Practical HDR, Second Edition

By David Nightingale
Focal Press (176 p) $24.95
ISBN-10: 024082122X
ISBN-13: 978-0240821221

The second edition of David Nightingale’s useful introductory volume provides an informative overview of the techniques and tools of High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. HDR refers to pictures capturing a wider range of lights to darks than is typically possible with 8 bit camera-processed JPEGs. The book covers how a reader might 'tone map' raw files using post-processing techniques to achieve a look that often ranges from hyper-realistic (the human eye has a wider sensitivity to dynamic range than a digital sensor), to dreamlike. A wealth of software tools now exist to create these HDR images, and Nightengale devotes a good amount of ink to techniques using the most popular ones, including Photoshop CS5, Photomatix Pro, HDR Express, HDR Efex Pro, Olneo PhotoEngine. With post-processing know-how, Nightingale explains the range of effects possible within HDR, from extracting data from a single raw file in order to create a punchy and hyper-saturated graphic effect, to blending multiple pictures in order to achieve a more photo realistic result. While the use (and quite often over-use) of tone mapping has become an object of irritation in many photographic circles, Nightingale begins with the assumption that the reader is interested in the techniques and admires the look that it typically yields. 

He includes many of his own accomplished landscapes, cityscapes, and urban studies to illustrate his text.  The book also includes a few representative images from other prominent HDR proponents, such as Trey Radcliff.  Many images are accompanied by EXIF data from the initial shots as well as information on the software used in post-production. While rife with practical information and best practices (i.e. taking five exposures at 1 EV intervals rather than three exposures at 2 EV increments) as well as tips to avoid banding, noise and other artifacts, the manual never gets overly technical or impenetrable. 

A good deal of time is devoted to comparing techniques and results between competing software programs. This can be very helpful to those just starting to explore HDR and trying to decide which tools are best suited to their needs.

As is typical for books in the fast-moving tech industry, the second edition already has a few references that are out-of-date; allusions to Photoshop CS5 instead of the recently released CS6, for example. Nightingale takes pains to account for varying workflows and software; a bonus for those trying to decide which app to use. For those already committed to a particular piece of software and an established workflow, however, a lot of what is covered will hold little interest. But for readers interested in exploring the possibilities of HDR, especially newbies hoping to get their feet wet, Nightingale has provided a valuable resource.

Practical HDR, Second Edition is available on Amazon as a paperback and as a Kindle ebook.

Adam Koplan is head of the Performance Department at the Dreamyard Project which brings arts programs to NYC schools. He is also Artistic Director of The Flying Carpet Theatre Co.
Follow him on Twitter @FlyingCarpetNYC

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 54
By bknight1973 (Jul 15, 2012)

you should see the world of dinsey photography, mainly from the community...They flash around all these over saturated slider crazied photos that, as you say, look nothing like it should be represented as. THen after they post them people drool over them there and on flikr (dont even get me started with flikr) declaring them masterpieces it makes me laugh as well.

vezon wrote:
It make me laugh that people mistake artisitcaly "mutilated" photos with HDR.
HDR stands for HighDynamicRange thats it and nothing more. Its a photo which combine light information from 2 or more images into ONE. AND HDR STOP HERE.

Comment edited 45 seconds after posting
By TowedJumper (Jul 12, 2012)

When HDR is used to supplement range that can't be captured by one exposure, I think it can some wonderful results. When HDR is used to cook the image to represent something completely inaccurate and passed off as "that's the way I saw it" when things get ugly.

Small correction, it's "Trey Ratcliff" not Radcliff.

By vezon (Jul 6, 2012)

It make me laugh that people mistake artisitcaly "mutilated" photos with HDR.
HDR stands for HighDynamicRange thats it and nothing more. Its a photo which combine light information from 2 or more images into ONE. AND HDR STOP HERE.
Of course the more light information u have, the more post processing u can but also a dslr has much more light inf. than a low budget compact camera dont u think? Should we call HDR cameras and not DSLR?
I am dreaming the day when we will not need that 3shots HDR technique but instead the cameras have more Range.
and @j2ker, HDR is for making images more REALISTIC not for artistic postprocessing.

By amicus70 (Jul 10, 2012)

Basically you're right: HDR ist just stitching a couple of pictures on top of each other so you can get more light information. But HDR doesn't stop there. Tone-Mapping is although a part of HDR-photography and this is undoubtedly an artistic postprocessing.

By j2ker (Jun 29, 2012)

I hate HDR images that look like they came from another dimension...kinda ruins the art of photography. It is possible to make HDR images that look realistic...What do you all think?

