HDR Photography is allowing for more and more conceptual compositions to be composed. There are a few different ways you can approach making HDR images. You can shoot to produce the ultra surreal images with bright and vivid colors or make images that show a more dynamic range of shadows, high lights, and mid tones all in one image. Such software as Photomatix allows for the ease of tone mapping which produces the contrasted colors. However, tone mapping produces the surreal look that does command a visual examination of the photograph, but the problem with tone mapping is it compresses the image to allow for the contrast, which causes a decrease in the dynamic range.
I prefer to use Photomatix to process my HDR images. Depending on what I am shooting I make the choice before I even get to the computer as to which look I am going for. For a client I produce images that are more realistic and have a greater dynamic range in the shadows, high lights and mid tones. For my personal work it is a 50/50 depending on the composition and the scene/location for which I am shooting.
The next biggest factor I consider when approaching ANY HDR image is the quality of light. Below are two examples of HDR images, same location, same subject, but photographed at different times.
The first image was made about 12pm The second image as shot nearly 3 hours later.
The image on the left is cooler than the image on the right. The warm tones of the image on the right make for a more aesthetically pleasing composition. I favor the image on the right because of the warmth that it exhibits. The time of day I would most likely choose to shoot this scene reflects the image on the right. In post production you could adjust the image on the right by adding a warm tone filter to it or by changing the color balance and make it a little bit warmer. You just do not get the same quality of image by using a post production method for making the image.
Recently I hung a small collection of HDR prints for a small exhibition in our studio. A guest pointed out that it appears that most of my images were made during or around the same time of day. It was easy to explain why it appeared that way. The time of day was favored for making photographs. The type of light that I was able to work with best suited the quality of the image. It is true that there is a favorable time to make photographs. The Golden Hour, the first and last hour sunlight during the day, when you can produce images that give a warm feel. This quality of light can yield some aesthetically pleasing images that when photographed earlier in the day might not. This time of day also allows for a much greater dynamic range, (not to be confused with the definition of HDR) in the light as well as the composition. Which also contributes to making photographs that give a much more pleasing look and feel to them.
These are a few things I factor in when establishing a composition. Especially when setting up for an image that uses HDR to further enhance the visual quality. Some of the greatest HDR Images that I have seen are made during the early morning hours or the evening hours. My friend Barry, who owns FreePhotoResources, doest quite a bit of photography in the early morning hours, as well as at night.
Here, Barry’s image works great with the use of cool tones. The quality of light that he has photographed reflects the season in which the photograph has been made. The use of cool tones really exemplifies the quality of the image. The long exposure and dragging of the clouds produces a magical feeling. This image is in contrast to what I discussed earlier about the quality of light, however he made it work very well in this image.
He has a number of great tutorials devoted to HDR photography. As well as a small reference to the Golden Hour. Barry makes great use of the golden hour. He has produced some fantastic images following these principals about quality of light and the right time of day to make striking images. Its very simple, go out before sunset and capture the golden hour as it comes into play. Make sure you have a great composition and location planned out. Three times a week I make a commute that is very early in the morning. Each day the sun is out and there is a frost on the ground the light produces some very scenic images that command your attention. I am planning on photographing the landscape this week. It is prior viewing of this scene that allows me to further plan out the shoot. I know the right time of day and the right quality of light needed to capture the mood I want to convey photographically. Taking some time to plan out your photographs makes a world of a difference. Of course we all know that planning things out can change in 1/45th of a second.