Let's take a look at the surprisingly simple and effective way to achieve HDR looks in post-production.
One of the most difficult parts of filmmaking is capturing light in a way that may not be possible with your camera. What do I mean exactly?
Well, our camera's sensors and features only go so far as most of the devices we can afford are quite limited in terms of image quality. With just a little planning and editing, however, there are ways to record footage that looks really cinematic and screams “high production value”.
Let's look at how you can use HDR (High Dynamic Range) to create a dense, complex image with just a simple DSLR.
What is a high dynamic range?
Before we talk about how, let's talk about what. Since the invention of the cameras, photographers have dreamed of taking pictures that are closer to the pictures taken by the human eye, where light and darkness and a wide range of colors are coordinated so that every detail really bursts.
Unfortunately (and broadly) even the most sensitive cameras simply cannot keep up with the high dynamic range of the human eye and the real-time processing power of the human brain. In essence, it is the difference between lifelike results and real life.
However, with the introduction of HDR technology, we are getting closer than ever.
Most of the confusion surrounding HDR is due to the fact that several technologies have emerged, all of which call themselves the same.
Photography HDR, which first appeared in the 1990s, used multiple exposures with different settings to achieve an effect that was somehow “more than real”. And although it is still in use, it is generally considered to be out of date.
Next came HDR screens that could display lighter whites and more vivid colors than previously possible. To use this technology, which was integrated into the new UHD Rec 2020 standard, you had to master a separate HDR version of the film. Because of the cost of the equipment needed, mainstream studios took over slowly.
What we're going to talk about today is the third and most recent method of creating HDR, a technique similar to the aforementioned photo method – the use of multiple exposures in a video camera to overcome the limit of ten to fifteen stops of LOG material. This is how it works.
Record the scene in several ways
HDR works best when the exposure areas are in separate parts of the image. For example the sky, the middle ground and the foreground. This makes it easier to mask the individual parts of the image from one another.
In this example, I took three separate pictures – one for the sky, one for the city and one for the hill in the foreground. As long as I don't move the camera, I'm not limited to taking the three exposures at the same time.
I can photograph the sky when the sun goes down, when the light is the most interesting and beautiful. Then I can wait forty minutes for the city lights to come on and the city to look its best. This gives me absolute control to create the best scene without being limited by what happened at a particular point in time.
In this first example, I wanted to capture the details in the brush to give context to the shot and exposed it for the foreground. This means that everything is on the floor in front of the lens, right down to the tree on the far left in the frame.
Then I made my way to the streets and lights of the city in the valley. These were far away, so I made sure to keep a wide field sharp and keep the aperture at 1: 8: 1: 11.
Lastly, I suspended for the sky. This gave me all the details, contrasts and colors that I wanted without part of it being blown out by exposure to other parts of the frame.
Now that we have all three shots, it's time to put them together in the mail.
Compose multiple exposures in a final shot
By importing the three exposures into software – I'm using DaVinci Resolve, but you can do this in a program of your choice – you can combine them into a complete image. It's as easy as stacking the clips on top of each other and hiding the different sections that you want to appear in the last shot.
For this particular example in "Dissolve" we use masks and blending modes to combine the images. I used a simple rectangular mask for the sky and a high level of feathers to separate it from the background. Then I used the Pen tool to create a custom mask for the foreground because I needed an angle that followed the slope of the hill.
When you run a number of them, you may want to create a template with stacked and pre-masked layers and load the new images every time you start a new recording.
The end result looks almost like CGI and was very quick and easy to create.
HDR lights up at the right time
As we have seen here, HDR is a fairly straightforward process, but not suitable for every shot. It works wonderfully for landscapes, interesting weather situations, shots and transitions.
Remember, for best results, it is best used when the shot meets the following criteria:
- There is no camera movement.
- There is a big difference in dynamic range within the shot – like very bright lights and very dark shadows.
- The dark areas appear in different areas of the image than the light areas.
HDR provides an effective way to increase production value and capture breathtaking, detailed scenes with just one camera, some compositing and a little imagination. Your audience can't believe their eyes.
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