Book Review – Practical HDRI, 2nd Ed by Jack Howard

I’ve had an interest in HDR photography for several years. It’s a wonderful innovation for the art of photography but I’ve felt that it could have some terrific application in commercial photography. And it has. An increasing number of photographers have been adding HDR to their arsenal; particularly in the architectural/real estate area.

A few years ago I read the first of what I consider to be the two seminal books on HDRI. That was The HDRI Handbook by Christian Bloch.  Bloch covers the technical side of HDR extremely well.  The second of the two I read more recently.  Practical HDRI, 2nd Edition:  High Dynamic Range Photography Using Photoshop CS5 and Other Tools, handles, well, the practical side of HDR.  Howard tries to keep the technical side of HDRI to a minimum but where it’s necessary he covers the concepts well and in a manner that can be easily understood.

Rather than jumping in to merging and tonemapping, the book takes the reader through some of the basics.  Howard covers gear and gives a backgrounder on ‘Photography 101’ (exposure, composition) then after the groundwork is laid, begins getting into HDRI.

The chapter on “Capturing Images for High Dynamic Range Imaging” is one that should be read by anyone who’s doing HDRI – or anyone who does digital photography for that matter.  Howard does a convincing job of dispelling the myth that one must always shoot RAW.  [Warning:  Start of editorial comment] This ‘always shoot RAW under penalty of death’ mantra that’s spewed out on so many internet discussion boards is one of those ‘urban myth’ photographic ‘absolutes’ that really does need to be eliminated from the mindset as quickly as possible [End of editorial comment, back to regular programming].

Once those basics are covered, the HDRI fun begins.  While the title of the book mentions Photoshop specifically, and while Photoshop is the main focus, several other high quality HDRI software applications are discussed as well.  Howard walks the user through numerous examples to discuss merging of the source images, working with an image in 32 bit and deghosting techniques and tricks.  All of which, of course, take place before even thinking about tonemapping.  I wonder how many people really know just how much you can do with an image in 32 bit within Photoshop and that many of the regular low bit depth tools are also available in 32 bit?

Perhaps the most important chapter is the last.  The last chapter is called “Post Tone Mapping Image Optimization”.  Yes, that’s right, post tonemapping.  I think a great number of people working with HDRI stop after the image has been through the tonemap cooker.  I’ve made the argument for some time now that the tonemapped image is just a starting point and not the end point.  Howard discusses this in detail and in conjunction with the chapter on capturing for HDRI should be a must read for anyone doing HDRI work.

The writing style is not heavy and technical geek-speak is kept to a minimum.  This really is a book for the people working in front of the computer as opposed to those working behind the program writing the code.  As a relatively advanced user of HDRI (if I do say so myself) I learned some new things from the book so it’s definitely not just for beginners.  This book is highly recommended for anyone at any level who is doing or would like to do HDRI.

Practical HDRI, 2nd Ed. is published by Rocky Nook and is available from Amazon or O’Reilly Media.  There’s also a webcast to go along with the book.

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