Now a days when the subject of HDR comes up, most people fall into two categories; those who like it and think it’s interesting, and those who hate it with every fiber of their being. Now I admit there are more than a few HDR images I’ve seen that are . . . hard to look at. I have more than once “over cooked” an HDR image myself. This piece though is aimed at people who like HDR; sorry haters, maybe next time. For the uninitiated, HDR, (High Dynamic Range) is an image created by the blending of multiple exposures of an image. When done properly, the finished product can produce exciting results.
The process for creating Infrared HDR is similar in many ways to creating natural color HDR images, however there some differences. Let’s go thru the steps from the start.
Capture Bracketed Images
Most cameras have the ability to shoot brackets of images, usually in sets of 3, 5, or 7 exposures. Often it is called AEB (auto exposure bracketing). This allows you to push the button and capture multiple exposures. The brackets you select to capture is your decision, but an easy rule of thumb I use is:
3 exposures – set 1 stop over and under each way.
5 or 7 exposures – set 1/3 to 1/4 stop each way.
Another thing to consider is the length of your longest exposure. If you are shooting your brackets hand held, make certain you can hold the camera steady for every exposure. Most people can keep a camera steady down to 1/60th of a second. Below that the images start to get blurry. That leads us to the next point.
Use a Tripod when possible
I know there are times when carrying a tripod around is something you’d rather not do, but you have the potential for better finished images if you use one. There are many light weight tripods that easily fit into a camera bag. With a tripod, you can capture longer exposures which will give your images more potential. This image would not have been possible without a tripod.
When a tripod isn’t possible I suggest carrying something like the Manfrotto pocket support. It will support a fullsize DSLR. The image below was made using the pocket support and then placing it on a flat spot in the center of the room.
Let’s be honest though, there are times neither of those are possible. When that happens, just brace yourself, hold your breath and try it. The image below was complete and total luck. I was eating my lunch when a horse walked up close to me. I sat my sandwich down, grabbed my camera and …. got lucky. Never discount luck.
This leads us to the next point, the exposures.
I have found in my experience that a set of bracketed images that are slightly underexposed makes for a better Infrared HDR image than a set that is over exposed. Here’s a couple of examples of 3 exposure IR HDR images, with the 3 brackets used.
The next step is creating the HDR image.
Convert RAW files before making HDR
With natural color images, it’s not unusual to work directly from the RAW files when blending the images. With Infrared, you will need to convert your RAW files to JPGs or TIFFs first. Set your White Balance on the RAW file and then convert it.
Channel swap after Blending
There are quite a few programs out there for HDR, and I’m not going to go thru them all, but I suggest waiting until you have blended your Infrared exposures before doing your channel swapping. The color tones tend to look better.
Don’t over do it
It’s very easy to over do it when creating an HDR image. Often the process of working the image is enjoyable, and we just “keep going”, when we shouldn’t. When in doubt, go with less rather than more. Try several versions of the same image. If you can get an impartial second opinion, do it.
As is the case with any photography, what you create is subjective. It’s your art and at the end if you are satisfied, then you succeeded.