HDR From the Field to the Computer: Part 2

HDR From the Field to the Computer: Part 2


This is a 3 Part Series on HDR
Part 1: Setting Up Your Camera For HDR Shooting
Part 3: HDR Post Processing

Welcome to part two of the Beginners Guide to HDR Photography (links to Part 1). Part one was a huge success, and I can’t thank Digital Photography School enough for giving me the opportunity to do this three part series here. The feedback has been amazing, and I can’t wait to dig in to part two. I’m currently on a plane heading across the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida. I’m going on week long trip to Disney World in search of incredible HDR images. By the time I’m done with this article, I should have some of those images processed, so I’ll be sure to include a couple at the end of this post!

In part one, we learned just about everything there is to know about how to set up your camera to shoot for HDR. We went over auto exposure bracketing, aperture, ISO, shutter speeds, white balance, metering, et cetera. Hopefully, some of you got the chance to try these settings out on your own whether in the field or just around the house. Today, we are going to hone your HDR skills in the field. What gear should you take with you into the field? What about composition and light? How do you know when you nailed the shot? All of these topics will be touched on in the coming paragraphs. Finally, we will go over a nice workflow of what to do with your images once you get back home to your computer. This is known as “image or file management.” Be prepared, there is going to be a LOT of information today. If you love HDR as much as I do, you will love every minute of it. Let’s take the jump.

HDR Photography Field Guide

There are two ways to approach a photo shoot or photo walk. You can do no planning at all and just see what you can find, or you can plan every shot and place out beforehand. I think each option has its place. Either way, there a few things you need to always do before going out. I went over most of the gear you’ll need in the previous section, so I won’t get too in depth there. Here is a checklist of things you’ll need, and I’ll also include the equipment I use for reference.

Recommended Gear Checklist

Camera with AEB feature

Backup camera body if you have one

At least one lens (preferably 28mm or wider)

Extra lenses if you have them. It’s good to have a variety of lenses to cover multiple situations you may find yourself in. Here’s a list of lenses I ALWAYS carry with me no matter what.

A sturdy tripod to keep your camera still

A good tripod head that allows you to level the camera easily and quickly

A hot shoe level to make your images straight and pretty

Plenty of memory cards to fill up

  • I have plenty of 16 and 32 GB CF and SD cards. I always have a 16GB CF card and a 32GB SD card in my camera. I’ve never been able to fill them both up in one day.
  • I use Lexar 16GB UDMA 300x CF Cards and have never had a problem or issue with them. From my understanding (and correct me if I’m wrong), it’s pointless to purchase the 600x cards because cameras aren’t fast enough to take advantage of them yet. You may get faster upload times to your computer, but is that really worth it for almost twice the price?

Apps to Help You Plan

There are plenty of times where I just grab my gear and see what I can find (the first option). But when I have a trip planned, like Disney World, there are so many resources at my disposal that can drastically increase my chance of getting great shots.

Google Earth
This is probably my single most valuable resource for planning my photo shoots. Google Earth has been around for a while now, but it keeps getting better and better. With the addition of 3D building at popular destination, and the ability to get in close with higher and higher resolution images, Google Earth is taking us closer and closer to feeling like we are actually there!
If you have an iPhone, SoLuna is a great resource for planning when to head out. This app tells you the exact times (based on your location) for sunrise and sunset. It also gives you times for civil, nautical, and astro twilight. If you ever go and shoot a sunset with a bunch of photographers, you’ll notice something interesting: As soon as the sun dips below the horizon, everyone leaves! The truth is, that’s just the beginning to getting some amazing travel and landscape images.

If you have the iPhone 3Gs or later, this app will use the built in compass of your phone to tell you exactly where in the sky the sun will rise or set. How cool is that!? Just hold the phone and pivot around until the sun on the phone is directly between you and the horizon. This can be used to pre-visualize your scene and determine how you want to frame it. It can also be used to determine what time the sun will rise and set.

Taking Your First Set of Brackets

You’ve learned all about the camera settings needed for HDR. You’ve prepared your gear and even picked a place to go out and shoot. You’ve researched the place and have at least an idea of the shots you’d like to get and where to get them. Now it’s time to actually take your first set of brackets. The term “brackets” simply refers to your set of auto bracketed exposures. As we discussed earlier, this can be 3, 5, 7 or even 9 or more depending on your camera and set up. When you set up your first shot, pay attention to the way you frame it. Unless the symmetry of the scene absolutely calls for it, try and avoid centering your subject in the middle of the frame. Placing your subject off center is visually pleasing to the eye. Some cameras will have “rule of thirds” grids built in. Use these guides to line up your subject. This also applies to your horizon line. Instead of having your horizon shoot straight through the middle of the frame, line it up on one of the “rule of thirds” lines. If you really want to get scientific about how you frame your scene, study and learn the “Golden Ratio,” Fibonacci’s ratio of 1 to 1.618. I am a full believer that this ratio produces even more interesting compositions for the viewer in a sub-conscious sort of way.

When you have your scene composed perfectly, it’s time to shoot off some brackets! If time permits, I always like to do a little pre-shot checklist of my camera settings. First, I check my white balance. There was a little debate on the last post on the importance of getting white balance correct in camera. I think this really just comes down to preference and your approach towards post processing. In most situations, you can correct white balance in post if it’s off a bit. But I think relying on post is a dangerous mindset. There are occasions where your white balance can be so far off that it can’t be recovered or corrected. Or in order to correct it you must sacrifice the quality of the pixels. My approach is to get as much done in camera as possible so I don’t have to worry about it as much in post. The more images you process on a daily basis, the more important this topic becomes. If I nail my white balance in camera, that means I don’t have to worry about changing my white balance on 2,000 images from a trip or event. This is simply my approach towards it and you are welcome to embrace or ignore it. To get my white balance, I turn on my live view screen on the camera. From there, I can flip through each white balance setting to get the one that is the most accurate. Most of the time, I simply switch to the Kelvin setting and dial in the correct temperature when the colors on screen match what I see with my eye.

