Light sources are a bit of a difficulty for amateur photographers like me. If there’s a bright light source in shot shadows tend to fade into complete blackness. If, however, you adjust the exposure on your camera to retain detail in the shadows, lighter areas can become bleached out. The thing is, the human eye is capable of seeing this wide range of brightnesses, and it would be rather nice to be able to take photos that include all that detail.
HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography aims to reproduce the range of lighting we see in the real world by combining images taken with different exposures. The minimum I’ve seen being used is three photos – one underexposed, one exposed to whatever degree the camera thinks is correct, and one overexposed. In the darkest photo, detail in the brighter areas is preserved, while in the lightest there is still detail in the shadows.
All three photos can be combined using software like Photoshop or Photomatix HDR Pro, and now there’s a new entrant on the scene. YoHDR! by Vector magic is an online tool that takes three differently exposed photos and merges them into one HDR style image. It’s pretty simple, really – just upload three JPGs and out pops the HDR image. You can choose whether you want it to be “natural” or “vivid”, which just changes how the effect is applied, and then download the completed image.
While YoHDR! lacks some of the fine control of Photomatix or Photoshop, it does have one very big advantage. It’s free while in beta. I’m afraid I don’t have any information on pricing when it leaves beta, or even a schedule of when that will happen, but why not take advantage of the opportunity for some free HDR experimentation while you can?
If your camera can take images with different exposures, find yourself some interesting architecture, an old car, or a beautiful landscape and give YoHDR! a go. You might be very surprised by the results.