HDR is an expression used for various techniques to overcome a cameras lack of dynamic range, compared to the human eye.
In this case I used different exposures to get some even lighting, even the camera pointed towards the setting sun. This technique is called bracketing.
The human eye can handle this sort of light, but a camera will either get the shadows too dark or the sky too bright.
First the final image, pretty close to what the scene looked like to me in the real world:
And now the three different exposures used to blend to the above image:
This post might be a bit longer than usual, as I want to correct some preconceptions about photography.
The first of those preconceptions is, a camera is similar to a human eye - well, nothing could be further from the truth.
1. Sensor (or film) vs Retina.
The Retina captures a continuous video stream without any exposure times in place, whereas a sensor captures all the light hitting it during one exposure. This allows a sensor (or film) to freeze a water droplet in midair, or make a choppy ocean look smooth. It also allows the sensor to see in the dark, with very long exposure times.
The eye has a flexible lens, which contracts or expands to focus, and also minimizes distortion, effectively. A camera lens is made of an array of glass lenses and other optical components. Some lenses can zoom, an eye can't.
The human eye's focus is only 1-2 degrees wide, whereas a camera lens can have up to 180 degrees of the scene in focus.
To see the focus of your own vision, stretch your arm, look at your thumb nail - it will be the only thing truly in focus, anything around it will be blurry. Wider focus comes at a price, distortion and comatic aberration (green and magenta colored edges around objects at the edge of a picture).
3. Dynamic range.
This is something our eyes do much better than any camera so far. Cameras have a lower dynamic range than eyes, digital cameras even lower than photofilm cameras.
How to explain dynamic range... For example a person in front of a sunset, the sun at the subjects' back. Everyone will see the person (if rather dark, but still recognizable) in the natural world. But everyone who tried to photograph such a scene will have had a problem - focusing on the person will show the person, but the sunset will be nearly white (=blown out), focusing on the background will give you all the beautiful colors in the sky, but the foreground is just a black silhouette. High dynamic range means, getting the foreground and background lit up evenly. This can be done by using a flash, or by bracketing (different exposures of the same scene, then overlay them to get even results).
Every image is processed, or "edited" in some way, EVERY image, without a fail!
The human eye processes an image in the brain, and this is even different for each brain (hence red/green blindness etc).
A digital camera also processes the image taken, via its internal operating system (Canon has a system called EOS, Apple phones use their IOS, other smartphones use Android operating systems etc). This is not what most people consider editing, but it is editing nevertheless.
It's usually just the basic interpretation of digital data coming from the sensor, correcting contrast and white balance etc (when the camera is set to auto mode). This processing works in a way the original programmer deemed right.
Adding an additional set of settings to the whole picture is a filter (often used in smartphones).
As you see, every photo ever been taken is actually edited, even in "the old days", by choice of film (Agfa had slightly different colors than Kodak, etc), different ISOs of those films (ISO is an indicator for light sensitivity) etc. Developing a photo negative is as much editing as to convert it into a photo positive on some photographic paper - this again can get you different results by using different paper and chemicals.
In the digital world we have editing software, like Photoshop, GIMP, etc. But, any of those techniques used in those programs, actually originated in the darkrooms of the old days, a not so well known fact.
Many "purists" believe only black and white photos are really pure - but what can be more abstract to a human than the absence of color? Besides, there are often color filters used in black and white photography. Yes that's right, colored glass used with black and white film. Red filters can enhance contrast in a BW photograph, whereas blue softens it, and so fort.
Reality in photography is a perception, not a physical thing. As I explained above, an eye and a camera don't have much in common at all. So the reality Mr Smith sees will be different to what his camera sees. It will also be different to what Mrs Smith sees. Their cat will see things in darkness no human can see. A Fly flying past their cat sees a collection of hundreds of pictures from its hundreds of eyes, and it will also have near 360 degree vision.
Insects don't see infrared (so red flowers won't look what we consider red to them at all), whereas most mammals can't see ultra violet light (which insects can actually see).
Motivation for this long post was, I often get people criticizing some of my images. Many of those people believe, if they take a picture with their phone, it must be real. Any "better" picture will have to be some sort of cheating, because it must have been "edited". Though there IS a difference between a $500 phone and a $5500 camera,
To clarify this, I thought to explain a bit about the real facts (those ARE facts, maybe not well known, but facts still).
What I, and many of my colleagues try to do is, to get an image as close to the reality I see in front of me when taking a photograph. A storm wave will have texture, contrasts (in rather high dynamic ranges), green to black water spots surrounded by white foam and spray, all seen by my eyes - But any camera, even really expensive ones, will lose a lot of this contrast and texture. Editing brings this back, and shows more real world reality than camera reality.
By the way, I consider just splashing a filter over a whole image not to be a good way of editing (though it can get some interesting effects). I usually prefer to work on the parts that need a certain adjustment, then the next part with the next adjustment etc.
This can result in 10, 30, 50 or more layers in one image, each layer holding an adjustment for a tiny part of the image, one rock needs to be lit up, etc.
This sort of editing adds up in a lot of hours till I'm happy with the result.
Above image took me over four hours of work...
And that's what justifies a certain price.