HDR, the Fine Art of Cheating

An HDR Photo Tour of Bahrain Fort

I wanted to share some insights related to HDR imaging using my experiences at Bahrain Fort, a Crusades era archaeological site near Manama in the Kingdom of Bahrain. I was lucky to spend some time here during and after sunset and managed to capture some images that give a sense of the time and space in this medieval castle.

Bahrain Fort after sunset

Bahrain Fort from just outside the walls in the soft golden hour light just after sunset

Once the sun set, and the lights can on, the stone walls and narrow corridors took on a magical quality. In some cases the lighting was easily captured in a single well exposed shot, but in many instances, the dynamic range of the scene was impossible to capture fully in one exposure without losing important detail in either the highlights or the shadows. Even scenes that fit just inside the dynamic range of the camera’s sensor benefit from an HDR approach with multiple exposures.

Arches, Bahrain Fort

This image is the result of a "Faux HDR" treatment in Lightroom - notice the dark halos at the top of the nearest arch.

The image above was a single exposure that received aggressive Fill Light and Recovery slider settings in Lightroom to simulate the look of HDR imagery. You can see the telltale dark halos around the bright area of sky that is seen through the arch at the top of the frame. The Lightroom sliders to achieve the compressed tone effect look like this:

Lightroom Slider Settings

These settings compress the range and force contrast into the midtones to achieve a simulation of the classic HDR look.

A reasonably well exposed image can often tolerate extreme slider settings and render enhanced detail through the range but this approach does not deliver exactly the same quality as a true HDR, multi-shot image. The following image was taken after stepping forward past the first arch—three exposures were made, handheld, in rapid succession and then blended using the Nik HDR Efex Pro plugin.

Arches at Bahrain Fort HDR

This true HDR shot does not exhibit the exaggerated dark halos and shows more detail in the spotlit regions.

As the light faded into darkness, the need for multiple exposures increased. The dramatic lighting was too contrasty for good single exposures most of the time. I have a custom setting for my Canon 5D mk2 that auto brackets +- 2 stops around the chosen exposure in as rapid a sequence as possible given the shutter speed. I’ve had good success taking hand held HDR shots this way and relying on HDR software to auto-allign the images.

Castle Wall, Bahrain Fort

The HDR image captures the rapidly fading blue light with the warm glow of the spotlights on the wall.

 

Castle Wall in B&W

The Nik HDR Efex Pro plugin has options for B&W and edges that can contribute a lot to a final print.

Castle Interior

Interior scenes can have the same extreme dynamic range and an HDR capture is often justified.

The trick with HDR is deciding how much compression to tolerate. I could have captured more detail in the lit doorway above but I think it would have destroyed the drama of the lighting. I blended back most of the original light, from one of the exposures in that area to preserve the glow effect.

Arches return, HDR B&W

A final shot of the arches at night captures full detail the extreme range without destroying the mood of mystery.

Stay tuned for a detailed PDF tutorial on my website. In the meantime, you can see more of my HDR and faux HDR images of Bahrain Fort on my Flickr page.

 

 

 

 

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