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The case for HDR processing in Macro Photography

Macro-photography is one of my passions, and there is something fascinating about the natural world in its magnified state. Whilst a full explanation of what macro photograph is, is outside of the scope of this article it can essentially be summarized as any photo where the item being photographed equates to the same size (or larger) on the sensor. So for example if you were taking a photo of a bug that was 1 mm, then in macro photography it would be 1 mm on the sensor as well (or larger). This is often referred to as 1:1 magnification ratio.

Macro photography can show some incredible details within everyday objects like spiders, butterflies, reptiles and other creatures (and inanimate objects) because of the size of the item however there are often a number of post processing steps which are required to bring the best out of an image, such as focus stacking. In this article I wanted to talk about High Dynamic Range processing, this gets a fairly bad rap as it can often lead to cartoon-ish images however, when done well it has the ability to really enhance your images, and extract detail from the shadows and improve the colors.

So what is High Dynamic Range imaging (or HDR), in essence this is the method of merging or editing images to extract the details from the highlights and shadows (the light and dark areas) and taking this information and bringing it into a final photo which is more evenly lit and has more color and detail in these light and dark areas. Usually with HDR photos you would take what is called an exposure bracket, so you would capture one photo which is over exposed, one photo which is perfectly exposed and a final photo which is under exposed. The program then extracts the information it needs from the overexposed photo (usually getting shadow information), and from the underexposed photo (usually getting highlight information) and blends it into the perfectly exposed photo.

If you are capturing inanimate objects then you could try something like this, but in most cases with live objects you won't have the time to captured exposure bracketed shots, so you need to look at a tool which can pull the information out of a single photo. In my case I was using Aurora HDR which is a HDR program from Skylum, this uses the Quantum AI engine to get the best out of your images, and whilst it prefers exposure blends, it does work with single images.

To demonstrate how HDR can improve images, I have taken a number of my wildlife related images which were captured with my Sigma 150mm Macro, these were edited in Lightroom before being put into Aurora HDR. The top is the Lightroom only edited image, whilst the bottom is the image which was edited with Lightroom + Aurora HDR. Note not all of these are fully edited to the points to look at are the highlights and shadows and associated detail, and colors.

 

Image 1: Butterfly exported from Lightroom.

Image 2: Butterfly exported from Lightroom and edited in Aurora HDR, note the increased detail in the shadows and better color.

 

 

Image 3: Butterfly image exported from Lightroom.

Image 4: Butterfly exported from Lightroom and edited in Aurora HDR, if you look at the wings you will notice the details are more visible, and the colors are slightly better.

 

 

Image 5: Lizard exported from Lightroom.

Image 6: Lizard exported from Lightroom and edited in Aurora HDR, note the better color reproduction and more detail in shadows.

 

 

 

 

Image 7: Mantis exported from Lightroom.

 

Image 8: Mantis exported from Lightroom and edited in Aurora HDR.

 

As you can see, in the cases although subtle it has clearly brought out more detail within the shadow areas of the macro images as well as typically improving color reproduction. Generally speaking I think this adds a fair bit to the photos are the detail is often part of the most interesting part of the macro shots (e.g. the wings of the butterfly) so being able to pull out more detail from these areas using a tool like Aurora HDR in my opinion is very handy and enhances the images overall.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Aurora HDR, you can do so here or using any of the links in this article. If you use the discount code TRAVISHALE at checkout you may recieve an additional discount (may not work during sales).

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