The following is an excerpt from HDR Photography | A 3-DVD Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Professional HDR Photography by SLR Lounge. This workshop dubbed “the gold standard of HDR education” by FStoppers contains over 13 hours of tutorials, RAW files for you to follow along, and dozens of full prep-to-post examples. We cover bracketed HDR, in-camera HDR, single-shot faux HDR, single-shot bracketed HDR, panoramic HDR and more! Click here for more info.


Whenever you shoot photographs, regardless of whether or not it is an HDR, do not forget about the photographic composition itself! On the Internet, we often see people shoot something very average, or even below average, and then process it as an HDR image. Although some people might think that particular photograph looks really good, the only thing that makes it worth looking at is just the HDR effect that has been applied. Even then, the HDR effect is usually way over the top and does not look too great anyways. In this article, we will discuss why HDR effects should be used only as a tool for enhancing your photographs. In addition, we will go over how to approach a scene and discuss what you should focus on when you first arrive at a scene.

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Composition First, HDR Last

The whole point is when you approach a scene, the HDR effect comes last and the composition and subject matter come first. The HDR techniques that we teach in HDR Tutorial are simply a tool in improving your photographs. Your photographs should still have great compositions, strong subjects and should be strong enough to stand on its own. The HDR techniques should only be added to make your images even better by capturing more detail. When you apply an HDR effect to your photograph, this enhances an already great photograph and turns it into something amazing and publish-worthy. If the scene itself or the compositional matter is not really worth looking at, then that’s a problem.

Nature Photograph

(Boring HDR alert!  Even with cool gritty tones, a park bench is still a park bench…)

How to Approach the Scene

When you approach a scene, do not think anything about HDR. Do not think about what kind of bracketed sequence you need to use, whether or not you need the shutter release, if you should enable the Mirror Lock-Up feature, and so forth. Instead, approach every shot as if you are just trying to create a noteworthy image. Ask yourself, “What can I do to make this scene look better? Can I change my angles or my composition? Can I make my subjects stronger?” Again, make the image itself stand well on its own. Compose a great shot, choose an interesting subject, and then decide how you will incorporate HDR effects to improve a photograph that should already be a strong enough photograph.

[FAQ: What is HDR Photography?]

When I approach a scene, I often only have my camera and some lenses with me. All of my tools are set aside and I just walk the scene and switch lenses out. During this time, I try to decide what I like best. Once I have decided on the look and composition I want to go for in my shot, I figure out if I need to use a bracketed sequence to get the image I want. Once again, HDR considerations are last and, frankly, are a very small part of the overall shoot. Instead, 90% of my time is spent figuring out what I want to shoot, where I want to shoot it, and how I want to shoot it. The overall HDR techniques are just very tiny pieces at the end to ensure that I have everything needed for post production.

Conclusion & Learn More!

Before you jump into shooting, remember that just because we are shooting HDR images does not mean that we should forget the rules of taking impressive and inspiring images. The HDR techniques are only tools meant to enhance already great photographs that you took.

For more HDR education, be sure to check out our HDR Tutorial by SLR Lounge. This comprehensive “gold standard” guide will give you a mastery of HDR photography, from the scene considerations to the actual shooting to the post production. Click here for more info.