Combine HDR With Flash For The Best Of Both Worlds

March 9th, 2009

Sylvia Guardia described a technique to me that she and others are using to get the best of both flash lighting and HDR. The image on the right (actually the first two images in her Spa Hilton Papagayo series) was made by shooting 3 HDR shots with a flash. Then after processing the the 3 HDR shots with Photomatix using Photoshop masking to blend in some the details of the +2 and -2 shot to Photomatix image. Here is Sylvia’s detailed description:

“I set the flash in manual exposure mode , so it would look “good” at exposure 0.  Then kept that same flash setting for the other 2 exposures.  I blended the 3 exposures in Photomatix, and then used details of the +2 , -2 to mask into it.  For example , the outside of the -2 looked very nice, so I used those details and blended them into the HDR pictures, using a layer mask, and the brush tool.  The inside in +2 had good detail, so I masked so of it in as well.”

I’m anxious to try this technique on an interior that has white woodwork because one of the things I don’t like about straight HDR processing is that white woodwork never looks as bright and crisp as it does with a flash shot. I think this technique has the potential of making use of the best of both techniques. Thanks Sylvia for sharing your secret sauce! Anyone else playing with this technique?

Update late on 3/10: Sylvia has posted more examples of “Flash HDR” of some interiors in the flickr discussion group.

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18 Responses to “Combine HDR With Flash For The Best Of Both Worlds”

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  • Thanks Sylvia, great work! just wondering, is the flash on or off camera? I’d very much would like to try this on my next house.

  • this might of come in handy on a shoot I was on last weekend, wish I knew about it then. 😉 Can’t wait to give it a try sometime.


  • So, to get the different exposures from flash set at manual, she’d have to change her f-stop. Were there any complications with the Depth of Field due to this?

  • Don’t change the fstop, change the shutter speed.
    Set the camera to auto bracket.

  • When exposure blending exterior shots I’ll try to find a suitable exposure from the 5-7 shots to use to mask in vegetation which may be blurred in the composite because of movement between frames.

  • Well, nice idea, but I don’t entirly get it. Why still doing HDR if you are adding light already? Wasn’t the point of doing HDR to NOT flash the scene to begin with?

    Soon, this technique will start upgrading to the multiple flash 🙂 and then loose the hdr completely…

  • It will not be long before we we will have the camera do HDR. Recently, I read Fuji has developed a sensor that does that.

  • “Well, nice idea, but I don’t entirly get it. Why still doing HDR if you are adding light already? Wasn’t the point of doing HDR to NOT flash the scene to begin with?”

    One might argue that the point of HDR is to capture a greater dynamic range and that not using a flash is merely a potential benefit of the process. In practice, a major issue with HDR is white balance due to mixed light sources. Adding a bit of daylight-balanced strobe can seriously mitigate that problem without making the strobe your primary light source:


  • Erik- Others have raised this question too. I’ll take the liberty of speaking for Sylvia and others that use this technique… I think the benefit of this approach is that for the minor cost of one on-camera flash (which doesn’t slow you down on site) you eliminate many of the problems with the HDR process.

  • Larry,
    Apologies if my post was unclear… I’m super busy and rushed the comment. I was offering the web sites listed as examples of precisely what you stated – use of a single strobe to eliminate many problems associated with HDR. All the interior shots on those sites were created with a single strobe.

  • […] have also read about a technique that involves using a bounced flash set to manual mode with HDR, in order to improve the brightness […]

  • I blend flash and HDR, but in a bit of a different way. I do a 3 image HDR (photomatix), then a flash shot. I blend them together in PS. Why do it? The results speak for themselves. HDR’s are muddy, single flash shots have lots of shadows and usually don’t light up the room properly. When combining ambiant light from the HDR and artificial light from the flash, you get the best of both worlds. Plus, its easy and doesn’t take much time.

  • Eric.
    Would you be so kind as to tell me what picture slide show you used in your 3 examples above?


  • I noticed Sylvia didn’t answer the following question on her Flickr so I’ll ask it again here. How do you shoot each exposure level (-2, 0, +2) with the mounted flash given the varying recycle times of the flash? If you do AEB with continuous shooting then on the second and third shots the flash doesn’t fire. The answer may be that I need a better flash (speedlite 420ex) but I am curious if Sylvia (or others) take each exposure shot one at a time so the flash fires or of it is in fact in continuous mode.


  • @Ed- For more details on this process see the PFRE discussion group:

    For the reasons you mention the bracketing is done manually to allow for recycle time.

  • How about FEB?

  • @Alex: I agree, shutter speed is the key.

    @Michael: Yes, HDR helps to gain a wider dynamic range of exposures; however without a flash you may still limited to what you can enhance if your exposure range is not wide enough or if you haven’t captured the scene at enough exposures. I like to bracket between 6 and 9 shots personally, to get more of the range.

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