Single-Frame High Dynamic Range

This is my source image, a late afternoon shot at central New Mexico's Camel Rock. It's not a bad frame, but I wanted more out of it. The shadows in the rock face are too dark, but increasing the exposure would destroy the deep blues of the sky.
This is my source image, a late afternoon shot at central New Mexico’s Camel Rock. It’s not a bad frame, but I wanted more out of it. The shadows in the rock face are too dark, but increasing the exposure would destroy the deep blues of the sky.

As my readers know, I recently enjoyed some rather spectacular success photographing Utah’s iconic Delicate Arch using a technique called High Dynamic Range, or HDR. The technique usually involves shooting an image a number of times (I usually make five) at different exposures (called bracketing), then blending them together using software to create an HDR image. The program I use is called Photomatix Pro, but there are many available.

What some photographers might not realize is that it is possible to create HDR-like images using just a single frame and a blending method called tone mapping.

Instead of telling the software to blend three or five or ten images, we tell it to tone map one, and it offers us various settings we can apply to create the look we want. I used it recently on some stubbornly contrasty iPhone images, and just today I was able to extract a much more interesting and inviting image out of a single frame that I would have been able to just using Photoshop. Have a look…

This early evening shot at Camel Rock shows how a fairly dull image can be punched up using software techniques like tone mapping.
This early evening shot at Camel Rock shows how a fairly dull image can be punched up using software techniques like tone mapping.
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