After my white balance is set, I’m free to take as many images as I can under those lighting conditions. Next, I double check to make sure my self timer is on so I don’t have to have my hands on the camera. I set my timer to two seconds which is perfect for me. Some cameras only have an option for ten seconds though. Next I determine the aperture I want to use. This just depends on the scene before me. If I want everything in focus I usually start around f/13 or so. Setting the focus ring on the lens to infinity will ensure everything is in focus most of the time. If I want to freeze action in the frame (like water or waves) or if I’m in low light I may choose a lower aperture. Or if I want to create some blur in the background. Now it’s time to determine where and how I’m going to meter the scene. Personally, I use spot metering about 90% of the time. This means that I can set a precise point in my frame to meter off of, and the camera will determine the correct middle exposure (0) for that given point. With that said, I will spot meter off the most important or evenly lit part of the frame. Next, I check to make sure my ISO is as low as possible for the shot I’m taking and that my shutter speed is within the 30 second limit. If I’m taking five exposures and my meter reads that my first frame is going to be 2 seconds or less, I know I’m safe. Why is this? Well, if my first frame is 2 seconds, it’s going to double with each frame if I’m shooting in 1EV intervals (-2,-1,0,+1,+2). So my sequence will be 2 seconds, 4 seconds, 8 seconds, 15 seconds, and 30 seconds. Anything more than 2 seconds on my first bracket means that my later brackets will be off. Finally, it’s time to ensure tack sharp focus. I use my live view screen for this as well. If I’m in a hurry or the situation calls for it, I will just set my focus ring to infinity which makes everything pretty much in focus. But the trick is getting the focus ring set to exactly infinity. I like to zoom in on the my subject to 10x on my live view screen and use the focus ring to micro adjust the scene into tack sharp focus. Ok, am I missing anything? I don’t think so. Now it’s time to shoot. With everything ready to go, I simply press the shutter down once to start my timer and then step back from the camera. Two seconds later I hear the glorious click, click, click, click, click sound of the brackets firing off.

Now it’s time to make sure I got the shot. Again, sometimes I don’t have time do all of this and I have to just have faith that I got the shot. But if time permits, here’s what I do next: First I pull up the last shot on my screen. On Canon cameras, if you press the “info” button with an image on the screen, you can get a screen that shows your histogram. A histogram simply gives you light information for your shot. For HDR, you want your histogram to sweep from one side to the other. For your darker exposures, you want all the light to be bunched up on the left side with no information on the right. As you scroll through your brackets, the light should start moving from one side to the other. When you get to the brightest exposure, you want the light to be bunched up on the right side, with no information on the left. If you have this, you know that you’ve successfully captured ALL of the light in the scene. Congrats! Now all there is to do is make sure the image is in focus. Just use the zoom function to zoom in tight and scroll around in the image to make sure you got everything tack sharp.

Image Management and Organization

Alright, I hope everyone is still with me! I know at this point there are probably some questions floating around. I know that not all of the settings I mentioned are available on all camera models, so you may have to adjust accordingly for your camera. If you’re confused, be sure to follow me on twitter (@jamesdbrandon) and send me a tweet with your question. You can also leave a comment below this post and I will try and get to it in a timely manner.

Congratulations folks, you’ve taken your first images for HDR and are now ready to get them ready for post processing (the next and last installment of this series). What’s that? You want to get straight to post processing? You don’t want to worry about organizing your files so you find them later? Well, tough! Image management is extremely important, and I refuse to lead you down a path of immanent destruction by not giving you a firm foundation in getting to your files. Simply throwing all your files into the “Pictures” folder on your computer isn’t going to cut it. Folders are there for a reason, among other things. File management organizes your files in a way that makes them easy to locate later, and ensures the files will never be lost or compromised. Ever!

I realize that some people don’t have the money to drop on all this software. However, you should realize that if you want to get into HDR and do it well, you’re simply going to have to invest some money into it. There’s no way around it. The software I use (and have always used) for my file management is Adobe Lightroom. Therefore, that is the software I will be teaching from and giving examples on. If you don’t have Lightroom, don’t like Lightroom, can’t afford Lightroom, et cetera, you will simply need to translate what I’m saying and apply it to your program of choice. Even if that program is simply folders on your hard drive. Lightroom goes for about $299. If you’re a student, you can get it for less. Lightrooms main competition is Apple’s Aperture which goes for about $199. Still, other options for file management are Adobe Bridge or Apple iPhoto. Sure, there are others, and if you have something different just follow along and apply what you can to your software.

Importing and organizing your images

The first step to organizing your files is to properly and efficiently import them to your computer. With Lightroom (or your specific program) open, simply connect your camera or card reader to your computer (you can set Lightroom to automatically open the import dialogue when it detects a card or camera connection). A dialogue box will open that will walk you through importing the photos. Be sure to check each section and make sure everything is right. Also, be sure to add blanket keywords to all your images in the metadata. This way, you can simply type in the keywords later as another way of finding them. Before importing the images, the first thing you need to do is come up with a filing system. I’ve tried all kinds of organizational systems, I mean ALL kinds. It’s been an ongoing battle trying to find the best way to do it. I started out organizing all my images and videos by region and place. My file structure looked something like this: Images > United States > Texas > Fort Worth > Sundance Square > all images from that specific place. That system gets out of control quick, especially when you visit Sundance Square often. Or what if I shoot clients there? Now my travel images are mixed in the same folder as client images. Not good. From the direction of a good friend, I eventually settled on a date format for all my images. Now my images are organized like so:


Now let’s go over why I organize my files this way. The main reason is that it’s easy to archive images. Right now I have somewhere around 35,000 images on my hard drives, and some places I shoot at all the time. A system organized by place would get too confusing. Maybe it’s just me, but I always have a pretty good idea of when I went somewhere or when I photographed something. That’s good, because I can simply go into the folders by date if needed and find what I’m looking for. The important thing I do though is I come up with a project name for every photo shoot I do (beforehand). That way, I can just use the finder on my mac and type in the project name (in this case: Key West). If it’s somewhere I go often, I’ll come up with a more specific project name, like “Key West La Concha Hotel.” If I go even go there multiple times, it’s no big deal. With the finder, it will find all folders from that project name and I will just have to choose a date. By putting the date in front of the project name, the computer automatically puts them in order by date, which is very convenient. This entire system is only here as a backup of sorts. Now it’s time to put images into Lightroom Collections.

