If you haven't used HDR yet, I consider it a must and I encourage you to try it. It is one of the most incredible techniques, and I wanted to share with you an image I did on the recent photo tour to Ireland I conducted.
Notice how much detail you can see in the shadows as well as the highlights of this scene at St. Patrick's Cathedral. This kind of detail is seen with our eyes, but because the digital sensor is not as sophisticated as our eye/brain combination, we need to use this specialized technique to reveal in a photo what we can see at the time of shooting. I have enhanced the colors, obviously, but this image is dynamic largely because of HDR.
HDR stands for "high dynamic range", and this means that photographers can now reveal complete detail in dark shadows and bright highlights in a single picture. This was never possible before. We usually exposed correctly for the highlights and let the shadows go dark. HDR involves taking several images. In this case, I used eight photos that are bracketed quite a bit (such as +1 +2 +3 and -1 -2 -3 based on what the meter dictates), and then the software program Photomatix assembles the altogether to produce a perfect exposure.
You need a tripod if you want the picture to be tack sharp, and it's also important to use the same lens aperture. You don't want the depth of field varying. Vary the exposure with the shutter speed.
In the Photomatix dialog box, there are quite a few sliders that give you a large number of variables with respect to exposure, contrast, color temperature, etc. It's just a matter of experimenting until you like what you see.
Jim Zuckerman is a top stock photographer and published author who teaches many excellent online photography courses at BetterPhoto.com, including
Perfect Digital Exposure and Creative Techniques in Photoshop . Also check out BetterPhoto's photographer certification program.