By laquila65 (Jul 2, 2012)

I hate that crazy HDR too. It was kind of interesting for a while, but enough is enough. Every time I see a personal gallery with this stuff, I think of poor taste.

Roger Nordin
By Roger Nordin (Jul 5, 2012)

Well, I guess the beuty of HDR is that you can use it to either create photos that are just that much more realistical, OR to create art based on photos. :-)

By DBlackwell (Jul 6, 2012)

I love HDR and appreciate whatever someone else chooses to do with a camera, and now a computer, an app, an imagination...somehow its makes this small planet seem like it has more room. (image-I-nation!) LOL

By MitchBuchannon (Jul 6, 2012)

Well I guess it's all about HDR being undoubtly a means of adding versatility to the photographer, for both realistic and artistic purposes. Whether one likes it for one purpose or the other (or both or none) is just one's decision.

Comment edited 37 seconds after posting
1 upvote
By amicus70 (Jul 10, 2012)

Everyone could decide for themselves, wether they like HDR-photography or not. My opinion ist, that HDR is nothing for an everyday-photography. It's for critical light-situations or other special circumstances.

The A-Team
By The A-Team (Jun 27, 2012)

I've been following David's work for years now on his Chromasia photoblog. Although not much into HDR, I wouldn't hesitate to pick this one up!

By brumd (Jun 26, 2012)

I just purchased the digital version of the book (ePub format) and tried to read it on a desktop PC, using Adobe Digital Editions.

The layout has been destroyed completely, the quality of the small pictures is poor (you want to study those examples, don't you?); images that are supposed to go together (like images and histograms) are all over the place, and it is unclear which text refers to which image. Many pictures to which the text refers seem to be missing.. :/
I've seen a sample of the original layout, so I know what it's supposed to look like.
The quality is unacceptable. Unbelievable they even release a mutilated product like this.

I asked for, and got, a full refund. I'll buy the printed version.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 5 minutes after posting
By balico (Jun 26, 2012)

Another book about HDR.. Although it might contain useful information, the sample images of the shoe and railroad don't need any HDR processing and detail could be easily extracted from a good raw file.

That said, one gets a more natural looking output by using "Exposure Fusion" with added bonus that by stacking the images, noise is reduced while HDR normally exaggerates noise in an image. Look for the free program (donate ware) "EnfuseGUI" to try it.

By MarkJordan (Jun 26, 2012)

David Nightingale’s first edition was a godsend and was instrumental to my fundamental understanding of HDR. I can only imagine how informative and relevant the second edition will be for neophyte and professional alike. Kudos!

1 upvote
By acidic (Jun 25, 2012)

I'm really disappointed that the author chose to make this a HDR guide for images made with a digital SLR. Too bad. I thought this guide would help me do HDR with my mirrorless cameras. Oh well, I'll just have to wait for the appropriate book :-(

Joe Ogiba
By Joe Ogiba (Jun 25, 2012)

Why would this book be a good HDR guide for my Pentax K-7 DSLR and not my mirrorless K-01 ?

By Dvlee (Jun 26, 2012)

Any camera can be used for HDR as long as it the following features:

A) shutter priority or manual exposure
B) manual focus
C) can be mounted to a tripod
D) exposure compensation of at least + or - one stop or auto exposure bracketing.

most mirrorless and advanced point and shoot cameras should have these features.

By anymouse02 (Jun 25, 2012)

Buyer Beware!

Be careful when you oreder this or any other book for Amazon Kindle PC. I had this reader installed on my PC but registered to an old email address. I could not load the book to it as I am now registered with g mail. The only way was to de-register and lose the books I already had and then re-register under the new email address and then only my new order would appear.

Needless to say I have returned the book for refund.

Scott Eaton
By Scott Eaton (Jun 25, 2012)

The vast majority of complaints about HDR images often being 'over-cooked' have NOTHING to do with HDR. HDR images when properly executed are usually subtle, if not dull because of the expanded contrast range. Further manipulation is usually required to make them look normal, or aethestically pleasing.

It's the post tone-mapping algorithms often applied to HDR images that cause all the fuss, and the cartoonish images.

By acidic (Jun 25, 2012)

"The vast majority of complaints about HDR images often being 'over-cooked' have NOTHING to do with HDR."

I wouldn't say "NOTHING".

"It's the post tone-mapping algorithms often applied to HDR images that cause all the fuss, and the cartoonish images."

See what I mean?


By Dvlee (Jun 26, 2012)

Alot of point and shoot cameras and smart phones have whjhat is called an HDR function but is nothing more than a rudementarty tonemapping function. Does not matter what they call it ebcause most snapshooter have no understanding of either process. They just know that if they enable that function they get nice bright colors.

