I share some mistakes I made doing HDR photography.

Last evening my friend Dave and I went  up to NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) in Boulder to do some HDR (high dynamic range) shots about an hour before sunset.

I wanted to get there an hour before sunset but since the mountains are so tall we got there right as the sun was going over the mountains – first mistake.

My friend Dave had not done any HDR before so I gave him my version of the Trey Ratcliff HDR tutorial. You can watch my HDR tutorial.

The problem was we wanted to get some mountain shots but since the sun had already gone behind the mountains the lighting didn’t work well for HDR, also it was more humid than normal if that makes a difference.

As you can see some of these shots didn’t come out well at all and had a weird gray cast to the sky that I couldn’t seem to do anything with it to change it. It was hard to make the sky look good both using Photomatix and Lightroom.

I want to go back and try in the morning when the sun is just hitting the mountains as it is coming up, perhaps that would make a better HDR shot.

But we did get a few neat shots like this one pointing away from the mountains looking down a big hill and this one of a tracker on a pill of dirt, I like how the cloud came out.

Anyway I will know for next time that this type of light does not work well for HDR.

Some Good HDR Shots we Did Get

Cat 3250 On NCAR Boulder Colorado


My Friend Dave Shooting His First HDR Shot

Dave Besnette Learning HDR


  • Hey there Dave (what a great name), I love your series they are clear and easy to watch (understand).

    I notice that you were trying to make HDRs out out of lowDR scenes. Perhaps that is why they didnt work out as expected. Doesnt HDR shine when the sun does, where there are lots of shadows to pull up and hotspots to knock down, Twilight really doesnt have that as there is no direct source left to give you all that contrast.

    Anyway, I see that some of your sky shots have clouds that look very flat. The darkest exposure should really be scraping some detail out there, at the moment the sky gets pulled down but the clouds just clip off to grey. Maybe a polarisor would help peer into the structure of the clouds?

    Good job and don’t stop. Cheers

  • @3pointedit you are right about lowDR scenes, I guess I was trying to make something work that was never going to happen. Oh well, it wasn’t a waste because I did learn not to do that again.

    Interesting idea on the polarizer, I need to get one.

  • Hi Dave,

    I think your idea of shooting in the morning with the first light will turn out some nice shots. Bright, sunlit scenes definitely bode well for HDR photography, but I also wanted to point out that just because the sun isn’t shining doesn’t mean HDR can’t be used to good effect. I have done a number of HDR shots at dusk that have turned out very nice, though most of them have something else in the scene that is increasing the dynamic range (a fountain with bright lights on it, a bright neon sign / store front, etc). And there are some scenes that just don’t work, the mountains right at sunset with sun rays might be one of them.

    Something I have found when working with dusk scenes is to not try to make the sky the brightest part of the image, and / or not try to make the overall image look too bright (it is dusk after all). This may or may not have made a difference in your situation, but staying later and not starting your exposures until most of the sun rays are gone may have helped. Start exposing for the mountains and finish off with a longer shutter to bring in the deep blue / purple that is still in the sky after the sun is long set, and if you can’t get the right mix in Photomatix (weighting towards the darker sky), then composite it in with Photoshop. Some of my dusk shots don’t even start until I’m at about 1/4 second at f8 (iso 100) and end at 20+ seconds.

    In your case the mountains may not have the pop of daylight HDR but could still be worth shooting for something a little more moody.

  • Dave…I recently tried HDR shots of some clouds/t-storms south of Atlanta in July of 2012 and had some interesting results…apart from some ghosty cars passing by on the street I think they turned out pretty well. For a first try anyway. Oh and NCAR is the national center for climatic research…I used to be a meteorologist. 🙂 I would like to send two of them to you to share…I converted them to jpgs so they are not too huge.

    Atlanta, GA