My Journey into HDR (and blogging) / by Joseph Donzis

HDR image from Asbury Park, NJ

Hi!  I'm Joey Donzis and hopefully you're reading this because you'd like to know a little more about me.  This is my first blog post ever; although I've worked for other productions, I've never had to delve so personally into myself to write something without a deadline nor an assignment even.

Let's start with a short anecdote: many years ago, I traveled with a friend to the desert in Texas and took some of my favorite pictures ever (quality of the shoot, not the final images).  Around this time, my friend was really getting into HDR and I honestly didn't understand it.  I'm not sure if I didn't understand why someone would try to make an image from a camera look like it was faked, or maybe I just wasn't a fan of the images I'd seen at the time.  During this trip, my friend taught me about setting bracketing on the camera and how to take a series of images for HDR.  I tried and ultimately didn't enjoy my final results and then decided I hated HDR.

My first ever HDR image.  Not something I enjoy showing around these days...

My best HDR pic from Sunset over Big Bend National Park.  I later learned what I hated about my pictures were the composition and how little I understood about contrast and colors

Skip to more modern times, when I was trying to pick out a camera for myself, I wanted to choose one which made finding bracketing easy- not because I was tremendously interested in HDR, but because I knew that a camera which made bracketing intuitive would be able to make all their other settings easy to find and the UI easy to navigate; thus I ultimately landed on my Nikon D5300.  I LOVE my 5300, but that's for a different post.

As I started reintroducing myself to photography, I took a moment to consider all the lessons people have tried hammering into my head over years, and some of them finally sunk in!  For example: If I'm trying to take a picture of a sunset, or a mountain range silhouetted by a sunset, or a plateau, or a field, or a foggy basin; then I should just try framing that one of those many things and making only one the focus of my composition, rather than shoving every single element into one image and then rubbing them all over my audience's retinas (see picture above).  As I progressed through composition, I started working more on my contrast, and eventually my colors.  These steps started leading me to much better images until I started gaining a better appreciation for HDR.

Even as I started off anew in HDR, I found myself trying to push for more realistic final images, generally losing the whole HDR effect.  Granted, using this technique gave me a higher dynamic range (hence the name of the effect), but still came off flat, cold, and lifeless, although that's not necessarily always a bad thing.

This shot from my sister's rooftop provided a nice dynamic range and allowed me to show something a little more akin to what your eyes would see in real life, but also misses a great opportunity for more surrealism.

Finally, I decided to fully embrace the potentials of my photography and HDR by pushing my own boundaries.  I drove with a friend out to Asbury Park, NJ- the two of us racing against the sunrise to get some nice pictures on a beautiful day.  As a tip, when shooting towards the sun, you're always going to want to use some sort of Neutral Density filter, or any sort of filter to reduce the amount of light entering your camera.  This will be both beneficial towards the effect of your final image and will help prevent your image sensor from bursting into flames (or something far less dramatic but equally ruinous).  For my ND filter, I used a Neewer® Adjustable Variable Filter, purchased here.  I love this filter; it provides me with many many stops lower in lighting and, as long as you don't push it too far, creates hardly any vignetting or artifacts.  I set my filter pretty dark and proceeded to take shot after shot.  I knew I wanted a picture that would contain action and resemble a painting, so I went for the longest exposures possible to create a misty effect and quick short exposure times to capture waves crashing in action.  I also often find that combining longer and shorter exposures while bracketing provides me with a higher dynamic range in my finished product.

A long exposure shot providing a nice misty background and beautiful, soft exposure of the rocks in the background

A great action shot of a wave crashing into a rock, but the rocks themselves have become underexposed, sharper, and darker

By combining over 20 pictures, playing with HDR settings in Photomatix, and adjusting a few levels in Adobe Camera Raw, I was able to achieve this final image, especially thanks to my Neewer® ND filter.

This is one of my favorite shots in terms of colors and effective use of HDR

This is how I finally and fully embraced HDR, finding something new in myself and in my photography.  As I move further into my photography, I will have more posts like this which will hopefully provide you a deeper insight into my images, maybe a few tips on how to improve your own pictures, or maybe you have some comments or suggestions for me.  Thank you, and I hope you've enjoyed my first blog post.  I'll leave you with a few more images from my photo shoot this day at Asbury Park.

A photograph of my friend facing the sunrise.  This picture was selected by Neewer® and featured on their Instagram page

When the ocean becomes a desert of water

My friend flipping his staff.  I used my Neewer® Variable ND filter for this shot to prevent my image sensor from turning into lava

All images copyright IH-Productions 2009 and beyond.