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Book Review – The HDR Book – Unlocking The Pros’ Hottest Post-Processing Techniques by Rafael “RC” Concepcion

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According to author Rafael Concepcion, there are two secrets to High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. First, there are the settings you use to build the HDR, and these are mostly based on taste. Second, when you process your HDR image in any software that you choose, you’re only half way done — the real key is in the post processing.

In The HDR Book you will learn, not only how to set up and shoot for HDR, processing your HDR image using three different programs, and the post processing techniques, but you also work 10 projects that you can follow along with, plus four additional projects that you only see the final results. It is up to you work through out how they were processed. The HDR Book is 336 pages in length and is contained in 13 chapters.

Chapter One, “Tools & Techniques,” begins by taking a look at what you need to successfully create HDR images. These items include a camera that can do bracketing, a tripod, a cable release, the use of mirror lockup, and more. Here you will learn the what, whys, and how to work with all this equipment.

Chapter Two, “What to HDR,” now looks at what to shoot when working with HDR. Because of the nature of HDR imaging, not everything works for processing this type of photograph. This chapter looks at quite a few subjects that do work. These include dimly lit interiors, urban scenes, low light situations, and much, much more.

Chapter Three, “Creating a Tone Mapped File,” is really a two section chapter in which the first part looks at working with HDR processing using three products — Photoshop HDR Pro, HDRSoft’s Photomatrix Pro, and Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. The second section is titled “Things You’ll Do a Lot in Photoshop,” and it consists of just that: the post processing techniques that really make an HDR image pop.

The remainder of The HDR Book consists of projects. The basic layout is first a discussion of the project and how it was conceived. Next, you will see how to HDR process the image in each of the three products. Finally, you will examine the Photoshop post-processing techniques in detail. In four of the chapters — four, nine, ten, and thirteen, you will get an additional exercise for you to complete on your own.

Chapter Four, “Project: The Austin Capital,” was one that took place on a rainy night in Texas. It was a shoot that almost didn’t happen, but because of some friends of the author, it did, and it made for a remarkable image. Here you will see how to clean up imperfections, clean up colors, and more.

Chapter Five, “Project: Cloud Gate,” is a place on the streets of Chicago where there is this bean-like structure. This is an evening shot with dark blue skies and deep colors. Here you begin post with Camera Raw processing to geometrically fix the image as well as perform Luminance Noise Reduction before moving on to Photoshop.

Chapter Six, “Project: Yosemite National Park,” now looks at shooting during the daytime at a national park. The trick with this is dealing with the sky. To compensate, the author shoots more bracketed shots — in this case nine. In post, you will learn how to compensate for these kinds of conditions.

Chapter Seven, “Project: Hilton President Kansas City Lobby,” examines shooting an indoor scene — this time a hotel lobby. The uniqueness of this shot is that it was done without the use of a tripod. Post processing includes the modification of saturation, adding texture, and the use of another Nik Software product: Color Efex pro.

Chapter Eight, “Project: Real Estate,” takes a different look at shooting interiors. This time instead of the traditional bracketing method, here the brackets are based on changing the ISO setting. These images were shot using a point-and-shoot camera — a Nikon P7000 — and post examines how to work with noisier images.

Chapter Nine, “Project: People,” concerns a very hard subject to shoot using HDR techniques because of the potential for movement. This project takes you through how this shot was captured and processed. What you will also see is how to processes the skin as people do not look good when processed in HDR.

Chapter 10, “Project: USS Sterett Panorama,” takes you on board a Naval destroyer and examines what it takes to shoot a panoramic HDR image in a small confined space. In this project you will step through all the things that are necessary to create a high quality panoramic HDR image.

Chapter 11, “Project: Sunset at La Jolla,” now takes on the concept of HDR as a painting. Through the use of HDR techniques and an Adobe plug-in, Pixel Bender, you will see the kind of techniques needed to turn an image in to a painting.

Chapter 12, “Project: Black & White,” examines images that aren’t what you think of when you think HDR. HDR tends to be about all the rich colors, but the same concepts can be brought to black and white photography through the use of zones. This chapter takes an image that, in color, is really out there, and brings it into black and white.

Chapter 13, “Project: Single-Image HDR,” is a technique you will want to use when you only have that one shot that you took and while from a compositional stand point the image is good, from a tonal basis, it has nothing going for it. Through the use of these techniques, you can bring it to life.

Throughout the book are interludes that focus on others who are creating HDR within the photographic community. These include Brian Matiash, Barb Cochran, Jim Begley, and Roger Laudy. These are little Q & A sessions that provide insight to what others are doing.

The HDR Book is really a great book. It is a very easy read and much of the book is about the real processing of images. There is enough up front to get you started with HDR, but what I want from a book like this is to show me how to really process images and The HDR Book delivers. For this alone I would recommend this book

But The HDR Book goes beyond that. Way beyond that! Not only does the author provide all the images for download, but there are additional videos showing how to work with specific chapters. While the images are under copyright by the author, he is even willing to let you post them to show your friends (non-commercial use), as long as you give credit to him and the book. How cool is that! If you really want to learn how to do HDR the right way, then I very highly recommend The HDR Book.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
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