Night Photography and HDR

Summary – Night Photography and HDR are not synonymous – far from it. HDR solves the problem of a scene whose contrast exceeds a sensor’s dynamic range. This is almost never the case at night (except possible specular highlights from lights – but lights are supposed to look that way so that’s not a real problem).


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Manassas Station

Single exposure


Click any of the following for full size


Progression from capture to final: easy-peasy

ACR for shadow/highlight work

CEP4 to fine tune tonal & color contrast (& fix WB)

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Capture – There were no tones in this scene

The sensor didn’t capture except a few lights

(A 6 MP dinosaur from 2003 – not state of the art)

The fact that the light bulbs were just bright-colored tones

Is not a problem

That’s exactly how they appear in real life

Don’t obsess over non-problems

To capture a scene like this (shoot in Raw!)

Your goal is get the histogram as far right as possible

Without overexposing important parts of the scene

Check the histogram for “blinkies”

Adjust using Exposure Compensation

Until the histogram satisfies the goal

Don’t worry much about shadows

If they’re not climbing the histogram’s left wall

Post-processing shadow recovery is there for you


As an example, here’s Basic Adjustment module in LR

Work it, as intended, from the top to the bottom

If you use something else,

Still follow the same general order

Big stuff first

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Little other processing should be needed

Concentrate on these basics

Fancy plug-ins usually not needed

Just a little practice & then it’s easy


Another example

Histogram reflects captured image

Left side is capture, right is after LR ACR

Blue is blocked shadows, red is blown highlights

Three different exposures are shown

Illustrates that precise exposure isn’t needed

Not much difference between the three “finals”

What there is can be adjusted quickly

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The next example uses HDR – Photomatix Pro 5

Two versions – using the same three captures show above

Top is a pretty picture but is clearly “HDR”

Bottom uses Photomatix ‘s single Raw image Exposure Fusion

Bottom is not as good as the above three examples

No further post-processing after Photomatix

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Comparing non-HDR and HDR

Before and after additional processing in CEP4

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Some might prefer the HDR

They feel its brightness is better

If it’s a night scene, I disagree

The top image is the way it really looked

Unless your objective isn’t reality


Dealer’s choice

I myself feel that HDR is overused

Note – I didn’t say never-needed

If you don’t agree, then HDR is the right choice for you

HDR is most definitely needed for

Interior shots with a window (on a bright day outside)

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Inside light was from the far window (no indoor lights)

I couldn’t see the camera’s controls

Outside it was mid-day and very bright

No way could the circa 2003 sensor capture all of the tones

Five bracketed exposures


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