How To: HDR Cityscape Basics | Logan Utah Landscape Photographer

by - 5:08 PM

I hope everyone is having a great Christmas season and not freezing too much! I have a way cool technique that I wanted to share with you, something I've been trying to figure out for a few months and I think I finally nailed it. So let's go over the basics of how to get a clean, detailed cityscape shot.

First off, what is HDR? HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Basically it's taking multiple exposures at different values (light to dark) and then combining them later in a photo editor. HDR is very useful in certain situations because you may have an extremely contrasted scene, where your whites and blacks are far apart. Without HDR you would have to either blow out your highlights, or loose some of your shadows to complete black (side note: this is not a bad thing, it really works for some images). But HDR is when you take an over exposed photo, a properly exposed photo, and a under exposed photo and stack them in a software. Like I said, it works for some images and not for others. Personally I think this technique is fantastic for night shots of cities. So let's go over what I did to make this image:

Canon 5D iii @ 24mm ISO 100, f/10 .4-12.0 secs edited in: Lightroom 5, Photomatix, Photoshop CC

Basic Setup 
This shot is of downtown Salt Lake City Utah. To set of for a shot like this, I would recommend getting as high up as you can. For me that was about 10 stories up. Then you're going to want to set up your tripod and camera, compose your image and find a medium exposure. For HDR's I almost always set my camera to matrix metering and simply balance out the exposure. Since you're on a tripod I would recommend a small aperture and low ISO, this shot is at f/10 and ISO 100.

Hint: I always adjust only shutter speed to insure a clean depth of field and low ISO noise.

After setting up the image and finding your exposure, you need to take a least 3 photos (the image above is 7 exposures). I start at the dark end and work up. So after finding the medium exposure I went down 3 stops on my shutter speed and snapped an image, up a stop, snap an image, up a stop, you get the drill. The exposures on this image ranged from 0.4 seconds to 12.0 seconds.

Hint: I use my histogram to find the lowest exposure that has detail in the highlights, and then keep using that histogram to find the highest exposure that is getting detail in the darkest area of the image, that way I know that I have detail throughout my image.

After you've taken your image, you'll need to stack them in a HDR software such as Photomatix, Nik HDR Effects Pro, Photoshop, ect; personally I use Photomatix. Once stacked tweak the settings/presets until you find a combination you like and presto! You have an HDR cityscape.

If you have any questions or want specific details on my editing, post a question in the comments below!

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