It’s one thing to organize your images into folders and do it well, I think I’ve accomplished that. But there is still no getting away from having to drill down countless folders to get to your images at times. Especially ones from a while back. That’s where Lightroom’s Collection feature comes in. At any given time, I may be working on multiple photography projects at once. I may be editing travel images, a commercial shoot, a wedding, a senior session, some images from vacation, and some others from a family get together. Collections give me an easy and quick way to get to images that I’m presently interested in. Collections take up no space on the hard drive, and they have no effect on your folder structure. They are simply organized through Lightroom and through Lightroom alone. To add images to a collection, just select and drag them into the collection folder. This ONLY organizes them into this folder through Lightroom, the images still exist in their original folder. The only difference is, now you have a quick one click way of getting to them, instead of drilling down. Any editing you do to the image in Lightroom happens to the image in it’s original folder as well, so when your done with the images, just remove them from the collection and your done.


On Rating Your Photos

To be honest, I don’t do much rating of my HDR photos. I do all kinds of rating for client shoots to select just the ones I want to edit, and then further ratings for ones that have been edited, ones that need changes, and so on. I even use flags and color ratings for this sort of thing. I just haven’t found much need for it with HDR. I simply throw my images from a travel shoot into my unprocessed travel collection and scrub through them to find a set I like. I don’t mind scrolling through hundreds or thousands of images, because I’m simply interested in finding a set that catches my eye. I’ve processed photos recently that I wrote off as inferior a year ago, yet now they are some of my favorite images. I want all of my travel images to have an equal opportunity chance of making it to post processing. If I rated them, they wouldn’t have that chance. Again, this is simply MY way of doing things, you can take it or leave it.

Backing up your files

What good is an organized and efficient file structure if it’s not backed up? I learned the importance of backing up files the hard way, through losing everything. Hard drives aren’t built like they used to be, they fail and they fail way too often. I’ve lost three hard drives in the last year through various incidents. One was lost in a power surge the one time I didn’t have the hard drive plugged into a surge protector. The other two were just failures of the hard drive. The first time I lost everything. That was all it took for me. The second two times I had everything backed up. Here’s my current system:


Every backup system is scalable. Therefore, no backup system is right for every person. I’ll share my system here, and you can take it and apply it to your situation as needed. Feel free to tweak it to your needs and make it your own. I’m not saying this is the best backup system out there, but it has worked great for me and I can sleep at night knowing my images are safe. Now, I don’t keep any full res images on my computer. They are all stored on external hard drives that stay at home on my desk. I have archived hard drives for older work, and two current drives for current work. One drive has a partition on it for time machine which makes hourly backups of my main computer. I keep all of my photos on the external drives in the date format that I mentioned earlier. All of my images are then backed up in duplicate to Smug Mug offsite backup. Smug Mug is great because for one yearly price you can upload unlimited images to their servers. In addition to Smug Mug, I use Backblaze to backup everything (computer, all hard drives, images, everything). With that, everything on my computer and hard drives are backed up in triplicate. If my computer crashes, I have my external hard drives with time machine backup. If my house burns down, I have everything backed up offsite at Backblaze in California. If my house burns down, and California burns down; there are more important things going on than my photos!


Wow, that was a lot of information! I hope you were all able to keep up and make it this far. Again, if you have any questions about any of this, leave a comment below or send me a tweet at @jamesdbrandon. File management is the foundation to a good photography work flow. It let’s you sleep at night, it puts a smile on your face when you think about it, and it makes life easy when you need to get to any image in your archives. Please don’t underestimate the importance of this topic! Unfortunately, I think the majority of people don’t have anywhere close to this kind of system in place. I meet far too many people who just don’t think about this kind of stuff. People who have their whole lives on their computer with absolutely no system of backup in place. Or, their only system is a time machine backup sitting next to their computer. Come up with a good system for organizing and protecting your work, you won’t ever be sorry.

The next installment is probably the most anticipated of the three, so I will try and have it ready as soon as possible. In the next installment, we will go over all things post processing. I will share how I process my HDR images, what programs I use, how I use them, and why I process the way I do. I’ll also go over the importance of coming up with your own system. Stay tuned!

Finally, as promised, here are a couple HDR images I got from Disney World. Enjoy!




Read more from our Post Production category

James Brandon is a landscape photographer and educator residing in Dallas, Texas. Join 20,000+ photographers and get access to his free video tutorial library at his website. James also has an online store full of video courses, ebooks, presets and more. Use the coupon code "DPS25" for an exclusive discount!

Some Older Comments

  • John Woods November 18, 2010 11:16 am

    Thanks for the reply James. I was afraid that would be your answer! Hoping there was a way to do it without touching it, or spending $300. Great info. Thanks again.

  • James Brandon November 18, 2010 12:21 am

    Alright folks, part three is finally here! It just went live in the post processing section. Go check it out, I think you will have fun :-)

  • James Brandon November 17, 2010 01:49 pm

    John - You have a couple options here if your camera won't do more than 3 brackets. The best solution is to go out and buy a Promote Control. It's a device that hook up to your camera and will automate the bracketing process and allow you to do multiple brackets whether you need 3, 5, 7, 9 or more. I believe they cost around $300.

    If you don't feel like spending money, you can still get more than 3 exposures by manually adjusting your camera. If you want 5 exposures, instead of taking you first set of brackets at -2, 0, +2, take your first set at -2, -1, 0. Then dial your exposure compensation over to 0, +1, +2. You'll have two exposures at "0" but just delete one of them in camera or once you upload them to your computer. The only downside here is that it takes a bit of time to do this, and you have to touch your camera in between exposures.

