Ever wondered why the photographs you take with your DSLR during your vacations of those magical places differ from what you experience in reality? Read on to find how you can enhance them in 3 simple steps!

The moment you saw the photos of that magical landscape in the Travel Magazine, you knew you had to visit that place! Following months of planning and preparation, the much awaited day of vacation arrives. After a flight or two and some long hours by road, you finally reach your dream destination. You find it exactly like in the photos you saw and stand in awe at natures beauty. You take out your brand new DSLR and go shutter crazy. Then you come back, and eagerly browse the photos to upload in Social Media and share with friends and family. That is when you get the ultimate realisation – the photos you clicked of that magical location, pale in comparison (literally) to the photos you saw in the magazine and the image you have in your memory! Have you ever felt like this ? We did multiple times. So we did some research and found a way to bring photos alive!

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

Borrowing from Wikipedia – High-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI) is a  technique used in photography to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than is possible with standard photographic techniques. The aim is to present a similar range of luminance to that experienced through the human visual system. The human eye, through adaptation of the iris and other methods, adjusts constantly to adapt to a broad range of luminance present in the environment. The brain continuously interprets this information so that a viewer can see in a wide range of light conditions.HDR images can represent a greater range of luminance levels than can be achieved using more ‘traditional’ methods, such as many real-world scenes containing very bright, direct sunlight to extreme shade.

So basically, HDR Imaging helps recreate an image, similar to what you see with your eyes.  It has wider range of highlights and shadows, giving it more vibrance. Most DSLR Cameras cannot do this processing, from a single image taken in JPEG format.

Here is an example.This is the photo of the train Andean Explorer at La Raya station high in the Andes Mountains of Peru (Read more in Luxury on Wheels). Clicked with Canon 1200D.

If you have seen it in real life, like us, you’ll feel that this is barely a reproduction. Now see below –

Now we are talking! The above is a High Dynamic Range image, and is very close (slightly more visually dramatic) than what we experienced.

How do you create one ? Simple. You capture the scene in 3 different exposures (Or one image in RAW format), and combine the three with the help of a Software in your computer. That’s it! Here are more details of the same.

Step 1 : Prepare your DSLR Camera for Auto-Exposure-Bracketing (AEB).

Taking images in 3 exposures without changing the frame of vision is not easy – unless you have a Tripod. However, you can’t take that everywhere, nor it is practical to change setting after each image. So you rely on your camera to do it for you automatically. In your Camera settings find the option for Exposure Compensation and adjust AEB to take images corresponding to 0, +2 & -2 exposure. Then select continuous shooting option for taking pictures.

Adjusting the Exposure Comp & AEB

For Canon DSLR users, refer to this guide – How to use Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB)

Step 2 : Compose your image and click three times with minimal movement

Compose your image first. HDR works best when there is minimal movement in frame. The images are superimposed one over the other in the software and it will compensate for minimal variations to align, but cant do much beyond that. So unless you want ghost images or further processing , stick to stationary frames.

If you have Continuous shooting enabled, keep the shutter clicked till 3 images are shot by the Camera. Otherwise, click 3 times. It will first shoot the Normal Exposure image, Darker One followed by the Brighter one. Note that this setting remains in Canon Cameras till you either switch it off or disable it. If you take one image, change the frame and click another photo after first click, it will become dark. So be careful!

Step 3 : Load images in Computer and use Imaging Software to create HDR Image

Transfer images to your PC/Laptop. If you have Mac, the best software for HDR is Aurora HDR, which I use. Otherwise you can use Photoshop, which is a bit more complex.

After installing Aurora HDR in Mac, Open the three Images, click on Create HDR. 

Load the 3 images with varying exposures.

Select Align and Click to create HDR. After a few seconds, you get the following.

You can use the many Preset settings or adjust on your own to create desired effect.

If you are a Windows user, the option is Photoshop. The three steps, though not simple as above are as follows :

  1. Go to File -> Automate -> Merge to HDR Pro
  2. Select the 3 Files to Merge and set the Exposures
  3. Adjust Settings to get desired results (Try Presets first)

Unfortunately, I do not have success yet in reproducing the same effect as Aurora HDR using Photoshop, but you can do more research and try, as the Basic concept is the same.

Here are some of our Favourite HDR images.


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