I tinker around with HDR merging every once in a while, but I’m seldom pleased with the results. Like, even after merging a series of photos together, I still feel like I’m limited with the amount of detail I can pull out of the highlights and shadows. All too often, I feel like I could get the same result (if not better) using a single RAW file as I would in a multi-file merge.

But then I ran into a situation where I think I discovered the reason why HDR may still be necessary sometimes. Scouting for pictures the morning after the Green Lake Conference in Wisconsin two weeks ago, I came across this tree that really stood out to me. The curve of the trunk, the buckled root, the branches emanating distinctly, and the bright, pre-dawn glow in the center of it all beckoned me to pause and consider. It was the perfect setup for sunrise. And, silhouetted up against the sky, it was a perfect subject for an HDR merge.

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Notice the detail in the leaves? The smooth look of the water? The lack of grain in the shadows? The softness of the sky? It’s on the verge of surreal, but it still retains some integrity of realism. And I think all these elements point to what makes HDR better than the developing of a single RAW file sometimes. The shot above is the merge of 9 different exposures, encompassing the entire dynamic range. I had plenty of freedom with the sliders in Lightroom.

The following image is a processed version of just one of the shots I took for the HDR merge. Almost identical (which continues to prove to me that multi-image HDR merging truly isn’t necessary most the time) but not retaining the same level of definition as it’s HDR counterpart. I think HDR, when used properly, is still an excellent choice for those ultra-high-contrast situations one might find themselves in.

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Finding the time to break away and spend time behind the camera like I was able to on that morning in Wisconsin is not easy. There always seems to be something more important to do. In fact, a PRO Member recently asked, “Do you have any tips on balancing photography with work, family, daily tasks and time with the Lord? I’m finding it challenging to fit the photography studies in!” I can totally relate to this question! Do you? If so, and you’re a PRO member, then head over to the newly released PRO Report to read my thoughts on the subject in the front page article, Finding Time For Photography Amidst the Busyness of Life.

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