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I’ve seen alot of HDR (High Dynamic Range) images lately and wanted to try my hand at one.  

One of the problems inherent in photography is the camera’s incapacity to accurately reproduce scenes with high contrast. In these instances, the photographer must choose between exposing to preserve the shadows (resulting in areas of blown-out highlights), or exposing to preserve the highlights (resulting in completely dark shadows and therefore, no shadow detail). This can get frustrating since our eye discerns much more tonalities in the real world and ideally, we’d like our images to show the same.  

For those unfamiliar, HDR images represent a scene containing a wide range of light intensity levels, from the very darkest shadows to the lightest highlights. They are generally achieved by capturing multiple standard photographs, often using exposure bracketing, and then merging them via software into an HDR image. The results can vary greatly based upon how far you want to push the limits – from natural-looking to the more, let’s say, fantastical. 🙂  

While walking over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the sunset sky behind the Tower of Terror was simply breathtaking. Seemed like a perfect subject for HDR so down went the tripod and the adventure began. The camera was set for exposure bracketing (taking a series of images at different exposure values) as well as interval timer shooting (allows one click of the shutter to initiate the series since you want as little camera movement as possible). I also turned on “exposure delay mode” which delays the shutter release about 1 sec after the mirror is raised (since raising the mirror can also cause slight camera shake).

“Sunset Terror” (Tower of Terror, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, HDR) Nikon D300, 70mm, F/13, ISO 320, Six Exposure Ranges, Photomatix Pro

Back home, the real work began.  

At first, I played with the HDR processing included in Photoshop, but sadly, that was not producing the results I desired (a dark, moody scene, that is, afterall, the essence of the Tower of Terror). So, I moved on over to the trial version of Photomatix Pro, and after a short learning curve, was able to generate a pleasing HDR image from six separate exposures! Most HDR processes require some tweaking/finishing and that was easily performed back in Photoshop.  

I must say I was so impressed with the power of Photomatix Pro, that I purchased the software and, using an online code, got 20% off to boot! 🙂  

HDR is definitely a technique I look forward to using in the future!


  1. That is one awesome picture. Looks like you managed to get a lot of good shots on your vaca. Love Ya

    • Thanks, Mom! It was a good photographic trip, indeed! Bet you wish you were there, too, hmmmm?? 🙂

  2. An interesting post description the day after Valentine’s day… 😉
    I love the photo, when looking at it I almost feel like I was there!
    Hugs and kisses…..

    • Ha! Very funny, Jim! Ya know, a guy that looked just like you was there! Back at ya, Babe! 🙂

  3. Oh….scary Tower. My favorite attraction at WDW. Nice use of HDR.

    I’ve played around with HDR over the last few months. Decided to take it a bit more seriously and I got a highly recommended book on HDR which I will blog about when I am done. Have learned a lot so far.

    • I’ve only been on the ride once and that was all I needed!

      Looking forward to your HDR book review. Lots to learn, I’m sure! 🙂

  4. Great shot! I’m also experimenting with HDR as well. I’m still playing with the demo version of Photomatix Pro; as soon as I get the hang of it, I’ll sure buy it too.

    • Thanks, Juan! Be sure to use kelbytraininghdr to save 20%!

      • Thank for that, Tracy. I’ll make sure to use it when I buy the program.

  5. Congrats on your first HDR! It looks great 🙂 Very moody indeed. Yeah, Photomatix rocks when its comes to hdr. Best trick I learned is to always keep the light smoothing at very high 🙂

    • Thanks much, Amber! You must have been channelling that thought over to me while I was processing the image ‘cuz I maxed out the light smoothing! 🙂

  6. I love HDR and have tried it myself. Unfortunately, I’m so new to Photoshop I really can’t get the stellar results I’ve seen from others, including yourself. I think it’s a combo of inexperience and shooting with a dollar store camera. Your shot here is amazing and I am green with HDR envy. 🙂

    • Thanks, Dave! That’s the beauty of Photmatix Pro – you don’t need PS! The HDR results out of Photomatix Pro are amazing. I just did a few tweaks in PS that you could simply do in the photoediting program you normally use. (Hubby did his own version strictly out of Photomatix Pro and required no tweaking in PS). And stop with the dollar-store camera stuff…you shoot amazing images which just goes to prove that it is the talent of the photographer more than the camera! 🙂

      • LOL, Thanks Tracy. I like the dollar store camera excuse. I blame it on all the shots that I’m not happy with. The ones I like I take credit for. 🙂

        I really do have to get up to speed with PS and I’d love to pick up Photomatix. There’s also a highly touted noise reduction software plug-in for PS and a black & white conversion plug-in. If only it was Christmas eve again, eh? 🙂

  7. So glad you got something that you were happy with. I really like how this turned out. The sky looks gorgeous! Bet this would be beautiful as a “normal” picture, too.

    • Thanks, Michaela! Weeeeell, the “normal” exposure on it’s own completely lost the colors of the sky and in the underexposed images, you couldn’t see the Tower of Terror (was just a shadowy building, which I guess, could be considered cool on its own). This really was a high contrast scene begging for HDR processing. I worked on this for a few days, trying different tools and software before I got the results I hope for with Photomatix.

  8. I have yet to venture into the world of HDR and am finding myself to be stubbornly in a hand held as-is mode these days. Lovely photo – maybe I’ll join the new wave one of these days or maybe not?

    • Ha! I prefer hand-held as well but sometimes, being open to new things really pays off. I don’t think I ever would have attempted this if it weren’t for the images I’ve seen (and was jealous of) along with the prompting of my husband. He knows just when to push/challenge me and I love him for it! So, c’mon, Lynn, there’s plenty of room on this bandwagon! 🙂

  9. Nice, impressive sky. I guess the tower is overly HDR looking (just because people complain that HDR is over saturated) but a nice shot.

    • Thank you, Martin. It all depends upon what your monitor is showing, but I suppose one could argue the bottom part of the tower could be taken down a notch. I kinda like the pops of blue there and thought it balanced out the oranges in the sky. To each his own, right? This is my very first try at HDR and I know I have much to learn! 🙂

  10. I love this shot!!

  11. Well I have to confess to being an avid user of HDR (in case it had gone unnoticed.. lol).. and you’ve done amazing here… It certainly is a most useful tool when used properly…

    • ha! Yes, I did notice that in the brief time I cruised around your site. Thank you for the compliment as HDR still is somewhat of a mystery to me and I’ve yet to go back and do more with it (too busy beng enamoured by the critters, flowers and bugs!) 🙂 You seem to have mastered the techniques!

      • Yeah it’s something me and Amber (Mrs swirly) have been messing with for a few years now… You’re right though, you have to continue the processing in photoshop to get the best from the image… I normally blend in the original raw file to the hdr’d image…

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