    Does this make sense? Sometimes these things are hard to convey in text, so I'd be happy to make a short video about it if I'm not being totally clear

  • John Woods November 17, 2010 04:02 am

    James, I reread the article in case I missed it the first time, but I still don't see it. Can you share your process for getting more than 3 brackets on a Canon? Thank you.

  • Jens November 13, 2010 04:12 am

    Just want to say that I am desperate for the 3rd installment to pop up. I am ready with my images - Lets do this!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck November 11, 2010 06:33 am


    This is one of the best (non-book) and most comprehensive articles I have read on HDR. Thank you so much for the tips and guidance. I'll have to read this several more times to take in all the very useful information. I use HDR when called for and post process with PhotoMatix Pro v4 which has a cool selective deghosting feature. I try to keep the HDR "Realistic" and try to avoid going over the top. Here is an example http://tinyurl.com/32djmd5

    Thanks again and look fwd to PART3


  • Ryan November 10, 2010 01:36 am


    Only Photomatix at this stage... Was trying to figure out the best package to use (guess your 3rd article will enlighten us) and if I'm honest, I didn't realise you could even do HDR in Photoshop ;-)

  • James Brandon November 10, 2010 12:17 am

    Ryan - You've done an incredible job brother! So glad you went out and gave HDR a try. And it's so true, as soon as you start using a tripod, everything slows WAY down and you really start to think about your composition. I love this image, especially the couple kissing down there at the bottom. So did you just use Photomatix to combine exposures or did you also take it into photoshop?

  • Ryan November 9, 2010 01:21 am

    Hi there James,

    Thanks very much for taking the time to share your experience here on DPS. I'm largely self-taught and rely on online resources like this for inspiration.

    The first instalment in this series really got me thinking. I've been looking at friends' HDR images for a while in awe, fearful I could never replicate their successes and mindful I don't necessarily have the best 'eye' for a photo so perhaps need to pick up tips and tricks to help me out.

    Anyway, after reading your article, I took an afternoon out a couple of weeks ago and headed over to the fabulous Kew Gardens (http://www.kew.org/) with my 40D and my Manfrotto tripod to try shooting some HDR images.

    I found the whole experience really invigorating, mainly because I spent a lot more time thinking about the image I was trying to create - rather than just firing left, right and centre.

    I'm looking forward to the 3rd instalment just as soon as it's ready and I'm now following you on Twitter too... Meantime, I'd welcome comments on my shot here:
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryan_imm/5129480669/' title='What a drop of wine and some HDR can do' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4040/5129480669_baf98335aa.jpg']

    *amended post with compliant image less than 620 pixels wide *

  • James Brandon November 7, 2010 12:18 am

    mainer82 - cracking up on your comment about the focalware app! I will defend that app though because it's a blast to use. You certainly don't NEED it, but it's fun. I used it in Fort Worth a couple months ago because I wanted the sun to be directly to the right of a building when sunset came around. I used the app to just double check that I was I had found a good spot and came back later that evening to take pictures.

    Giovanni - hehe, ;-)

    Famouskiwi - Honestly, I haven't done much panorama work, I've just never felt the need. I know there are special software programs that you can buy, but the few that I've done I just used the feature in Photoshop for it. When applying HDR to a pano, I would suggest editing each image the same exact way individually, then merging them together in a panoramic image.

    The main reason I don't do Panoramics very often is because I post all my images to my blog, and it's hard to fully appreciate a pano on an 800 pixel wide blog.

  • Giovanni B. November 4, 2010 09:00 pm

    Thanks fot these tutorials on HDR. Waiting for part 3. And, about the equipment list, may I say I'm a bit (well, more than a bit) envious? :)


  • James Brandon November 4, 2010 11:17 am

    Prasad - yes, part three will drop very soon. keep a look out for it!

  • Mainer82 November 3, 2010 03:37 am

    I use a very similar file structure for storing my photos and believe it really is the best way to do it.

    I must comment on the app that tells you where the sun will rise and set... if you need this then you really need to learn basic survival methods. I realize the sun rise location varies slightly depending on Earth's position in its rotation of the Sun but really. :|

  • prasad November 1, 2010 04:25 pm

    Many thanks for the detailed tutorial and also thanks to many enthusiats who have shared their valuable thoughts and experiences. Will you be discussing about the processing of the images ( at the begginners level) some time in future.

  • Chuck November 1, 2010 10:05 am

    Another good article with good ideas and information. For everyone that commented negatively on the list of gear, I noted it was only an example and what James uses.

    I have heard that you can give top of the line expensive equipment to a monkey and perhaps get some good pictures, or you can give some cheap camera to an experienced professional photographer and get lots of excellent photos. It is not the equipment, it is the eye behind the camera that gets the good results. Whatever equipment a person uses is a personal preference and is only as good as the person operating it.

  • James Brandon November 1, 2010 12:26 am

    Alistair - Great question, yes I do file them away from the bracketed shots. I simply have a folder for all my finished images where I everything when I'm finished editing them. I never erase my bracketed shots, ever! There have been images that I processed back when I started that I have redone since then just to see how different it will look now, and I was only able to do that because I keep the brackets.

    Kathy - Glad that helped, it makes since now that I think about it because the 7D is so new to the market. Good luck!

  • Kathy October 31, 2010 03:59 pm

    James, Thank you so much for the tip about upgrading photomatix to 4.0. The 4.0 can read my .CR2 format from my 7d canon.
    And for all you negative people out there....Why bite the hand that feeds you? Be grateful and thankful that someone is helping you. Aloha, Kathy

  • Alistair October 31, 2010 07:37 am

    James - re File Management. Do you file your final HDR image anywhere differently fron your bracketed raw shots or do you get rid of the bracketed shots?

  • James Brandon October 30, 2010 11:02 pm

    Great tips Tom, thanks for helping out. I'd also suggest leaning into your shot. I haven't done a whole lot of shooting guns, but I did get trained on how to shoot an assault rifle and I was told to pull both of my elbows in so they are almost pointing to the ground. Then use the inside elbow and press it in against your stomach. I use these same techniques when taking pictures and it seems to help quite a bit.

