There is a lot of crappy over the top HDR out there. One of the biggest mistakes I see is unrealistic lighting. There are a few reality checks I like to do with myself while processing a picture which can be found below. I have also included some other helpful links that you may enjoy.
Interested in seeing some Before and After Post processing results? Check out my post on Before & After: Photoshop Post Processing Technique.
I use tons of software when I process photos & two of my favorites are Topaz Labs or HDR Soft the Makers of Photomatix. If you would like a discount when purchasing either of these packages just use the coupon code DAVEMORROWPHOTO when checking out to receive 15% off:)
Want to learn more? I offer One on One Personal Instruction for all your post processing needs, but all my other learning material can be found at www.DaveMorrowPhotography.com/learnphotography
Ok let's get on with it already, here are the tips...
1) Is the ground darker than the sky? It is hard to think of a situation when it would not be. Even a reflection of the sun, should be dimmer than the sun itself.
2) Is everything exposed? It should not be. There should be dark spots as well as light spots through out the photo. Your eye is not capable of exposing everything, so to make your pics look realistic make sure to do this sanity check while processing.
3) Is everything in focus? It shouldn’t be, at least in landscape photography, as your field of vision travels to more distant places in a picture, they shouldn’t be as sharp. Depending on where you focus your eyes, the fore ground may be blurry as well.
Next time when your out shooting take a look at the objects around you, near and far. How do the look? Are they dark, light, sharp, soft, how are the shadows reacting to the sun, moon or light? Nailing an HDR image is all about producing something that the eye likes to look at. There is a small space between real and make believe where all of our brains like to hang out from time to time. I try to mimic this place in many of my pictures... Here are a few of my favorite HDR photos.
Take this picture for example, the lighting conditions were pretty dynamic, meaning there was a broad range of light. To capture all of this light I shoot 7 exposures and blended them together. Providing a broad range of darks and lights as well as saturation of mid-tones allows the eye to travel around the picture to different areas it likes.
Here is another fun one shot in San Francisco. To the naked eye this stair case might be boring, but using 9 exposures to catch all of the light and color I was able to make it pop out. Saturating only certain complimentary colors helps everything to stay within the realms of reality and keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
Iceland Iceland, what a place. Using 7 shots I was able to capture the color, darks, lights and basic mid-tones in this shot. Using cloud movement to help the picture flow & saturation to draw the viewer in I feel that the actual depth of this landscape pops off the page.
Here are a few more for you to study up on.