1 upvote
By julieng (Jun 26, 2012)

I hear you, but there is still place for that some image creation being on the less subtle side, so to speak.

One should be able to renders subtle HDR, not to systematically overkill just for the sake of showing off HDR capabilities. When it is all said and done, its all about why you choose to render a given HDR photo subtle or less so.

By mahck (Jun 27, 2012)

To the point about smartphones and point and shoots having an HDR function that is just doing tone mapping: That's probably true but there are a lot that are doing multi-exposure as well.

By commercialguy (Jun 25, 2012)

I have this book and found it to be the best yet on HDR techniques and styles. It is clearly written with excellent examples. I had a commercial studio for 40 years and only wish HDR had been available to solve some of the technical problems of that time. All photography is based on styles, and if you don't like one, then don't use it. I employ a photo realistic style, and viewers have never been aware that HDR was used to solve an impossible brightness range. To them everything looks normal. HDR comes in many flavors, just use the one that suits your needs.

Ken Milburn
By Ken Milburn (Jun 25, 2012)

What's all this stupid argument against HDR all about? What do they think Ansel Adams did in black and white if it wasn't tone-mapping and why do you think that, just before he died, he said he wished he'd be be around for the evolution of HDR in digital photography so that people could finally "see reality."

Seems to me that one of the qualifications of a great photographer is that she be as observant as possible. So how can anyone look at what comes straight out of the camera and onto a screen or paper as being anything but sadly lacking in tonal 4-5 f-stops worth of shades of brightness and vibrance??

Now, it's also true that art is art...and all a matter of interpretation. Sometimes "leaving out information" makes what's "left over" grab more attention. But that should be the photographer's creative choice...not some excuse for not understanding the potential of technology.

Blah, blah, blah...

By AbrasiveReducer (Jun 25, 2012)

I think that many people, most perhaps, are simply not captivated by realistic images. Whether it is Ansel's black skies or the more-than-real color of Velvia film, most people are not looking for "accurate" representation. Want proof? Look at any group of photos on Flickr and the one with the most oversaturated color is accompanied by strings of comments like "great color!" It's the same thing with HDR. People who are new to photography don't accept the limitations of realistic representation so a sky that looks like gravy is artistic to them.

By graybalanced (Jun 25, 2012)

It was the same with film. Only scientists and documentarians were interested in accurate color. Art photographers and most commercial photographers were more interested in eye-popping colors. The world did not really look like Kodachrome. We just preferred Kodachrome to the real world. Or we preferred a different film that also didn't look like reality.

By Rachotilko (Jun 25, 2012)

"Now, HDR resides in the basement of color photography from where it may never come out"
Has the Politbyro come out with a decree prohibiting people from utilizing HDR skillfully ? Has any gifted photog been sentenced to forced labor for doing such a despicable act ?

Comment edited 8 minutes after posting
By Dvlee (Jun 25, 2012)

Long before digital photography existed, my color photography teacher told us "If you can't make it good, make it big and make it red."

Bright colors attract attention and to most amateurs they think that making the image brighter is more eyecatching and therefore better.

But, contrary to popular beliefs, the average person is actually capable of appreciating subtle differences in our senses. Pastel colors, soft music with subtle harmonies, a perfectly cooked meal can all be greatly appreciated by average ordinary people with no special sensory skills in those areas. They appreciate these things without really knowing why. But when it comes to creating works of great subtlty, that's a different story. Just turning the amp up to 11 does not make great music.

A slightly tonemapped image can have as much pop as an overprocessed. The average snapshooter does not have the skill to create one but they can appreciate it when they see it, without even knowing how it was done.

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
By villebon (Jun 24, 2012)

HDR Photography.

That used to be a valuable tool until the amateurs started doing just about anything with HDR and ruined it for everyone else and gave it its bad rep.

Now, HDR resides in the basement of color photography from where it may never come out.

1 upvote
By phototransformations (Jun 25, 2012)

Perhaps you don't mean to come off this way, but this sounds like a pretty elitist comment. There are always people who use technology with varying degrees of skill, and who's to say that one of the "amateurs" you denigrate won't find something new and potentially wonderful in this technique?

By Greynerd (Jun 25, 2012)

Are you actually a professional or do you mean by amateurs people who cannot match your high level of achievement? This book is written only for people with SLR cameras so it is not for people with SLT, compact or mirrorless cameras so hopefully it will not be read by amateurs and will make HDR suitable again for a better sort of person.