    Tom - I am incredibly envious of you living in NZ dude! I will make it over there some day!

  • Bryan Grant October 30, 2010 01:50 pm

    wow very surreal pic love the colors

  • Tom October 30, 2010 01:01 pm

    Hi David, the best book you can use immediately on focus is your handbook. Especially the sections on use of the various focusing points available. For shutter release, instead of pushing (or jabbing) the tip of the finger onto the shutter button, try rolling your finger onto it. If you do it with live view zoomed, you can easily see how much movement is imparted to the camera and with that instant feedback, practise optimising your technique. Oh, please excuse the spelling - I live in NZ where we spell a little differently from folks in the USA!

  • James Brandon October 30, 2010 07:20 am

    Tom - no problem, glad to help! The benefit of using 5 exposures to cover -2 to +2 is smoother transitions between each stop. 5 exposures will produce less noise in the image and smoother tonal and light transitions in the final result.

  • Famouskiwi October 30, 2010 07:08 am

    EF Mount and Seb,
    Please try to understand the meaning of the article. Nitpicking over tidbits just distracts readers. If you are going to criticize then at least come up with a helpful solution. In this case the author offered enough foe the readers to know they don necessarily need that much equipment to do HDR.

    Now my question
    HDR panoramas stitched together.

    Any pointers

  • Tom October 30, 2010 04:22 am

    Sorry for sending so many posts James, but I just had another thought. I use a central exposure and two more that are plus and minus 2 stops. Is there any advantage in covering this same range with 5 shots, rather than 3? You might answer this in your next part if you had intended to cover it anyway?
    Thanks again for your voluntary time in writing this series.

  • Tom October 30, 2010 04:14 am

    Yes I use the tripod when shooting HDR, but then I always turn off the image stabilisation. But I use live view sometimes to focus when hand-holding for non-HDR. Looking forward to the next part of this series James. I find you're doing a great job.

  • David October 30, 2010 02:48 am

    Tom: Thanks for the tips. I will try to dig out some info on better focus techniques and shutter release techniques. In the mean time, I am reading on some books that talk about exposure composition... I am still learning and trying different things every week.. Do you have any recommendation on book or article about techniques on focus and shutter release? Anyway, i started on the cheap plastic 50mm 1.8 (i loved this lens so much that i got the 50mm 1.2L as well) and then I got myself 24-70mm 2.8L... Currently, I am saving money for the big gun 70-200mm F2.8L USM II and maybe a 1D Mk iii or 5d mk ii or mk iii...

    James - O.o 5 to 7 bracketed exposures... nice.. I just found out that a friend of mine just got a used 1 D MK iii, i guess i can borrow his and play with it.. I also heard that Canon is going to release 5d Mk III in 2011... Maybe i should just wait and purchase the 70-200mm f2.8 lens first... Thank for your sharing

  • James Brandon October 29, 2010 11:35 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone, I'm reading each and every one!

    javier - right on when using a telephoto, wide angles do a much better job of keeping everything in focus. I usually don't use the telephoto unless there is a clearly defined subject and I just base focus off of that.

    matt - there isn't necessarily a golden rule, but try to stay away from low contrast scenes. HDR is meant to tackle high contrast scenes that a normal camera couldn't ever dream to capture fully. This is where HDR shines.

    duane - I have considered it, I'm just a guest contributor here so I can't speak for DPS however. I'll look into it more once part 3 hits.

    david - if you can afford the upgrade to a 1Ds Mark III or a 5D Mark II, I say why not! Yes, the 7D is an incredible camera by itself, and it will make a great backup to your new baby ;-). The 1Ds Mark III is the only camera that Canon offers (besides the 1D Mark IV which is cropped) that can do 5 or even 7 bracketed exposures. I certainly wouldn't say that feature alone is worth spending an extra few thousand dollars, but like I said, if you can afford it why not? It also has an incredibly fast focus, much more focus points than the 5D, can withstand the harshest weather conditions, gets rid of the dial wheel for camera settings, accepts two memory cards, and so on.

    tom - great advice on learning to steady your camera. I also didn't know that about pressing the shutter half way down to activate the IS. I would still suggest using a tripod whenever possible which solves the problem all together. But there will always be times when that isn't possible. Thanks again!

  • Paul B. October 29, 2010 05:55 pm

    Hi. You mentioned wanting to get maximum in focus, and starting at f.13 or smaller.You go on to say "Set the focus on infinity" . Surely, to get the maximum in focus, one should set the focus to the Hyperfocal distance setting.

  • Alistair October 29, 2010 04:53 pm

    Thanks James. Do you file your bracketed shots with your final post processed shot? Or do you get rid of the bracketed shots once you are happy with your finished image?

  • Kyle Bailey October 29, 2010 04:44 pm

    Thanks for the article. Lots of good things to keep in mind. Here's one of my HDR shots. Love to get comments and feedback.
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylebailey/4682409614/' title='Whyte Islet, West Vancouver - HDR' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4010/4682409614_feda86ab00.jpg']

  • Tom October 29, 2010 02:14 pm

    Hey David, your camera is already super quick. Are you talking about faster lenses? And the focusing and exposure systems on your camera are state-of-the-art. Think about learning better focusing technique maybe, or better shutter release technique. I used to coach international rifle shooters and they were invariably amazed by how much they moved the rifle as they released the trigger, as shown on electronic monitors.
    By the way, James mentions using live-view here and there and I just discovered something that makes it easier to use. I had trouble seeing clearly enough to use live-view for accurate focusing then accidently depressed the shutter button slightly and my lens stabilisation came into play. Suddenly - voila! A still image that I could see clearly enough to focus on! I guess most readers would have known that already. Sigh! So much to learn.

  • akc October 29, 2010 01:15 pm

    Hi James!
    Thanks for sharing your learning. However, would want to share some thoughts neutrally.
    1. I was really looking forward to your article for the HDR Photography but was disappointed, as the article seemed a complete detour.
    2. Yes, the PROMINENT listing of all the equipment you use did seem a bit out of place to some extent, even you stated that it was only to preempt any queries on equipment.
    3. People following this blog might enjoy your articles more if they are less wordy.

