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HDR and Panoramas

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a term used to describe the tonal range of information contained in a given image.  To understand why the range of tonal information is so important we first have to understand the limits of Digital technology and where HDR originated.

Ansel Adams, one of the most well known and influential photographers in history was the first to create a way to increase the tonal rage of an image on film.  He called this method “the zone system”.  The zone system is an extremely complex and mathematical way of shooting, developing and printing images from film that can increase or decrease the tonal range of an image.  The image can be over or under exposed, over or under developed, and dodged and burned in the printing process to achieve the desired results. 

Since the development of Digital capture cameras much of the zone system is no longer applicable in the same ways.  It is no longer possible to over or under develop the film. 

Digital sensors are not able to capture the same tonal range as film so professional photographers have to use a combination of shooting technique and digital post-production using Photoshop CS.

Professional photographers are still able to expand and contract the tonal range of a digital image in several ways.

1)   Use multiple exposures and post production layering techniques to bring out detail in dark and light areas of an image.  Similar to dodging and Burning information in the printing process of film.

2)   Use programs such as Photoshop or HDR pro to automatically merge exposure layers and increase tonal range.

3)   Capture a single exposure one or two stops over or underexposed and use Camera RAW to recover highlight or shadow detail. 

The key to success using any of these techniques is to pre-visualize the final image and have the ability to successfully capture and edit the image (s) to create the intended  final image.

Panoramas – the use of “pano’s” in architectural photography is an effective way to increase the angle of view possible.  There are two types:

Rectilinear Panorama – increases the angle of view while maintaining a realistic perception of space and form.  The use of an “L” bracket is a common way to rotate the camera around its virtual center.  If you are hand holding, do not rotate from your hips.  The use of a Shift lens or 4X5 is the most precise way to achieve a pano.

Cylindrical Panorama – lines that are above or below the horizon will become curved and distorted.  This exaggerated view can be used to show the surroundings but is often not a good choice to portray a building itself.  The exaggerated and distorted lines are not an authentic representation.

Lens Filters – Yes its true.  You should still use filters on your lens while shooting digitally.  Not all effects can be duplicated with a quick Photoshop fix.

Polarizer’s – Think of light as traveling in waves. One way to visualize these waves is to imagine taking a length of rope and tying one end to a post. Moving the free end up and down sets up a "wave" along the rope, which also moves up and down. If you think of the rope as representing a beam of light, the light would be "vertically polarized". If the free end is moved from side to side, a wave that moves from side to side is set up. Again, if this was a light beam, you could call it "horizontally polarized". Both of these are examples of plane or linear polarization.

You could also move the free end around in a circle and, if you got the timing just right, you could set up a wave that looks like a corkscrew. This is analogous to a light beam having circular polarization. You could move the free end of the rope around in either a clockwise or anticlockwise circle, corresponding to what are referred to as right handed or left handed circular polarization. If you mix some linear with some circular polarization you get what's called elliptical polarization.

Linear Polarizer - A linear polarizer is a device, which selectively allows the passage of only certain orientations of plane-polarized light. At one orientation it might allow the passage of only vertically polarized light, while if rotated by 90 degrees it would allow the passage of only horizontally polarized light. Half way in between, at say 45 degrees rotation, it would allow passage of only 45-degree plane polarized light.

Uses :  remove reflection, darken sky, cuts atmospheric haze

Circular Polarizer - A "circular polarizer" actually consists of two elements. The first is a linear polarizer, exactly the same thing as the linear polarizer we have just discussed. The second element is called a quarter wave plate and it is cemented to the back of the linear polarizer with a specific orientation such that the light emerging from the quarter wave plate is circularly polarized (hence the "circular" polarizer name).

Uses:  Same as Linear Polarizer  

Neutral Density – Reduces overall exposure but has no other effect on the quality of light.  Can increase exposure times to allow a long shutter speed even in bright conditions.

Graduated Neutral Density – reduces exposure from top to bottom, bottom to top, or side to side.  Can help with bright skies and foregrounds in shade. 

Shooting Conditions:  Weather, Time of Day, and Season

Weather – the difference between weather conditions can have a large effect on the final image. (p.128, 129)

  • Cloudy – low contrast, min. shadows, looks “flat” 2D
  • Sunny – High contrast, heavy shadows, 3D
  • Rain/Wet – Reflections
  • Snow – Acts as a natural reflector, flat light, glare

Time of Day – The time of day greatly affects the look of the exterior of the building due to the position of the sun.


Season – The season can affect the overall feeling of the image. Buildings can look very different in the Summer, Fall, Winter, or Spring due to the changes in the surrounding landscape architecture.

All Images ©2011 Bookwalter Photography
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