What is HDR?

HDR stands for Hight dynamic range, and it’s a technique of taking multiple photo of the same scene, to be able to capture the whole range of lights and shadows. Check out my longer description of HDR in this article dedicated completely to this question.

Do I need to HDR every photo?

No. As every post-processing technique, you just can to use it when it when you want. It helps with scenes with a bigger dynamic range, but there are still other ways to capture what you want. HDR processing is just one of them.
Soft sunset in Paris

Do I need a high end camera?

No. One can create HDR photos from any photos you take. The results may wary based on the camera, what options (mostly automatic bracketing) and how you took the photo, but still, you can do it with any camera available.

How many shots I need?

This varies based on the shot, but it’s usually from 1 to 5, very rarely more (for instance when you are shooting into the sun). You can easily check if you have enough shots, by checking the histogram on the darkest shot, where there should be no highlights, and on the brightest shot, where there should be no blacks.

What camera mode to use?

Either Aperture priority, or if you are more familiar with cameras, you can use the Manual mode. The goal is to keep the same aperture between all photos, so the DOF doesn’t changes, and these two modes are the only ones to allow that.

Do I need a tripod?

No. But your results will be better if you use one. Taking multiple exposures hand-held will introduce shifts and movement and that will make the HDR process more difficult and less precise.

What software do I need?

There are many different software that one can use, but my suggestion would be Lightroom, Photoshop and one of the tone-mapping solutions, either Oloneo Photoengine or Photomatix Pro.

Is every HDR unrealistic?

Definitively no. The look of the final HDR photo depends on how you process it and what techniques you use. You can go towards realistic results, or you can go towards a very artistic results. It’s all what you make of it.
Red one

What I need to get better?

Practice. It would be easy to suggest some tutorial or a book, but that’s just not enough. Without a lot of practice in shooting and editing HDR photos, it’s just hard to get better.

Can HDR make a bad photo better?

Sometimes, but very rarely. HDR is primarily about brightness levels, where you darken bright areas and brighten dark areas. So if the problem with the photo is with the subject, composition, or just bad time of the day, HDR will not effect this at all.

Can I just use plugins?

Yes you can just use HDR effect plugins. But of course, the result will never be as if you created a real HDR. As the goal of HDR is to get detail into areas where a normal photo cant capture them, the plugins will never be able to get information from places where there is none.

Is HDR better than using lens filters?

Not better nor worse. If you know what you are doing, you can get a great result using lens filters and also HDR. The main difference is where you do most of the work. With filters it’s directly in the field while taking the photos, with HDR it’s in the post-processing stage.

What to shoot in HDR?

You can take photos of everything in HDR, but the best situations are with static scenes that include a big difference between the brightest and the darkest areas. Landscapes with the sun in them, interior shots with windows and similar.

Add your in comments

If you have any question, that you want answered, or you think that should be added to this list, feel free to ask in the comments.