corners.

My most recent shoot was at Peterborough Cathedral and I am currently in the processing stage, this is the first processed image from that shoot:

The rest of this series will be appearing here over the next few days:  https://www.facebook.com/AndrewSteelPhotography

Well that really did turn into a bit of a ramble and if I had a point when I started writing this I guess it’s; for me I need to have an understanding of what I’m expecting to see in the finished image before pressing the shutter button.

My other works can be found here:




  • Chris Maskell

    I too fell into HDR as a result of shooting URBEX, before that I found shooting digital did not give me what I was used to from film.
    I soon found that a lot of URBEX HDR was very much in the same style and wanted something different and more natural looking.
    I still shoot HDR but not exclusively and will often shoot brackets and use a single RAW instead. HDR has given me a better insight into shooting digital and the importance of post in the creation of an image.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.dooley.31 Mike Dooley

    I know exactly how you feel Andrew, I fall in and out of love with HDR on a regular basis as well! Love your work, very clean!