When we hear the word “HDR” we often cringe, and it is for good reason. When we hear HDR, we photographers think of fake, candied, overly-processed images with crazy colors, unnatural artifacts, and an over-the-top surreal or even “cartoonish” look to the image. HDR photography involves techniques that require attention to detail in both the shooting and the processing. It’s a technique that involves choosing the right scenes as well as using the right gear and processing software. However, when all of these things are done correctly, you have the chance to create some amazing and artistic imagery that, when applied to wedding and portrait photography, can really make you stand out and “wow” your clients. We teach HDR photography in depth in our HDR Photography Workshop on DVD, which can be found in our Photography Education Store. Please check out that DVD if you’re interested in mastering the entire process of shooting and post producing HDR images. However, for this tutorial, I wanted to dive into specific tips and considerations when shooting HDR photography for weddings, engagements and portraits.
1) HDR is for Scenes with a High Dynamic Range, Period.
If the scene doesn’t have a lot of dynamic range to begin with, meaning a lot of strong highlights and shadows, then you really don’t need to use HDR techniques to capture the entire range of the scene. Use your histogram and your highlight alert to see if you are blowing out your highlights or clipping your shadows. If you’re not, consider saving yourself some time and capturing a single, well exposed RAW photo and using processing techniques and HDR presets in Lightroom to finish the image in post production. Here is a previous article we wrote about “When to Bracket Your Images.”
2) Watch the Sun Flares in your HDR Photography
In the image above, even though we are shooting directly into the sun, we have chosen an angle that minimizes the flare in the scene. The cloud cover really helps in this situation as well. In the image, you’ll see a green dot that we could have potentially Photoshopped out. However, with much larger flares (especially over subjects), that task is much more difficult. When we are shooting HDRs, we are generally shooting wide angle lenses and we are shooting into the light, so avoiding the flare is often impossible. But, we can take care to make sure that the flare doesn’t fall into areas of our image where it will become a distraction.
3) Shoot Scenes in HDR at the Correct Times
HDR images are almost always best shot during sunset or sunrise. Well, to be fair, that general rule applies to almost any type of outdoor photography. During that golden hour, the sky lights up with colors that deserve to be captured in all of their beauty and a well designed HDR photograph will truly reveal that beauty.
4) Watch the Weather Report for HDR Wedding Photography
HDRs with Clouds are much more interesting than HDR photographs with clear skies. After all, a clear blue sky looks similar in HDR photos as it does in (well-exposed) non-HDR photos. The clouds on a partly cloudy day helps catch all of the colors in a sunset and creates dramatic contrast in the sky as you can see from the photo above. So, if you see good clouds, grab your gear and get out there!
5) Watch the Skin Tones in HDR Processing
We recommend using a combination of Lightroom, Photoshop, and Photomatix for processing your HDR Photography. While these aren’t absolutely necessary, in general, software like Photomatix is going to provide more tools for you than just Photoshop alone. Furthermore, additional tweaking in Lightroom is typically necessary to perfect an image and adjust skin tones prior to exporting your final image. More processing info can be found in our HDR Workshop.
6) Use More Static Poses for HDR Wedding Photos
Focus on static poses and remember that any movement can potentially make your HDR unusable. “Static” is only referring to the lack of movement. This does not mean that clients should be flat footed or posed in uninteresting positions. You can still have your clients hold a dip or other more advanced poses. However avoid actions shots that involve movement like carries, walking poses and others. Also, shooting wider truly helps in making any small movements less visible.
7) Use More Intimate Poses for HDR Wedding Photos
We like to capture our HDR wedding photography with wider lenses like the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark II or the Canon 16-35mm F/2.8 Mark II. These wide, scenic shots typically go better with more romantic, intimate poses with multiple points of contact between your subjects rather than more traditional portraits of them looking into the camera. In addition, the we are shooting HDR in these scenes to bring a lot of attention to the environment, using a tighter lens is going to take that element away. For more on posing, please check out our Engagement Photography Tutorials.
8) Consider Single Shot HDRs
With the dynamic range of cameras improving with each and every release, many times using an actual bracketed sequence isn’t quite necessary. The image above was shot as a bracketed HDR, but when it was taken into production, the post producer decided that they could get a similar effect by processing just one of the RAW files with the HDR presets within the SLR Lounge Lightroom Presets. Again, watch skin tones and if you have the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System, use the 16-17 Unenhance HDR (Skin) over the subjects skin tones to get back to a more natural look. Check out our previous tutorial on shooting and processing single shot HDRs.
9) Shoot 3 sets of any HDR Shot
If you are shooting bracketed HDRs, be sure to shoot a few duplicate sets. This ensures that your couple is not moving in at least one sequence. It also gives you some flexibility to process multiple sets of HDRs and combine aspects of different final images in Photoshop. This is especially important when aspects of the images are moving, like trees, waves, or clouds. In general, we shoot 3 sets of bracketed photos for each pose/scene.
10) Educate the Couple on HDR Photography
It’s important to properly educate your subjects on what you are doing prior to shooting the image. They should not only be holding still but their facial expressions need to not change as well. We also request that they take a breath and hold it for the duration of the shot. In addition, the couple should not blink during the sequence and their wardrobe and hair should not move as well. This may require some hair combing and some shirt tucking prior to taking the shots, but in the end, it will save you hours in post production. Learn more on Ghosting and Artifacts in this tutorial.
11) Use Faster Shutter Speeds
On a related note, using faster shutter speeds will also be critical to mitigate any movement in your subject(s) from shot to shot. While you can get away with slower shutter speeds in HDR landscape photography, faster shutter speeds will be necessary with live subjects. We generally want our median exposure to not fall below 1/500th of a second. More info on Shutter Speeds and HDR Photography Here.
12) Use a High Quality Tripod
Using sturdy, durable, yet lightweight tripods will help you achieve better HDR images. Again, eliminating or minimizing movement is critical for clean HDR photography and that old $30 hand-me-down tripod might not do the job. Consider the MeFOTO Road Trip or the MeFOTO Globe Trotter as they are great tripods for the money. Another favorite of ours are Manfrotto Tripods. For more info, please see our previous tutorial on The Importance of Using a High Quality Tripod.
More info for HDR Wedding Photography
If you’re interested in mastering HDR photography, be sure to see our HDR Photography Workshop. 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 HDR, single-shot bracketed HDR, panoramic HDR and more! Click here for more info.