Single-shot HDR!!

So, there I was in Leh, on our first day of arrival, walking around slowly and acclimatising to the high-altitude and stumbling into the main market square in town. It must have been around 6pm or so but the sun was bright, the sky a nice blue with cottony wisps of cloud lazily floating around.

There was a very laid-back air to everything in the market square as well. Sort of, like the entire square was trying to conserve precious oxygen and maintaining a very leisurely tempo to things.  People were just sitting around, dogs were snoozing, prayer flags were fluttering around very gently and even the business that was being conducted seemed to be very deliberate and unhurried.

But what struck me was this – this place was spotlessly clean. Almost as if a group of cleaners had just swept the place a few minutes back. The setting was idyllic and was screaming to be photographed. Just one problem though – the bright sky and the entire market-square in the shadows meant that this scene would have too large a dynamic range to be captured in a straightforward way.

Enter, bracketing and the thought of combining multiple bracketed-exposure images into one HDR image. Except that I wasn’t carrying a tripod on this walk (ghosting would be a problem as the multiple images wouldn’t really all align together). So, I thought to myself – why not just take one image, create multiple copies of the file and adjust exposure to create a set of faux-bracketed shots. And them combine these faux-bracketed shots into one HDR image. Creative thought, probably technically incorrect. But what the heck.

Obviously, I couldn’t really see the final image till I got around to processing it the way I had figured out in the spur of the moment.

Here are the steps I took to move from that one shot to an HDR.

  1. I first made 5 copies of the image and adjusted the exposure on 4 of them to EV-2/3, EV-4/3, EV+2/3 & EV+4/3. So there I had my faux-bracketed series of 5 shots.
  2. I opened the 5 images in Lightroom, selected all of them in the viewer and went to Photo>Photo Merge>HDR to get the HDR screen
  3. Played around with the available options. Auto Align – was unnecessary because of my method of creating the faux-bracketed sequence. Auto-tone – I tried both with it ON and OFF and preferred to leave it ON. Deghost Amount – I went with None again because of my cheat bracketing method.
  4. Click Merge and wait for the final output.
  5. Do the usual processing steps that you are used to for the final output.

Quite easy actually and the entire process didn’t take too long. And the final image did turn out the way I visualised it – not bad for a completely spur-of-the-moment thought.

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