    Would look forward to the concluding part of this series on HDR Photography.

  • David P October 29, 2010 11:04 am

    Great tips. I totally agreed that people need to chill up on James's equipment. After looking at his pictures, I probably will be one of the people that will ask him what camera and Lenshe used to capture those shoots. I have a question for you, James. I am shooting with canon 7d and would like to get a better, sharper, and faster camera. Do you think I should get a 1d mark iii or 5d mk ii and why? I highly recommend those people to stay with EF mount lens if you decide to get a better camera down the road or else you will have to buy new lens too.

  • Miguel October 29, 2010 08:55 am

    Very good tutorial on HDR. Probably the most complete one I've ever read. You have so far covered everything needed to create some awesome images.

    On the subject of equipment though, I fully understand that your intent is not to imply that these items are absolutely necessary but I am still trying to figure out why you would find the need to list a backup camera as part of it. If not for bragging that your "backup" camera is a model that most people reading your post would consider a "primary" camera.

    To me it just doesn't seem necessary to include that on the list. A backup camera is not something that is specific to HDR photography but to photography as a whole. Otherwise why stop there, why not say that you recommend a backup tripod or a backup tripod head.

  • Duane Egan October 29, 2010 07:49 am

    I read your articles and tips often and find most of them fit into some educational nitch of mine. I also print many of them for reference or easy chair reading.

    Have you ever considered providing a printable format option for each article. This technique provides a very nice format for printing without all of the commercial and web graphics clutter. For example, go to the Wall Street Journal web site, http://online.wsj.com/home-page , and read one of the articles. Select an article that is not "Subscriber content" so you can get a full article and then select the "print" icon at the top of the article. I don't know how to do this in html (my web site is not online yet) but you seem to have a sophisticated web site so this is probably not a big problem for you.

    Thanks for the nice web site.

  • Matt October 29, 2010 06:56 am

    Great tutorial James, your joy for your work is plain to see.
    I love HDR but find my attempts are quite 'hit or miss' Is there any golden rule for what scenes work best and what to leave?

  • Matt October 29, 2010 06:55 am

    Great tutorial James, your joy for your work is plain to see.
    I love HDR but find my attempts are quite 'hit or miss' Is there any golden rule for what scenes work best and what to leave?

  • Jake M. October 29, 2010 06:54 am


    thanks for the hdr tips, i've read the first article, and stupidly used the apperture to get low to high exposures (stupid) results were blured stuff, hehe will be trying it the correct way this time

  • Tom October 29, 2010 06:22 am

    Loved your tutorial James. I shoot in New Zealand and keep an eye on the weather. Quite good at getting that right as I do lots of sailing. I love to shoot in low light, so in poor (rainy, cloudy) weather I head out to the ranges and shoot in the bush. Then HDR really comes into its own. I use a Canon 550D with a 17 - 55 lens. Haven't got any others. And mainly intimate landscape in the bush, or otherwise I do lots of coastal scenery. That also benefits from HDR. We have a tree around our coast called the Pohutukawa (try pronouncing it as 3 words - po, hutu, kawa - easy!) that I love to use to frame coastal scenery shots. Then HDR will bring out the magnificent textures of the bark that would otherwise be lost as a semi-silhouette.
    Looking forward to reading your next post. Oh - Seb. Just read the post for what you can derive from it, don't worry about the other stuff. I too thought the list of gear was a bit of a distraction but it didn't concern me. Peace bro. And all the best to all readers. Tom

  • Kathy October 29, 2010 06:00 am

    Thank you James. I will check it out.

  • javier October 29, 2010 05:58 am

    Nice pics! Does using telephoto and focusing to infinity work well for you? My personal experience when I do that is that even with reasonably small apertures (f11, f16) the foreground layers get too out of focus, so I usually go for wide angle and focus at the hyperfocal distance instead. I also prefer matrix metering to spot metering, but to me t doesn't normally make a really big difference.

    Looking forward to the third part!

  • James Brandon October 29, 2010 04:42 am

    Kathy - Not sure why you would be getting pink photos? I have had some results come back from Photomatix where it rendered like that but that was with the BETA versions of Photomatix Pro 4. If you're still on version 3.1, I would suggest upgrading to version 4 which just came out to the public. It's a free upgrade, just go to the HDRsoft website.

  • Courtenay October 29, 2010 04:22 am

    Thanks for these posts. I've never tried HDR photography but this has kind of inspired me to try my hand at it.
    Also, thanks a lot for mentioning BackBlaze. I'd never heard of their service but after checking out their website today I think it is the perfect compliment to my external drive + DVD backups at the perfect price. Thanks again!

  • Mary Lou Frost October 29, 2010 04:10 am

    I have many Photoshop Elements students at varying levels of skill. In the past I never could teach the use of the Organizer because it wasn't available on the Mac platform. With the new version #9, both PC and Mac users have this software.

    I have spoken to people who have been using it to accomplish what you get from Lightroom. Its system of tags permits one to call up images from many different folders on hard drives. It seems like something that should be very helpful for my students.

    Have you any experience in evaluating it as software for organizing images?


    Mary Lou

  • Saam October 29, 2010 04:01 am

    @cmezoom56: RAW is fine and has an interesting extra option. Within Lightroom you can make two (or more) virtual copies and change the exposure of these virtual copies to +1(.5) resp. -1(.5). Export the three pictures to jpeg-format and you have your basis for a HDR-photo. Should you have the Photomatix plug-in for Lightroom, its even easier: you can export directly to Photomatix and re-import the resulting HDR-photo into lightroom.

  • Martin Soler October 29, 2010 03:50 am

    Whoa, that list of equipment is the stuff a pro will run around with! And this is a post for a beginner. You're going to scare people away from shooting with that! HDR can be done from a Canon G9, not even a DSLR. Let's remind the readers that while a great camera makes a great photos. The most important is your composition no matter the camera, it makes a much bigger difference than the camera.

