- Use a Graduated Neutral Density Filter on your camera lens, if you're shooting a traditional “bright at the top, dark at the bottom” landscape. These screw-on filters darken the top half while leaving the bottom half of the picture in full light, thus reducing blown out highlights, allowing more highlight detail to come through, especially in the clouds.
- Convert your pictures from RAW to TIFF instead of JPEG. This will retain all of your camera's efforts to keep graduated light detail intact. The downside is that TIFF files are many times larger than JPEG's. I would recommend this only if you intend to print the image on a TIFF capable printer. (Note – this will not create the “HDR-look” - it will still look real, but slightly better)
- An HDR look can be achieved with just one picture – you don't need to combine three or more. Because you are going to collapse the whole output of the HDR processing down to 8-bit JPEG anyway, you can still get the same look of an HDR by using your RAW conversion software to 1) brighten the picture, 2) apply “dynamic range compression” 3) apply “local contrast” to the mid-tones, and 4) de-noise the shadows. This is what I did to the church photo above, using Photivo as my RAW sotware. The picture started out looking like this:
Some people call this “Fake HDR”, which I find kind of funny, because of the fact that the human eye does not see all levels of detail in one instant, then HDR is all fake anyway, no matter how it's done. With HDR, you gain lots of lost detail, but, mainly because of the final compression back to 8-bit, you lose a lot in the way of depth suggesting contrast (or Luminance). I think to make a good HDR project requires a light-handed touch.