sylviagm 3:08am, 11 March 2009
I've been reading and learning a lot about HDR + Flash for some time now. Dan Achatz has helped me through the process of learning how to mix both techniques to get better results (better than HDR alone in my case)

Today I had the oportunity to take some RE pictures, and since I was with plenty of time at the scene, decided to do some test shots concerning these techniques to see the difference for myself , adn show you guys.


HDR (3 exposures bracketed and tonemapped in photomatix pro)

HDR + Flash (same settings as above, but added 1 flash at manual mode 1/1 to all 3 exposures ; bracketed speed not aperture)

HDR (3 exposures bracketed and tonemapped in photomatix pro)

HDR + Flash (same settings as above, but added 1 flash at manual mode 1/1 to all 3 exposures ; bracketed speed not aperture)

I see a HUGE difference in both cases. although i haven't yet processed the rest of the batch. from these 2 examples I already see a big difference and certainly I'm sure my post-processing in Photoshop will shorten A LOT FROM NOW ON. basically, what I would do to these 2 HDR + Flash examples, is mask a little more detail in from the windows, fix verticals, and quick levels...

I usually have to work on the walls a lot to take out the HDR effect from them, especially in cases like these where there are big windows involved.

I notice the flash eliminates almost 90% of the HDR problems: the walls don't look muddy, the whites look whiter and the surfaces themselves aren't as contaminated as usual HDR's. they're shinier and have more natural details.

i'm excited to see how much time i'll save processing this session, compared to my usual post processing that takes a whole lot of hours!

please feel free to suggest and add to this topic your tips and ideas!
Underexposed7 Posted 9 years ago. Edited by Underexposed7 (member) 9 years ago
Wonderful demonstration of this technique. I would think with a larger room one flash may not do it though.

Thanks for posting this. Beautiful work.
Lohrman PRO 9 years ago
Sylvia- very interesting. Thanks for the examples. I assume your flash is on-camera?
C.B.Thomas Posted 9 years ago. Edited by C.B.Thomas (member) 9 years ago
Sylvia, I too have been using this technique as of late and feel the same way about the effect of just a single strobe on the HDR process. I've been much more successful with bringing in views and adding punch to whites where normal HDR doesn't really compare. I find in small rooms when the single strobe can take on a lot of the work, I end up being able to process HDRs through photomatix with the strength slider down in the 10-20 range and sometimes even down in the single digits. Some might say on small rooms that the HDR isn't necessary, but I find it picks up so many small details that would normally be lost even by a strobed room.

When I'm strobing in HDRs I've been reducing my flash level as I reduce shutter time (increase shutter speed). The flash needs to put out more power to overcome ambient in the long exposures, but doesn't need as much power in the shorter exposures. I find my WB stays more constant when doing this. If you have a TTL cable (modified using the Cat-5 hack is even better) or some PWs/Cybersyncs you can do it easily without touching the camera.

I think this technique really is the best of both worlds (speed and quality) because you reduce time on-site from a full strobe setup, but reduce time in post from a full HDR workflow. For anyone that doesn't have a lot of resources (in the sense of strobes/speedlights) a single flash and moderate HDR can really do wonders.
sylviagm Posted 9 years ago. Edited by sylviagm (member) 9 years ago
thanks larry. yes, on camera in both cases, bounced off ceiling.

@ underexposed: thanks for commenting! i did some today on larger rooms, i hope to post in these next days... yes, i agree, i definetely found it harder to do on larger rooms...

@chris , thank you for taking the time to read and add to the discussion. for these tests, i worked with an ON camera flash (SB 800), bounced from the ceiling. i kept the exposure constant in all cases. i have to try your suggestion of changing the flash levels as well.

it is really the best of both worlds. and what amazes me more is the time it takes both on site, and post - process to get good results. it's probably 60% faster than regular HDR. i'm so excited about this!! :) i can't wait for my next shoot!
Dean Holtz PRO 9 years ago
Good example. I'm considering trying this again, as I have been spending more and more time in post with using exposure blending ( I don't to HDR anyways ).

