We’ve all had those moments in our lives when we are stopped in our tracks by the awe-inspiring beauty of the “now”. Magnificent morning sunrises painted with strokes of every color imaginable; landscapes bathed in the golden glow of summer’s setting sun, glittering galactic night skies speckled with millions of faint incandescent stars.
Whether through the lens of your camera, on a new flat screen at the local big box retailer or simply captured with the shutter of your eyelids and burned into your subconscious, the technological advancements that make the documentation of these moments possible are within reach, thanks to the High Dynamic Range (HDR) features built into today’s newest cameras, camcorders, monitors and televisions.
The A-B-Cs of HDR
If you’re a fan of the Matrix trilogy, you understand the greater concept pushed in those films that our reality is merely an illusion. It’s not a stretch to assume the same could be said for HDR video. The stunning visuals have the potential to stop a viewer in their tracks, while the succinct surround-sound complementing those visuals can bring out a raw, ethereal reaction that sears the soul.
To appreciate what HDR is capable of, we need to understand what HDR is. Simply put, HDR is a color enhancement feature that allows the range of colors to be enhanced on both the light and dark end of the spectrum. This means richer colors and more flexibility in exposing your image for mixed lighting.
In Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) blacks are flat, whites are bright, and everything else sort of falls in the middle. High Dynamic Range leverages the information embedded within a video signal that addresses the natural colors of the content and pulls them out and enhances them. So, blacks aren’t just black, they’re a multitude of shades of black, grays, opaque — whites aren’t just bright, they’re white, pearl, and tan. You get the picture.
Unlocking HDR’s Potential
In order for HDR technology to deliver its value, the media through which the content is captured or shared requires a significantly greater amount of data to write and play. While the codecs by which HDR is shared has yet to gain global hold, the potential to captivate and replicate the look and feel of the human eye is within reach.
Since the cost of entry for capturing content that truly elevates standard video to HDR-quality is prohibitive to most, here are three simple tricks a video producer can leverage to deliver a solid result that mirrors HDR.
HDR allows the range of colors to be extended on both the light and the dark ends of the spectrum.
For starters, ensure you’re maintaining production integrity with each shot. Avoid overexposing or underexposing your camera while capturing a visually arresting scene. You can adjust much of the content in post-production, but it’s hard to fix something that’s broken beyond repair. Setting your camera’s aperture or iris to an ideal setting before pressing the shutter or record button will ensure success.
Next, consider kicking up the visuals within the scene itself. From charismatic costumes to profound props, the more color you surround your subject with, the greater your color range to work with when producing your finished work. If you’re shooting a tour of a new home, consider staging with colorful rugs, art pieces on the wall or counters, and pops of color with fresh flowers or synthetic bouquets from your local art supply store.
Finally, leverage the light. By creating striking streaks of shadows or pools of primary light throughout your scene, the ability to make the materials within your frame stand out through properly placed lights allows the lens to soak up the scene on screen and stop viewers in their tracks.
HDR Knowledge is Power
While mass acceptance of HDR hasn’t quite hit mainstream on the video front, it has been integrated into several platforms of photography, most notably in the technology you may be reading this article on — your cell phone. Manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have built HDR photo modes into their mobile camera. We are on the precipice of global potential for HDR saturation across multiple formats. The quality of mobile still photography has taken hold on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, but what about in our living rooms on our television sets or in our offices on our computer monitors?
Manufacturers are marketing Ultra HD and HDR formats of their higher-end products to move the needle on the enhanced dynamic range of color and sound. Yet, until the product delivered to those monitors is available on a mass scale, the evolution of this technology may still require a bit more time to penetrate the marketplace.
As Laurence Fishburne’s character, Morpheus, famously quipped in The Matrix (1999): “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Welcome to the rabbit hole of HDR. Choose wisely.
In addition to proudly capturing the daily adventures of his two children, Dave Sniadak manages all aspects of corporate communications for a Minneapolis-based airline.