How to create HDR images with Photoshop's Merge to HDR

A couple weeks ago, I visited Zion National Park where I made some shots that I intended to merge into HDR images, and inspired by a discussion at my local photography club I thought I'd settle down to get it done. While I was at it I created a tutorial to share with everyone.

Here's a quick shot that demonstrates the input and output of an HDR shot to help you get the general idea:

Merge to HDR

The final HDR image represents what my eye saw at that moment even though the camera wasn't able to capture it in one exposure alone.

What is HDR? High Dynamic Range... Think of a scene that has bright sunlight and dark shadows. A single image can't capture all parts of the scene in a proper exposure, but if you take a series of photos of exactly the same scene while altering the exposure between each shot, then later you can blend the images together in Adobe Photoshop CS2.

Wikipedia describes HDR imaging (HDRI) as:

In computer graphics and cinematography, high dynamic range imaging (HDRI) is a set of techniques that allow a far greater dynamic range of exposures (i.e a large difference between light and dark areas) than normal digital imaging techniques. The intention of HDRI is to accurately represent the wide range of intensity levels found in real scenes ranging from direct sunlight to the deepest shadows.


[More]

Long weekend in Zion National Park

This past October my wife and I had the opportunity to vacation in Zion National Park in southern Utah, following the Adobe MAX conference in Las Vegas that month. This was my first time in the Southwest USA, and while I'm not inclined to return to the Las Vegas Strip, I would love the opportunity to spend at least a couple weeks visiting Bryce, Arches, and the Grand Canyon. I've been very satisified with the photos I've taken in Zion over the brief three day immersion, so I anticipate photographing much more from that region.

The Wikipedia article on Zion National Park begins with the following:

Zion National Park is a United States National Park located in the Southwestern United States, near Springdale, Utah. A prominent feature in the 229-square-mile (593 km≤) park is Zion Canyon, 15 miles (24 km) long and up to half a mile (800 m) deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River... A total of 289 bird species, 75 mammals (including 19 species of bat), 32 reptiles and numerous plant species inhabit the park...

Human habitation of the area started about 8,000 years ago with small family groups of Native Americans; the semi-nomadic Basketmaker Anasazi (300 CE) stem from one of these groups... The Kolob section was proclaimed a separate Zion National Monument in 1937, but was incorporated into the park in 1956.

The geology of the Zion and Kolob canyons area includes nine formations that together represent 150 million years of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation. At various periods in that time, warm, shallow seas, streams, ponds and lakes, vast deserts and dry near-shore environments covered the area.


We rented a Chrysler Sebring convertible at the Las Vegas airport, and made the trip to Springdale, Utah in just 3 hours. The highway from Vegas to St. George is largely desolate and uninteresting, but as soon as you get past Hurricane the scenery begins a dramatic change. I won't be renting the Sebring again because my eye level was the same height as the visor and the top of the windshield, forcing me to turn my neck and slouch down in the seat in order to get a good view, and even with the top up I couldn't get past the visor's annoyance factor.

[More]