    Rule of thirds is a great start. However if there is one tip I will give any photographer it is to find photographs you like and then go out and try to do the same. Try again and again until you manage. That is probably the best way to learn. And you'll be amazed how much you will learn that way. One of my best shots (Arc de Triomphe in Paris) was done like that and even the original photographer thinks mine is better than his.

    Now the second point about HDR is this, HDR is all about post processing. So on the white balance and stuff, well you are anyways going to spend a long time working on post, so I wouldn't worry too much about white balance before you shoot. Shoot in raw and play with the photo as you want in post.

    In another great shot I took I put the white balance to "flash" in post, if made the image totally blue (see my photo: route to versaille) and it looks great.

    So for HDR photographers two simple tips:
    1. Try to emulate photos you love.
    2. Have fun in post processing - what counts is the result!


  • Kathy October 29, 2010 03:49 am

    Hi, I use my canon 7d for Hdr photos, then i use Photomatix 3.1. The problem is, it doesn't come out. It comes out pink and not in a photo at all. Can someone please tell me what is wrong. Could it be that the problem is canon's raw file extension, which is CR2?
    I've done lots of HDR's on my sony a100 and it turns out great. So, I do know it's not me...lol....

  • Rhonda October 29, 2010 03:38 am

    Thank you for the great article. I started messing around with the process right after the first article because I have no patience but am still anxiously waiting for yours. I have played with CS4 HDR and also found a tutorial on how to do it with one image in CS4. I have had some good results but again I am very interested in knowing your processing techniques.

    A note to Seb - if you read every word of the article there is nothing said that will make anyone think they need all that equipment. Statements made were "I’ll also include the equipment I use for reference." and "Recommended Gear Checklist" and he says "if you have" several times, not, you must have. If a person takes the time to read all the words it is pretty clear.

  • Bill October 29, 2010 03:26 am

    Excellent article on HDR that has clarified some questions that I have had in my mind when doing HDR.

    So far as the negative comments are concerned, I note on your website that you say "I'm a destination travel and wedding photographer". As such I would certainly expect you to have some pretty good gear. There is a quantum leap from my 40D to the 1D Mark lll or a 5D Mark ll that you use to give your clients the best quality you can give them. It would seem to me that the quality of your equipment, all things considered, is to be expected.

    Pretty impressive response times to people who have made comments or inquiries too.

  • Holger Fuerst October 29, 2010 03:13 am


    Great tutorial - thanks! And no worries on the equipment list. Personally, though not a pro photog, I'd hate to have to add up what I spent on gear. It's certainly crossed over from "hobby" to "obsession". (~;

    Lastly, I'd like to add one more tip to your tutorial. Bracketing images, I've found it extremely valuable to first evaluate in my mind the overall dynamic range of a scene I am trying to shoot. The greater the range, the greater bracketing range one needs to shoot - your second image shot directly into the sun is a perfect example.

    Keep up the great work ~ cheers!

  • George October 29, 2010 02:56 am

    I wasn't expecting a lesson on how to manage files in part 2, but am always eager to hear how others manage their workflow. Thanks for the tips. Looking forward to part 3!

  • TampaSpazz October 29, 2010 02:26 am

    Ooops! it lost the web site, here it is http://photoephemeris.com/

  • TampaSpazz October 29, 2010 02:25 am

    Another app to have is The Photographer's Ephemeris <> for your computer and iPhone. It really helps with planning where and when to shoot. Now if could just give me up to date weather and cloud info....

  • Mike October 29, 2010 02:23 am

    I think the articles so far has been great, thanks!

    I have been trying several ways to post-process HDR, and have eventually find that doing the post-processing completely manual in Gimp/Photoshop gives very natural results, not at all looking like "processed HDR" photos. I hope the last part of this series consider this path as well, because very little has been written on this subject (most articles talk about using a bunch of tools that automate the process, which is fine, but usually renders what i consider "synthetic" images).



  • Michel October 28, 2010 12:32 am

    Hi James,
    Thanks for the quick reply. I didn't switch to manual focus, so maybe that's the reason for blurry pics.
    I use a tripod.
    It's a Nikon D50, unfortunately without preview feature.

    Thanks again.
    Tomorrow I have a shoot at Central station in antwerp. Wonderful building!


  • James Brandon October 27, 2010 11:44 pm

    Eddie - so glad you gave HDR a second chance! I will be very interested to see some of your hunting images this fall. I am probably going to go duck hunting here pretty soon and will do the same. Shoot me a link at my website when you get a chance. Cheers!

    Michel - No problem brother! Not sure what's causing your blurry images? Did you mean to say your using a Canon 50D? If so, I believe the 50D has a live view screen option. Here are some steps to make sure your images are sharp...

    - Use higher apertures like f/11 and up, the higher you go the more depth of field you will get

    - Start by setting your lens to manual focus and setting your focus ring to infinity. looks like a sideways 8

    - Turn on your live view screen and determine what your subject is that your shooting, then zoom in on the subject to 10x using the magnifying glass icon on the camera. Once zoomed in, tweak the focus ring a bit until the image becomes tack sharp. The 50D might also have a depth of field preview button as well, not sure though. That button will give you a real time preview of your focus.

    Are you using a tripod? If not, this could all be caused by not choosing the right options in Photomatix. We'll get into that in the next section.

  • Michel October 27, 2010 11:21 pm

    Thanks for your huge tutorial!
    I've tried some software but my results are always unsharp/blurry. I shoot in RAW with a D50 Canon Tokina 12/24mm lens and use a remote control to avoid any shaking. Still it looks like my images are not ligned up correctly. Is there a way to get them sharper?
    I used Photomatix and Dynamic Photo HDR.

  • Eddie October 27, 2010 02:57 pm

    I looked at James' blog. He has a post where he shows two HDR images produced one year apart. The newer one is more realistic. I have not been a fan of HDR until I saw it as a how-to for real estate postings, interior shots. Being able to reproduce what the eye can see has changed my mind. I still think most HDR's are over produced to the point of unreality, but that's art, and art is subjective.

