The picture to the left is a stunning Photograph of the chalk cliffs at Dieppe in France. There's nice vivid colour, dramatic clouds and a nice balance between, sand, sky and the cliffs. It was taken on my entry level Kodak Point and Shoot model. As a photo, It couldn't be much better, or could it? High Dynamic Range Photography started out as an editing technique, in which several photographs of the same scene with different exposures are blended together to produce one unbelievable result. High end bridge cameras like Fuji's HS10/20 and Kodak's Z990 have a HDR facility built in that takes 3 images of the same subject at different exposures and blends them together in camera. It utilises a technique called Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) found on many mid range Point and Shoots, but you don't need AEB to do HDR. The above image was taken on Auto mode, just one single photo. But we can cheat a little little using Windows Live Photo Gallery, and an easy to use  free download called FDR Tools Basic.

Browse to www.fdrtools.com and click on 'FDR Tools Basic' in the blue column to the left of the page, then click the green download button and choose the link for your operating system. In the download box that appears choose the 'Save File' option and download it to your hard drive. Scan the file with your anti-virus programme, and then double click it to install it. Follow the prompts and install the programme. A desktop icon will be created, but don't run it yet. Instead, click Windows Explorer and browse to your pictures library, and select the folder the image you want to use. We'll use my photo of Dieppe above. Once you've opened the image, click the 'Edit, organise or share' tab to open the image.

We need to create two extra exposures of this image. One should be light, one dark. To do this we need to move the Brightness and Contrast sliders either left or right. Moving Brightness left darkens the image, whilst a move to the right lightens it. Moving Contrast Left has the effect of lowering the contrast  level, (lightens the image) and the other direction increases (darkens) it. You can move both sliders in the same direction, but you get more dramatic end  results by moving them in opposite ways. Move Brightness fully left and Contrast fully right, then click 'Make a copy'. The 'Save' dialogue box appears, and the default is always the original filename with (2) after the name but before the extension. Click 'Save' and when it's saved click 'Revert to original' and click to confim this. Next we need to darken the image. Swap the positions of the sliders, and click 'Make a copy' again. This time it will be named as (3) still keeping the original name. When it's saved we need to revert to the original again, and then click the right arrow in the top left of the screen to save the original. It loads the next image, which is not needed, so we can close the gallery .

Double click the FDR Tools icon and you'll get three windows, the main window looks like the picture on the right. All previous projects are shown, but as it's your first time then click the box which says 'One', then click the '+' icon and to add images, then select the original image and repeat with the other two images. You'll notice that there are tick marks by the 'Prepare' and 'Render' buttons. As it's the free basic version, these options are automatically handled for you by default. Don't untick them, the programme won't function without them.


Click the edit button, and you'll see the screen on the left, along with a preview in the main image window. The three images are in the main window (left) with a Histogram next to it and the HDR preview of all 3 blended is in the window on the right.. The histogram looks like a series of blue peaks. The preview as it stands is a default preview and the HDR is not dynamic. You can drag the lines on each histogram to change the overall effect to your taste, as the images have already been optimised for us. There's four buttons at the top as well as five boxes. We'll keep things simple. For bold vivid colur click 'Color+' to give it a boost. Now click the box at the top marked 'Tone Mapping'. 

You'll now see a histogram with sliders above it. The two we are most interested are the bottom two , 'Black Point' and 'White Point.' Sliding Black Point to the right will give really deep contast without darkening the overall image, but shadow detail will be lost if you move it too far. White Point enhances the light areas, without affecting the dark areas too much. Go too far left and you'll get cool effect that's similar to what Andy Warhol used to great effect on his famous Campbell's Soup collage, or what the B.B.C. cameramen did on 'Top Of The Pops'. However, it looks more like a drawing than a photograph.Move it fully right and the screen goes black. Conversely, moving Black Point fully left whitens the image. It's a matter of taste, but vivid colours and deep contrasts look great. Dark clouds stand out, blue skies,sunsets and grass are vivid, whilst water takes on a fantastic mystical effect where reflections are heightened.

'Dynamic Range' Heightens the whole effect, and 'Exposure' is just as it's name suggests. You can also add more colour using the 'Saturation' slider below the histogram. It's all a matter of personal taste. Set it up the way you want. Experimentation is the key here.  

Clicking 'Save' opens a new dialogue box. In the 'Save image as' box click browse, and rename the file. May I suggest just adding 'hdr' (lower case) after the file name but before the extension. Then click the arrows on 'File Type' and choose your preferred type. The default is '.tiff' which gives the best quality for everyday use and printing, but cannot be uploaded to many social networking sites including Facebook. The best file type for everyday use is 'Joint Photographics Expert Group (.jpeg) which most cameras save images as. If you're using this format, click the JPEG Quality button, and set the quality. It's a percentage, and the default is 80%. Compression gives a smaller file size with a lower quality image, so move it up to 100% for the slightest possible quality loss. All that is left to do is to click save at the bottom right of the box.  The finished file might look a little different in your image editor. If you don't like it, you can use your editor to tweak it slightly. You can always re-open FDR Tools and scroll down to the relevant project and click 'Edit' again.  To close the project click 'Projects 'in the very top menu and click 'Save Active' and then click 'Close Active'. Below are a few examples of what was done with first the photograph pictured above. Click the images to view each photo.

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