But when I have done this in the past I found that even the use of one flash can induce reflections, cast extra shadows ( especially around ceiling fans ) and sometimes create an even more difficult WB issue.

I don't have multiple speedlights ( let alone an army of them ), but don't always like how much time I spend in post. If I don't burning in the windows, then I take about an hour to shoot a home and two hours of post. If I burn windows, then that time goes way up ( especially if people have thoes stupid oversized blinds built into wooden frames on the windows ).

I will admit, flash does give best results for the view out the windows and I have a small shoot on Friday, so I might try again.

I'll let you know how I make out too.

A Hurst 9 years ago
The HDR with or with out flash has been a fascinatiing discussion.

In the top two images the HDR version has more detail in the cabinet face and the frame around the mirror.

In the bottom image there is certainly more brightness generated by the flash. Not sure why you would go with the HDR workflow here in this smaller room, if you are going to still blend in the external view. One flash shot for interior and exterior and then hand blended would be quicker - [eliminate the whole HDR process]

I am still not convinced if you are saving any time in the overall workflow between the two processes. Shooting HDR only and shooting HDR with flash/s.

I will have to experiment my self in the next shoot I get with no one home and the agent not waiting.
pwscott61 PRO 9 years ago
@ Sylviagm In your examples, did you tone map with the same slider settings in each case or were the sliders or presets adjusted too?

Thanks for this example and please do let us know on how you make out with bigger rooms.
sylviagm 9 years ago
hi sean, i hope you give it a try, it was fun!

@ a hurst: i did HDR on those room and all the others just because that's been my regular workflow for some time now. i like to see the similar "look" in all the images I hand in my client, therefore preffer to do HDR in all.
now that i'm trying flash photography again, I might sometimes do what you suggest: do 2 shots, one for interior and 1 for exterior , and then hand blend.
about the time issue, as i said above, i believe this technique will save me up to 60% of time. for sure. the result out of photomatix pro using flash + HDR is much more "done" already... i believe. one of my main goals is that: to find how to do the best HDR in the least amount of post processing time.
thanks for your input!

@pwscott: yes, i did use tonemap and used one of my saved adjustments. i have a list of adjustments and just try them to see which one works best for that specific image.
pwscott61 PRO 9 years ago
@ Sylviagm Just to be totally clear- question was if you used identical tone mapping settings on each of the two images?
sylviagm 9 years ago
yes, i did
Images By Audra Posted 9 years ago. Edited by Images By Audra (member) 9 years ago
I too have been incorporating this technique in my images and I'm finding that it is cutting my post processing time down quite a bit. Thanks for taking the time to demonstrate your results. I knew you must have something up your sleeve when I first saw these posted. I was wondering why it wasn't your usual polished work. Now it is all clear. Thanks again.
Also, this technique is a huge help when you get lens flare or ghosting artifacts.
sylviagm 9 years ago
hahaha ,i actually should write a note under them :)
jdustinstone 9 years ago
i apologize for complicating this process, but how exactly does this work with on camera flash? do you flash on every bracketed shot (-2,0,+2 for example)? do you move the flash? if so, this would obviously need to be off camera flash. combining hdr in photomatix or just dropping as layers into photoshop and using the background eraser to bring it all in?
dan_achatz PRO 9 years ago
I wish I had thought of that. LOL

Nice examples...
stan schurman PRO 6 years ago
@ jdustinstone: I find that using the flash in remote on a lightstand works better than on-camera flash. That way you can place the flash where it will do the most good which isn't always from the camera position.

Has anyone tried this technique using a GF Lightsphere in bounce mode? It seems to me that you'll not only get the benefit of the bounce, but the lightsphere should also direct some light into nooks and cranies that are still hidden from the bounce flash.
Groups Beta