    I have used James' tips and been able to produce good images in HDR. I am looking forward to applying his techniques this fall during hunting season, since I shoot many, many more times with my camera than I do my rifle.

  • James Brandon October 27, 2010 02:20 pm

    Cool! Let me know how you like the 60D, I'm anxious to find out how well it works with the flip around screen. I could have really used it the other day when shooting straight up into the air with a tripod. I had to lay on the ground in a very awkward position to view the live view screen!

    Brian - I love SoLuna, use it ALL the time, before any photo outing

  • Greg October 27, 2010 02:03 pm

    Opps, disregard that comment. I just saw the link to Part 1 in the very first sentence (Duh!).

  • Zach P October 27, 2010 01:00 pm

    wow. i hope you have some good insurance. just out of curiosity i added up the amazon prices of the equipment you said you carry with you. just about $12,000!

  • Greg October 27, 2010 11:22 am

    Nice tips! I seem to have missed "HDR From the Field to the Computer: Part 1". Can you provide a link to that article? Nice gear list too. I just received my New 60D in the mail yesterday. Looking forward to using some of your tips with it!

  • Bryan Grant October 27, 2010 07:52 am

    great tip thank you
    "SoLuna If you have an iPhone" i just down loaded it

  • James Brandon October 27, 2010 05:20 am

    thanks for the kind words Celesta ;-)

  • TSchulz October 27, 2010 05:14 am

    I have to agree with Celeste, some people need to take a chill pill. It wasn't a big deal. I just skipped over the list of stuff I can't afford anyway and got to the meat. :-)

    Instead of taking AEB photos for fireworks, I've found if you just take your photos in RAW format, you can bring it into Photomatix and it will pull the different exposures it needs right from the RAW file and make your HDR image the same as if you took multiple separate shots. Works great.

  • Celesta October 27, 2010 04:15 am

    What's the pain? I found the equipment section useful. I did not feel the author was bragging. Listing the lenses helped to understand how to get closer to getting these beautiful shots. Look at the Disneyland fireworks shot, for example. You think you can easily get several shots with different exposures at night with a moving light of fireworks in a matter of a second with ANY lens?
    Apart from that, it is just not good manners to attack someone who took the pains to write an article and share experience and tips. If the list of expensive equipment makes you tick, please use relaxation techniques.
    Helpful article and beautiful photos, thank you.

  • Brian Hoffman October 27, 2010 03:58 am


    I think you should have listed the gear as your list not recommended. Right now it looks like Canon is paying you off. In truth, that ruined the article for me.

  • Seb October 27, 2010 03:51 am

    Yes I saw your replay to EF. I completely understand what you mean. But, with all due respect James, you probably mistitled the section then. And some -- if not all -- of the subtitles... Everything in there will make the reader beleive that he or she absolutely needs that kind of gear or the equivalent. I must admit that I probably snapped to easily. But I found it a bit irritating.

    As for the rest of the article, I must say that you did a very good job.

    For those who asked you what gear you were using; Does it really matter? Or is it the final result that matters most?

  • Format C: October 27, 2010 03:37 am

    If you use Lightroom, it's not a good idea to have your folders organized by date. The LR Libriray does it better with smart collection.
    It's way more useful to organize folders in a way that LR does not manage, like color: if you have folders like "warm", "warmer", "neutral", "cold", or "greenish", "orange"... You can easily find your foto by date AND by tonality....


  • James Brandon October 27, 2010 03:34 am

    cmezoom56 - Yes you can and should shoot in RAW for HDR. It's good insurance and a must if you're going to process an HDR from a single image. You can't do this with a JPG and come out with good quality (in most cases). Good luck!

    albin - very interesting tips, love it! feel free to post a link to your work if you have any online. I'd love to check them out.

    seb - did you read my reply to EF? I think you are clearly missing the point of the gear list as well. Everything in photography is scalable to your own needs and gear. Again, I stated gear that's needed for HDR, and then followed it up with the gear that I use to answer the inevitable questions of what gear I use specifically. I have no need or reason to brag about gear, come on now. Thanks for your contribution :-)

  • Seb October 27, 2010 02:05 am

    I have to disagree with EF mount here. The recommended gear checklist is not just a bit overkill. It is TOTALLY and RIDICULOUSLY overkill. I was able to make HDR pictures with a simple bridge camera. I guess that, for this contributor, becoming one for DPS gave his the best chance to display and brag about his ±$15000 worth of photography gear.

    I won't talk about the "apps to help you plan"... I already stop reading.

  • Albin October 27, 2010 01:44 am

    A helpful tutorial. Tip-toeing into HDR with my PowerShot , mainly for realistic detail in highlights and shadows rather than the " wow effect" of it, I've managed pretty good results with some free software, which may interest some readers:

    CHDK hack gets RAW / DNG files out of the Canon point and shoot
    RawTherapee to process them
    Picturenaut to do the HDR

    I then tone it up in Elements.

  • cmezoom56 October 27, 2010 01:39 am

    I am somewhat of a rookie with a DSLR. I have recently started shooting only in RAW. When shooting for HDR is it okay to shoot in RAW or should I shoot in JPEG also?

  • James Brandon October 27, 2010 01:07 am

    thanks Eric, glad you liked them :-)

    EF Mount - Note that my gear is just listed as reference because I get a lot of questions on what gear I use. I stated that you need a a DSLR with the AEB function, and then after that I list what I use. Then I stated that you need a wide angle lens, and then listed the ones I use as reference. I think it would be absurd to say that you must have all top of the line equipment for anything. I agree with you that you don't need state of the art. But if you are a full time photographer or an amateur who can afford it, why not? Thanks for the comment!

  • EF mount October 27, 2010 12:45 am

    Not to be smartass or anything, but that equipment list is a bit overkill for common folk. Any DSLR with any lens can do the trick, you don't have to have state-of-the-art body and lens for it...

  • Eric October 26, 2010 11:50 pm

    not always a big fan of HDR, but these shots look great. thanks for the tutorial..