The idea for this technique has been circling the photography world for a very long time. The fact is that Gustave Le Gray used two separate negatives, one with a short exposure and another with a longer one, to produce an equally illuminated seascape that shows the sea and the sky, as early as 1850.
HDR Photography Development
Some attribute the development of HDR photography to Charles Wykoff. He created a film that was capable of recording high dynamic images directly and used it to take the infamous nuclear explosion pictures that were featured on the cover of Life magazine in 1954. This film had three layers, each with a different ASA rating (an American Standards Association method of defining the exposure index) and it produced three differently coloured images.
Throughout the better part of the 20th century, HDR images were created by manually tone mapping the photograph via dodging and burning. These processes included directly manipulating the negative and increasing or decreasing exposure in certain areas because the negative has a much higher dynamic range than the print-out. An important example of this era is W. Eugene Smith’s Schweitzer at the Lamp – a photo that took 5 days to be produced. Ansel Adams, the famous photographer, was a great fan of the technique and spent hours in the darkroom manipulating his famous pictures.
HDR File Format
More recent advancements in the field of HDR imaging were made in 1985 when Gregory Ward came up with the RGBE file format – the first HDR file format. It allowed the colour information to be stored in separate pixels and thus manipulated if necessary. Tone mapping was then applied to video cameras by Prof. Y.Y.Zeevi – a member of the Technion in Israel. The patent was filed in 1988. 1993 saw the introduction of the first medical camera that could capture multiple differently exposed images in real time and produce HDR video.
A more modern method of HDR imaging was introduced in 1993 – Global HDR. It essentially makes a light map of the entire image which then allows tone mapping wherever needed. This method allows the combined use of digital cameras and computer software which makes it accessible and desirable to the general population. The method was patented in 1995 by Steve Mann.
Differently Exposed Photos
Paul Debevec presented the most modern definition of HDR imaging we know today in 1997. His work on producing a single image from several differently exposed ones was widely acknowledged and lead to him working on movies like Avatar, The Matrix, King Kong and Spider Man 2 and 3.
Abiding by that definition, Adobe’s Photoshop series first introduced their Merge to HDR function in 2005 and have been improving it ever since.
HDR photography is becoming more and more popular now that cameras and image processing software are available to literally everyone. Probably the most important reason for its rise, though, is that it allows for the production of breathtakingly beautiful images.