My goal with this series of articles is to explain everything I’ve learnt about creating HDRIs in order to try and raise the standard of quality of HDRIs shared online.

It’s not difficult to make an HDRI that’s good enough for your own use, but if you want to make really good HDRIs that provide accurate and dependable lighting no matter the use case, you need to thoroughly understand every step of the process and how it will affect the outcome.

I’m only going to cover only the basics here, and then follow up with a number of smaller articles for specific situations in order to avoid going on too many tangents. A list of these articles can be found at the end, though some of the articles will be linked to throughout as well.

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As you know, it is absolutely imperative that the light sources in an HDRI are not clipped.

In some indoor cases, this is fairly easy to achieve even accidentally, but as soon as you go outdoors and try to shoot the sun directly you’ll realize how absurdly bright it really is, and how difficult it is to shoot without careful thought and planning.

Even at my camera’s darkest exposure settings – 1/4000, F/22 and ISO 100 – the sun is still far too bright to capture without overexposing (clipping) it:

1/4000, F/22, ISO 100

We need to go darker.

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Perhaps one of the most common questions I get asked is “What camera do you use?”.

Usually with any kind of art or industry when people ask what specific brand or model of tool you use, the answer is often “It doesn’t matter, use whatever you’re comfortable with”.

While it’s true that you can create an HDRI with almost any camera, including the one in your phone, if you want to create HDRIs at an acceptable resolution with unlimited dynamic range, there are actually some very specific requirements that not all cameras meet, even really expensive ones.

Apart from the obvious requirements like being able to shoot in RAW with full manual control, there are some aspects of your camera gear that have significant influence over the types of HDRIs you can create, what resolution your HDRIs will be, how long they will take to shoot, or if you can even shoot them at all.

This article will attempt to explain all these aspects and what difference they make.

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If you understand the difference between using a JPG file and a HDR/EXR file for an HDRI, then you already understand clipping 🙂

“Clipping” is when the brightest part of an HDRI is “cut off”, or “burnt out”.

This is usually seen on light sources, like the sun or a bright lamp, and is the result of the HDRI photographer not using a dark enough exposure to capture the light completely.

If you’re an HDRI photographer and you want to learn how to avoid clipping, read this article next.

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The busy first month of the new site has already passed with outstanding and unexpected success. In fact, it was so unexpectedly successful and busy that the second month is almost over too!

The first four goals on Patreon were reached in short succession: 16k versions of each HDRI were added, the first Vault was unlocked, and I promised to publish one two HDRIs every single week.

As I’ve said before, I totally did not expect this kind of support. I was fairly sure people would like the new site (who doesn’t like free stuff), but to actually throw money at me to help me keep it going was just a pipe dream. Of course I worked hard to try and make that dream a reality, but there was no way to know if it would actually work.

Well, luckily for all of us, it did 🙂 At least so far as to cover all of its own costs and provide a reasonable budget to keep producing HDRIs regularly. It’s not enough for me to live off yet, I still need to do freelance work and find other sources of income, but it is a most excellent start.

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Just thought I’d share what my plans are for the rest of the year to give you some idea of the HDRIs to come.

Tomorrow I’m heading to the Kruger Park for a week with my family. This is the same place that I’ve shot quite a few HDRIs in the past, and looking at the moon phases it seems like I might get another opportunity to try an astro-HDRI (without the moon overpowering all the stars). It probably won’t work that well with my current equipment, it’ll be noisy as heck, but still worth a shot (or 200). If it doesn’t work out, I’ll at least have a good example for why I need new gear 😉

Shortly after I get back, I’ll be off again to the Blender Conference 🙂 Last year was really a lot of fun, especially after the conference when I headed alone to Germany to shoot HDRIs. This time I’ll do something similar, but instead it’ll be Italy, and I’ve asked Rico to join me and shoot backplates for all the HDRIs (like we did for Cape Town last year). Of course the backplates will only be available once the goal is reached on Patreon, but at least there’ll be some immediate content when it is.

The first trip to the Kruger is mostly a holiday so it’ll be funded out of my own pocket. The second trip is partly for the Blender Conference, and partly for new HDRIs, so the costs will be split proportionately between my pocket and the travel budget portion from Patreon. Obviously a trip this size is rather costly, so it’ll likely use up the travel budget for a good few months, but luckily they don’t happen very often.

That’s all for now! If you support me on Patreon, don’t forget you can help decide how your money is spent, what trips I go on, etc. using the Trello board.

TLDR: Having people use my HDRIs is far more important to me than money.

I’ve tried writing this post a number of times in various ways, but I don’t think it’s possible to explain what HDRI Haven is now and why it’s changed without first telling you how it began.

At the beginning of last year I launched HDRI Haven as an online store for people to buy the best HDRIs I could make at the cheapest rates I could offer. But that wasn’t actually my initial plan to be honest, and while it was working pretty well, it always felt like I had taken the easy route.

My dream from the very beginning when I started shooting HDRIs was to release everything for free, in the same open-source spirit as the Blender community, giving everyone equal access to the same tools and assets to achieve both creative freedom and freedom from financial constraints.

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