HDR Cookbook – Introduction

Welcome to the HDR Cookbook – a primary resource for HDR photographers.

The HDR Cookbook is a free collection of practical, in-depth tutorials (I call them recipes) on High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography and some variants like HDR Panorama and Vertorama photography. It extends far beyond the contents of many websites and books on this subject by giving hands-on information on professional shooting and post-processing techniques.

This article gives a very brief introduction to HDR photography for those who are new to the field. Following that, I describe the motivation and the history of the HDR Cookbook and finally, I give you two alternative way to start your journey through farbspiel-photo.com.

After reading this introduction, you should go straight to the Requirements and to the Contents sections.

HDR in a Nutshell

Typical source images of an HDR image

In a nutshell, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range – a technique for capturing scenes whose dynamic range (difference between the brightest and the darkest areas) is too high for the camera’s sensor. Not all areas of such a the scene can be exposed correctly in a single exposure. An HDR software combines multiple photos of the scene into a single image. Usually, one of the photos is exposed correctly (0EV), one is underexposed (-2EV), and one is overexposed (+2EV) as in the images above. As a result of combining the three, all areas of the image are exposed correctly.

The normal HDR workflow starts by merging the exposures into a single 32-bit image using an HDR software (e.g. Photomatix). This image cannot be properly printed or displayed on a normal monitor due to its high dynamic range. Therefore, it has to be reduced to a 16-bit (or 8-bit) image – a step that is called tone-mapping. The characteristic HDR look is produced by this tone-mapping step, and for many photographers, the HDR workflow ends after this step. However, the resulting images often look flat and have a low contrast.

HDR image after tone-mapping

Most of the recipes in the HDR Cookbook are concerned with the following post-processing steps that are required in order to make this flat-looking tone-mapped image pop. This post-processing work is done in some image editing software (e.g. in Photoshop), and it involves global adjustments (e.g. contrast and saturation enhancements) as well as local adjustments that apply only to certain regions of the image.

Final image after the post-processing work

(visit the photo page of this image to get more information)

Motivation and History

I started posting my work on flickr in February 2010. Soon after that, an increasing number of people started asking about the techniques I used to process my images. So, I began including detailed information on how the photos were produced from the shooting techniques, via the HDR merging and tone-mapping all the way to the post-processing steps. However, flickr and other photo sharing platforms do not really offer a lot of space for such information and structuring it was difficult. Since some of the things I do to photos are somewhat complex, the information I was able to provide for each photo directly in flickr was only a coarse summary. Other great photographers on flickr enjoyed this additional information, and I started getting a number of individual messages asking for advice and more detailed information on my techniques. Hence, it was a logical next step to share such information with a broader public using other means.

I started the HDR Cookbook in August 2010 as an Internet blog. I added a small number of recipes and put links on the flickr photo pages to refer to this information. Since then, it has grown considerably in size and depth. Apart from adding more recipes, I started a new Before-and-after section in December 2010 to show the readers the major stages of the evolution of an HDR image in a single picture. The before-and-after comparisons give a viewer a direct impression of what HDR can bring to their images. At about the same time, I started recording the processing work I do and produced Making-of videos. A Making-of video shows a time-lapse screen capture the entire post-processing work, giving the viewer an even better understanding of the techniques involved.

Over the course of 2011, the HDR Cookbook with its three major sections has grown in size and popularity. In August 2011, I decided to extend its contents even further by adding the Pics-to-play-with section. In this new section, I provide free access to some of my original full-res source images. Everyone can download the source archives and process these images in whichever way they like. This added a vital practical asset to the HDR Cookbook as now, people could actually test their newly gained skills and compare their results with other photographers online.

In November 2011, the time was right to move the HDR Cookbook to a new home, integrating it with the rest of my work in order to offer a comprehensive set of images and educational resources. This move gives me the flexibility to integrate everything in the most useful way and to grow the HDR Coookbook into an even more useful resource. So, here you are, at farbspiel-photo.com the new home of the HDR Cookbook.

How to Start

There are at least two ways to start your journey through the new farbspiel-photo.com universe:

  1. You may start by browsing through my image galleries. The View item in the main menu gives you access to different galleries that showcase my work. Each image is accompanied by a number of possible educational resources that lead you to the information that is most useful to you. By starting in the galleries, you can pick the images that are most appealing to you and start exploring how they were produced. Simply start by clicking on View.
  2. You can also start by going to the HDR Cookbook Contents section. This section gives you an overview of the different topics and the respective recipes. The main HDR Cookbook menu is always available to you on the right side of the window to quickly jump to a specific topic.

I hope you are having a great time!