What does iHDR stand for? Well – HDR stands for High Dynamic Range – and it usually refers to the idea of blending bracketed exposures to produce a finished photo with properly exposed highlights and shadows. There are lots of software options available – and they’ll do the blending for you… but the result is often less than satisfactory. In a lot of cases, the finished photos look “overcooked”, with dull colors and contrast, and an unnatural feel. We don’t use HDR software to blend our images. Instead, we use own manual “iHDR” workflow. The “i” stands for intelligent – we use it to point out that the intelligence of the photographer is the most important part of the equation – not the software that runs the algorithms that produce an automatic blend. We think that the photographer should decide where blending should occur – rather than leaving those decisions to a machine that can’t actually see anything – and is basing it’s decisions on mathematical algorithms. Our iHDR workflow involves manually blending images using Photoshop Layers and Masks.
I created the image above using our iHDR manual blending workflow. I started with three bracketed shots, which I used to create the four images you see below. I produced the last two images by processing the same RAW file twice.
Then, I used parts of each image to produce a finished photo that looked more natural than any single image in the set. I took this shot late in the evening, when the sky was heavily overcast, and I wanted to reproduce those conditions in the finished photo. I wanted to preserve the dark tones that defined the scene. The arrows in the graphic below show how I blended the four images.
Here are few notes about the blending decisions I made while creating this final image:
- I wanted to preserve the dark mood of the image, so I decided not to use the bright foreground from the lower right image.
- I brightened the dark portion of the sky on the right side by combining two images (red arrows).
- I brought out the magenta reflection in the water by combining that area of two different exposures for the best color.
- I used the top right image for the majority of the sky, and I used the bottom left image for the majority of the foreground.