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Book Review: Rick Sammon’s HDR Photography Secrets

May 25, 2010

Rick Sammon’s HDR Photography Secrets for Digital Photographers
by Rick Sammon

Editor’s Note: At this writing, the book is available at 50% off at Amazon USA. Fifteen bucks!

The book approaches HDR with a keen photographer’s common sense and doesn’t pretend to rely solely on any one magic formula. Rick writes in a clear and easy to understand fashion. There’s enough tech meat for those who crave it, but if you’re new shooter, you won’t be too overwhelmed. Software tools discussed by Rick include Photomatix, Topaz Adjust, Adobe Camera Raw and others.  But Rick goes much further, discussing a variety of shooting techniques and tips such as how to evaluate contrast range and  being sure to main a constant aperture in bracketed shots so that you have a matching depth of field. And another important tip that will scare the newbies, Manual Focus. I’m so glad Rick mentioned this. I shoot manual focus on the DSLRs maybe about half the time, and it helps me in my work. It makes me think about a shot more. and it’s no hassle for me as I’ve been doing it since the days of my old Zeiss Ikon and Yashica TLR. Try manual focus – you’ll open up a whole new world.

HDR has become one of those cool catchphrases in digital imaging. Adored by some and absolutely disdained by others, I try and keep an open mind. It’s just that what some rabid aficionados consider “true HDR”  in many cases is just, well, so badly done. Some of those urban pics you see with that glow around the buildings… sorry but to me a large number of them just suck.  I once saw a quote on the web about HDR

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

HDR, done badly and for no genuine reason, is often gratuitous and needless. When you get too many of them in a pile, they’re just and eyesore and a headache to look at. In the book, Rick says

“HDR is a very cool technique, but it’s important to use it wisely. Knowing when to use it and when to leave an image alone will make you a better photographer. Just remember that a photograph is all about the light.”

As Rick states in one of his page titles, HDR is Not a Magic Fix. Going further,

“When it comes to creating an HDR image, you basically have two choices. You can create a realistic image (one that represents a literal view of a scene) or an artistic image (in which reality is altered … usually by increasing the saturation of the colors and details).”

For myself, I presently use the Poor Man’s HDR technique. I’ve been doing it for many years, and no one’s been the wiser 😉 When I see a scene that has potential beyond documentary stock or plain snapshot, I first carefully consider the shot, then ask the following…

Is it worth shooting?
What will I do with it?
Is it a good candidate for an artsy piece?

I then check composition and framing. In doing this, I first check all around the frame, first the inside and then all around the edges. Then I back off, away from the viewfinder, and make another assessment. Is this the scene I want, or do I want to include more elements? It’s at this stage that I decide on the final focal length. Then I shoot and do a brief check on the camera histogram. I’ll sometimes bracket exposures, but most times it’s one or two frames. The raw file(s) then go into the raw processor of choice (I use a few different ones for different needs) If shooting one frame. I’ll process one jpeg as a tiny bit under exposed, just enough to hold the highlights in check, and another that is pumped up a bit to bring out shadows. I then layer the shots in Photoshop with a layer mask, and take the best of both worlds from each frame. Rick describes a similar method in the book, but processing 3 frames. Although Rick suggests the process can be very time consuming. I’ve really got the process pretty much down to a science and can usually knock out the final image in under 10 minutes. Some people call me the Photoshop machine LOL. It’s just that I know my tools, I don’t screw around, and the speed factor in part comes from many years of doing fine retouch. I go in with a plan and stick to it. I’ve no time for goofing around.

Back to the business at hand. To sum up about the book, even if you’re not a huge fan of HDR, this book can take you down new avenues in your photographic journey. In the end it will only help improve your work. There’s much more to the book than just HDR coolness. Some panorama tips, a little gear talk, and some other post processing tips are included. If you’re planning on going down the Photomatx or Topaz Adjust road, this book is a must for you.

A final quote from HDR Secrets:

“The point is: Don’t rely on HDR techniques to create great images. You still need to use your head and good basic photography processes to make great pictures.”

Rick is pretty much everywhere these days. In addition to finding his features in popular photo magazines, you’ll find him on the web :

Rick Sammon Dot Com

Digital Photo Experience – Rick’s a Contributor Here

Rick Sammon’s Blog

Rick On YouTube

Rick Sammon On Twitter

And here are some destination links for HDR geared software mentioned in the post:

Photomatix – and just a note here – there is a 15% discount on Photomatix when you use the discount code in Rick’s book

Topaz Adjust


  1. May 25, 2010 6:00 am

    Well thank you! You do very nice work, too.

    Good luck with all your projects.


  2. Ray permalink
    May 25, 2010 7:56 am

    I will have to look into this one. I have some of his other books. He has written a bunch. It’s all good stuff.

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