Author: Jack Howard
Publisher: Rocky Nook, 2010
Aimed at: Neither beginners nor advanced photographers
Pros: Good coverage of tone mapping
Cons: Lacks motivation/inspiration
Reviewed by: David Conrad
High Dynamic Range Imaging HDRI is one of the many techniques that digital photography has made possible and it's essentially a software technique. As well as being a possible creative tool its also great fun for geeks to mess about with. However the potential to create something truly terrible and tasteless is also a distinct possibility. So you not only need a good technical grounding you also need some style guides.
This particular account of HDRI really does start off with some very very elementary topics. Yes it does go into great detail about exposure, focal length, depth of field and so on and the rules of composition - well the 1/3rd rule at least. This probably does give you a rough idea of what is going on but it isn't sufficient. If you are an experienced photographer you will also find the account a bit thin and possibly annoying given that you bought the book to find out about HDRI.
The introduction to the idea of HDRI is quite good and so is the discussion of which shots are most suitable for processing. Most of the discussion of how to do it is of the "try this and see what it does" sort but given that this is a practical subject this isn't unreasonable. The tools used included Photoshop CS5, FDR tools, Photomatrix Pro, Dynamic Photo etc. All are commercial software but there are demo versions you can use to try the ideas out.
As well as the basic HDRI techniques of combining multiple bracketed exposures, de-ghosting and tone mapping there is also a lot of use of what you might call standard manipulation - modifying color balance and saturation for example.
Many of the pictures included in the book have a surreal look to them that you might not be aiming for. If a surreal look is your target then there are lots of easier options than HDRI. Most photographers probably want to make use of HDRI because it has the possibility of mimicking the human visual experience and so produce super-real images rather than surreal images. But this is a matter of taste and interpretation and not really a reason for criticising the book. However, I have to say that I didn't find any sample photos that I really liked or motivated me. Indeed few of the photos presented actually seemed to need HDRI techniques and the few that did weren't really discussed in enough detail.
Overall the steady plodding approach of the description also left me distinctly unmotivated. This isn't a book that made me want to get on and create some images. For me the book was also pitched too widely and didn't really focus in on the extra techniques needed for HDRI rather than general image enhancement. This said another reader might well find the approach "holistic" and enlightening.
For me the best chapter in the book was the one on tone mapping, which in many ways is the critical process that determines what an HDRI image will finally look like. Every other step in creating an HDRI image is basically just trying to make up for the fact that we don't have cameras capable of taking an HDRI image in one press of the button. That is, the stacking of multiple exposures and so on all leads up to the creation of a digital image that has wider dynamic range than can be represented on conventional display media. Once we have the HDRI image then the fun begins trying to work out how to map the full range into the restricted range of the display device. This chapter made me think a little harder about the task - although there were no new insights.
This book isn't for the advanced digital photographer nor is it for the complete beginner. If you happen to be in exactly the right experience range and want to use the same tools then this is a good book.