HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography has been around for years. Even before digital cameras were on the scene, it was possibly to blend shots of different exposures in the darkroom.
Is HDR important? The answer is yes and no. Almost every contemporary TV program and movie will be shot with HD (High Definition) digital equipment enabling the viewer to see far more detail, especially in the shadows and and what would have been burned out bright areas.
Modern cameras and phones have some form of HDR built into their software.
But for photography, HDR offers a greater choice of how we are able to present out photos, enabling the photographer to be more creative.
For my own HDR shots, I would normally combine three or more shots of the same image (using a tripod), with a variation of plus and minus two stops. The first would be at normal exposure, with one underexposed, and one overexposed. I would then combine these, using post-processing software to get a true HDR image.
Using layer in Photoshop (or similar) you need to combine the overexposed shadows and the under exposed highlights, (by reducing the transparency), with the original image. This can be time consuming, but it will render a natural image, if handled correctly.
Another option is to combine the three layers with software such as Photomatix. If your shots were hand held, this will allow for movement and match the details, so that there should be no overlapping areas. You will also have options for various effects. Many people like the grunge look.
A third option is to create an HDR image from one shot, using tone mapping software programs such as Aurora HDR, Photomatix and Nik Filters. Tone mapping is not true HDR, but can produce super-realistic images associated with HDR.
The tone mapped images below start with the original shot, followed by some of the options available with Nik HDR 2.
For the last image, I used Photoshop to place the previous HDR6 layer over the original, reducing the transparency, and gently erasing areas in the sky and reflection, to give a more interesting result, restoring color to the top left sky, and adding detail so some of the dark shadows.
More HDR/tone mapped images.