Dave Hobson
By Dave Hobson (Jun 25, 2012)


Comment edited 3 times, last edit 15 minutes after posting
By graybalanced (Jun 25, 2012)

There is good HDR out there. Just like when you see a good B&W photograph, you don't point and say "Wow, he converted that to B&W, I wonder how."

When you see a great HDR image today, you simply think it is a great photograph, because as with any other truly great representational technique, it is most successful when you don't immediately see that it was used.

By j2ker (Jun 29, 2012)

I completely agree! The technique should be irrelevant and invisible to the observer.

By DBlackwell (Jul 6, 2012)

Gee whiz...:( Whew!

By ELOJR (Jun 24, 2012)

Good review.

Each of us has different learning needs/wants and we respond to different texts.

I, too, researched a number of HDR books before choosing Rick Sammon's HDR Photography Secrets for Digital Photographers.

Interestingly - since I've rarely found the Dummies books valuable for my learning style or needs - Robbert Correll's High Dynamic Range Digital Photography for Dummies is a solid and comprehensive book for beginners and intermediates.

My regular go-to HDR site is Trey's, which has a wealth of information and images.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
doctor digi
By doctor digi (Jun 24, 2012)

A shame they can't use the correct term for the book's title - it's actually tone-mapping that is being created. A true HDR image cannot be displayed with any available technology.

Great review though.

By EmmanuelStarchild (Jun 24, 2012)


By FBoneOne (Jun 24, 2012)

Actually the author makes the distinction in the first chapter and clearly explains the difference between generating an HDR file that can't be accurately viewed and tone mapping which translates this file into something that can be viewed.
The book being about both, the title is not inaccurate, just partial.

By BitFarmer (Jun 25, 2012)

Using curves IS a tone mapping, using D_Lighting also is tone mapping, but HDR is a, at least, a "local tone mapping", it goes far beyond a simple and global tone mapping for the whole picture.

Tone mappgin means -among other things- that ALL the pixels with a given RGB (a tone) end up in the same output RBG (one tone is mapped to another tone), but it is not the case in HDR, the final "tone" of a given pixel depends also on the surrounding pixles' colore, so for me is more accurate and definitory HDR than "tone mapping".

By Dvlee (Jun 25, 2012)

As me and my colleagues see it, HDR does not refer to the dynamic range of the final output or display, but to the dynamic range of the scene being captured.

If the DR of the scene exceeeds the DR of the sensor and requires multiple exposures to capture the entire DR, then the scene could be described as being HDR.

The point behind HDR photography is to capture the entire DR of the scene , then process the image so it can be presented through a low dynamic range media.

Thus the term "HDR photography" refers to the method of capture much like panoramic, high speed, low light, artificial light or Zone System photography.

Tonemapping refers to the post processing methods used to render HDR images to the desired result, much as stitching renders the panarama or push/pull processing renders the Zone System negative.

Tonemapping can be also applied to a single low DR image

I think of HDR photography and tonemapping as two seperate procedures, with HDR dependent upon tonemapping.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
By Ithackermike (Jun 24, 2012)

Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end to overbaked HDR.

By WayneHuangPhoto (Jun 25, 2012)

I doubt that dude.

By fad (Jun 24, 2012)

This is amazing.

A book review on dpr that is written for adults.

How did this happen?

By six34sigma (Jun 24, 2012)

Good ratings online. The book is available on the Kindle and the Nook.



By ahoeflak (Jun 24, 2012)

Mmmm when I follow that link I get a 'Currently not available' message.

By six34sigma (Jun 25, 2012)

Interesting .... did a copy and paste and re-followed. It worked. Also purchased and downloaded book from B&N this afternoon. Weird, perhaps its based on location? US, Canada, .... etc.

John Gruffydd
By John Gruffydd (Jun 24, 2012)

On Amazon's UK site it shows two versions of this book. One has the cover shown above, the other has what looks like a seaside end-of-pier stall. The latter seems to be the latest. Both say "New and Revised Edition" on the cover.

So which is it?

The one with the seaside stall IS available on Kindle BTW.

Tom B.
By Tom B. (Jun 24, 2012)

I just now bought it on Amazon for the Kindle. $13.72

Comment edited 50 seconds after posting
By BaldCol (Jun 25, 2012)

What's it like on the kindle? Does having no colour pictures make it more difficult to follow?

By WIMorrison (Jun 24, 2012)

This is not available on the Kindle, despite what it says :(

Not good when two Amazon companies don't speak to each other, or check what they are saying.

By amicus70 (Jun 24, 2012)

Just bought it...

By jezza__1 (Jun 24, 2012)

Bookmarked, thanks!

Total comments: 54