There are many different ways to edit a landscape image with a lot of dynamic range, but the main concerns are always going to be two things:  Highlight preservation and shadow noise.

Even though the latest cameras have great dynamic range, it might still be a good idea to capture bracketed frames and create an HDR image.  Why?  Because it is very easy for a single image to look “over-edited” if you try too hard to recover the highlights and shadows all at once.  (Click HERE for a great example of how to avoid over-editing!)

Whatever technique you use, there is often one common problem-  You can process an image very well for the highlights or the shadows, but to do both at once can be frustrating.  Therefore we prefer to combine multiple techniques by processing separate versions of a scene for the highlights and shadows, and then blending them together.

The Image

saturated-hdr-highlights-650Click here for a larger version!

The Video

The Details

We probably could have gotten away with simply processing one RAW image, the dynamic range of this scene isn’t actually that extreme.  However a single image will always have a little more noise in the shadows, and/or a little worse tonal smoothness in the highlights, especially with such a firey pink / purple color happening in the sunset.  (And even in this video, I can see that the compression has caused some harm to the colors.  Thanks, Youtube!)

[FAQ: What is HDR?]

We probably could have also gotten away with simply processing one single HDR frame, however it would have taken a lot of work to manage both the highlights and the shadows perfectly, because the sunset was just so saturated compared to the rest of the scene.

All in all, it was simply faster to quickly process two separate versions, using Photomatix Pro for one or both versions as necessary, and only worry about the highlights or shadows, then quickly layer mask them together in Photoshop. It seems like a more complicated process, but you can actually save time this way! “It was simply faster to quickly process two separate versions”

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Of course each scene is different, and this image is unique because it has an extreme level of saturation only in one specific spot, with one specific color. If your image’s saturation and colors are more uniform, a single image or a simple HDR blend may work very well.

Take care, and thanks for tuning in!

Learn HDR Photography

For more HDR education, be sure to check out 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, using Adobe Lightroom 5,  Photomatix Pro, and Adobe Photoshop. Click here for more info.

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