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Learn from the Masters: HDR Guru Trey Ratcliff

Posted By On June 15, 2009 @ 12:39 PM In Digital Photography | Comments Disabled

Trey Ratcliff became a master of high dynamic range photography in a just three years. So what is HDR? Well, by taking several exposures of a scene and blending and processing them through various programs, multiple light levels are represented in one final image. The result is a hyper-realistic, almost dreamlike picture like the examples of his work found here.

But before that, something about him. He is best known for StuckInCustoms.com, which has become the #1 Travel Photography blog on the Internet with around 350,000 visits per month “including one from my mom”.

His photography first became popular after his work became the first HDR photo ever to hang in the Smithsonian museum. After that, he was represented by Getty Images (the most popular stock photo agency in the world) and has been featured on the BBC and various other media outlets.

Ironically, he grew up blind in one eye to which he says that “[it] might have changed the way I view the world. I don’t know.” His background is in computer science and math, so he brings an “algorithm-like process” to capturing the scene in such a way that it evokes memories in a palpable manner.

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Photo: Trey Ratcliff

Here is an interview with the master lensman.

What gear do you use?
Nikon D3x and photo processing softwares like Photomatix, LucisArt, and, of course, Photoshop.

What is your tip to people who want to get into HDR photography?
Just one thing, really. Though the existing HDR algorithms are good and getting better, they must be re-mixed with an original RAW to ensure that proper balance is returned to the scene.

And for those who want to learn the intricacies, do you have any tutorials?
Sure, I do. Anyone can go to my blog (http://www.stuckincustoms.com/hdr-tutorial), and download the pdf that contains detailed step by step instructions on how to go about processing your RAW and Jpeg images. You can read more about my work on my blog, too.

HDR is creative, but has any of this actually led advertising agencies to use such images of yours for commercial use?
Absolutely. We are very active licensing images for commercial use. They are vibrant, they pop, and advertisers are just now coming around to them.

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Photo: Trey Ratcliff

Does HDR’s surreality rob some of its commercial value, making it more of a pastime?
Not necessarily. Not all HDRs are surreal. The most successful ones are the images that have a mild HDR treatment.

You must have experimented with so many HDR softwares. Which do you find to be the best and why?
I recommend in my HDR Tutorial that people use Photomatix. To me, it is the best. I sent so much business their way that they even sent me a discount code to pass along to people that read the tutorial.

Between PhotoShop and the others, how does PhotoShop measure up in HDR imaging?
Photoshop is still not very good at generating HDR images. Many other software programs are still superior.

Any tips on exposure and depth of field that works best for HDRs?
I suggest keeping the ISO as low as possible to avoid compounding noise in the final result.

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Photo: Trey Ratcliff

What kind of photography is best suited for HDRs? Landscape, portrait, tabletop, night, low light…
Everything is great, except portraits. These usually end up making the subject look like a coal-miner.

What’s the next level of HDR that you foresee and how will it impact the world of photography?
I think the algorithms will improve and we’ll start seeing a lot of HDR done inside of the camera itself.

~Zahid Javali


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