I’ve been reading After Capture magazine since the folks at Rangerfinder Magazine starting publishing it. It’s a good magazine with a lot of cool images and geez whiz advice on image manipulation. One of the things that I was really taken with were the High Dynamic Range Images.
The basic idea is that you find a subject, anything you like really, and them make a series of bracketed exposures using a tripod. Go from slightly over exposed to slight under exposed. Then you can use the Merge to HDR feature in Photoshop or use one of the stand alone HDR processing programs like FDRTools or Photomatrix Pro or the Photomatrix Tone Mapping plug-in. What you end up with is an image that has detail in both the shadows and the highlights.
Rusty Steps started out as a series of ten exposures that were two steps apart on a path from serious underexposure to serious overexposure. I used PhotoMatrix Pro to merge the images and then Tone Mapped the result. The Tone Map feature in PhotoMatrix Pro has a lot of sliders and buttons and you can do everything from make the image look a bit more realistic to making it full of haloes and shadows that give that over done look so popular with HDR Images. I used Very High on Light Smoothing to get a clean image of the Rusty Steps and the grain of the wooden floor. I like to use a Strength of about 85 and then tend to just fiddle around with the various sliders until I find a look that I like.
The image looked good after running it through PhotoMatrix Pro, but the colors were still a bit flat. I saved the image and took it over to Photoshop. I adjusted the Levels a bit to darken a few bright areas. I then experimented with a few color filters. I applied a Tiffen Dfx Gel filter that was a deep gold color, which really brought out the color of the wooden floor and the rust on the steps. The trouble with a plugin like Tiffen Dfx is that there are so many choice you might end up spending a lot of time playing around before you find what you want.
I finished the image by adding a tiny black boarder.
For a much more technical explanation of HDR see HDR Workflow. This was the article that got me interested in High Dynamic Range photographic images.