Setting Up Your Digital Camera For HDR Shooting

Setting Up Your Digital Camera For HDR Shooting

Today we begin a 3 part series – a Beginners Guide to HDR Photography by looking at how to set your digital camera up for shooting HDR images. .

Part 2: HDR from the Field to the Computer
Part 3: HDR Post Processing



You’ve probably heard of High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography, it’s made quite an entrance into the world of digital photography.

If you haven’t, the HDR process is accomplished by taking multiple exposures of a high contrast scene (usually a landscape or cityscape), at different levels of brightness, and then combining the best light from each exposure into one image.

The end result is a stunning image that very closely resembles how the human eye views a scene. This process of digital manipulation has caused a bit of controversy and debate in the world of photography, especially with images that are “over-cooked.” One thing is for sure though, HDR is here to stay. When done right, this unique and in depth processing technique can produce beautiful works of art that mimic the way we view and remember a landscape or scene.

The above image is an example of what HDR processing can produce. This image, taken from the Big Island of Hawaii, would not be possible without HDR processing. It was taken around noon, the harshest light of the day. The first image is the best image my camera could produce given the situation. While still beautiful, there are obvious problems. Get ready, this article is going to show you how to take your digital camera and turn it into an HDR shooting machine!

Step 1: Locate Your Camera Manual

I know, we all hate manuals. But if you want to become the best photographer you can be, you need to become best friends with your cameras manual. Spend time with it, take it with you on trips, read it in the airplane, memorize every setting on your camera so you know it inside and out, make your significant other jealous of it. And for this lesson, have it handy as a decoder in case you have a different camera model. If you don’t have your manual, simply do a Google search for: (your camera model) manual. You should be able to easily find a pdf version to download.

Step 2: Discover Auto Exposure Bracketing

Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) is the main component in creating an HDR image. Bracketing is the term used to describe taking multiple exposures of a scene, the key element to capturing all of that wonderful light in a scene.
Why is this necessary? Well, take for example your typical post card from Hawaii, with a silhouetted palm tree hanging in from the side of the frame, and a beautiful sunrise as a backdrop. While beautiful, the silhouette is actually caused by the failure of the camera to produce the full dynamic range of light in that scene. The sunrise is simply too bright and there is too much of a contrast between the sky and tree. Therefore, the tree is reduced to pure black.

Your cameras AEB setting will take an exposure for the sky in the background, an average exposure of the entire scene, and finally an exposure for the palm tree in the foreground. Or in technical terms, a bracketed sequence of exposures listed like this: -2, 0, +2. This sequence simply means one exposure that is two stops of light underexposed, a proper exposure according to the cameras light meter, and one exposure that is two stops over exposed. Depending on your camera model, you may only be able to do 3 exposures in AEB at the most. Others will allow 5, 7, 9 and up. The more exposures you can get, the better, because the potential for capturing all the light in the scene increases. A bracketed sequence of 7 exposures would look like this: -3,-2,-1,0,+1,+2,+3.

Go into your cameras menu settings and find the option for AEB. On a Canon 5D Mark II for example, AEB is located under the second menu screen, and is labeled “Expo.comp./AEB.” To change from one exposure to three, highlight the menu setting, click the SET button, then turn the dial on top of the camera to the right.

Step 3: Set Your Camera to Av Mode and Determine an Aperture


Aperture Value (Av) Mode is really the only setting that will work for HDR shooting. This setting lets you determine the aperture of the exposure, and the camera determines the shutter speed. When shooting multiple exposures, you have to consider what needs to stay the same during the brackets.

If you set the camera to Time Value, the camera will make sure the shutter speed stays the same through all the exposures. Therefore, in order to create dark to light images, the camera will adjust the aperture, and that is no bueno. The aperture controls depth of field, or how much of your scene will be in focus. If that value is different in every frame, combining them later just won’t work.

While using the Manual setting will work, using the Av setting is the easiest and most convenient setting to start with. If you already fully understand shooting in Manual, by all means go for it. But make sure that you never change your aperture during your bracketed exposures! If you don’t fully understand Manual mode, start with Av and work your way up to it. Av mode simply saves time over having to dial in the exposures manually, and saving time is always a plus.

Once you are in Av mode, it’s now time to determine what aperture you want to shoot at. Again, aperture controls depth of field. So for a landscape, you will most likely want the entire image to be in focus, with no blur in the background. When determining your aperture, remember this: The higher the aperture, the greater the depth of field. Want to know a little trick you can use to determine aperture (although it isn’t 100% accurate)? Imagine you have 20 people in a line, and the line is going away from your camera.

The people are staggered so that you can see each of them, but each person is further and further away. If you want just the first person in the line to be in focus and all the rest to be blury, set your aperture to 1. If you want the first 10 people in focus, set your aperture to 10. If you want all 20 people in focus, set your aperture to 20. Pretty simple concept right? With that said, just about any aperture value above 11 will have your entire frame in focus (most of the time). Start at f/11, and experiment your way up and down from there.

Step 4: Determine Your Metering Mode


Metering is one of the more complicated settings on your camera, and one that I get a lot of questions on from new photographers. In a nutshell, your metering mode is simply how your camera samples light to determine the proper exposure for the image. The camera has to see the scene before it, analyze the light in the scene, and determine what your camera settings should be.

If you are new to photography, you should know that in most cases, Evaluative Metering will work just fine. But don’t take that bit of knowledge and forget about metering. There is also partial, spot, and center weighted metering. Each of which have their time and place where using them will drastically improve your image. Make sure you take the time to understand each setting, but for now, set your metering to Evaluative.

Step 5: Set your white balance


Again, this is a topic that confuses some people. It’s also a topic that some photographers get lazy with. White balance is incredibly important to your images color balance. If your white balance is off, your entire image will be off. Auto White Balance (just like Evaluative Metering) will work most of the time. Cameras are smarter and smarter these days, and the automatic settings work more often than not. But just like the metering modes, you need to know the different white balance settings.

If your camera fails to capture the colors in the scene like you see them, it’s time to change the setting. The quickest and easiest way to correct white balance is using Custom White Balance. Simply find something in the scene that is pure white (a white wall, a piece of paper, a white shirt, etc) and take a close up picture of it so that the color white completely fills the frame.

On a Canon 5D Mark II, go to your menu, scroll to the second list of settings, select Custom WB, and follow the prompts to select the last image taken on the card. Your camera will then take that image and use it to create a color balance where that image is pure white. Your next picture of that object should look as white as snow. Remember, white is your foundation in color balance. Get white set, and the other colors will fall into place.

Step 6: Determine your ISO Setting


Your ISO setting is simply your cameras sensitivity to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive it becomes. The best way I know to figure out ISO is to imagine them as worker bees. Therefore, at ISO 100, you have 100 worker bees that go out and gather light for you when you take a picture. At a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second, you have 100 worker bees to go gather as much light as possible in 1/100th of a second.

So what if those little bees can’t get enough light in that amount of time? Just send more bees! At ISO 200 you will have twice as many bees to gather light for you, at ISO 400 the number doubles again, and so on.

The downside to ISO is that the higher the number, the lower the quality of your image. High ISO values produce what’s called noise, and unfortunately, the process of combining exposures in HDR will already bring in lots of it. Because of this problem, you need to set your ISO as low as possible. ISO 100 is usually your best bet, unless you absolutely can’t take all your brackets at this number. Some cameras will even go down to ISO 50, but there is debate as to whether or not this makes the image less sharp.

Step 7: Get a Tripod!

With a high aperture and a low ISO setting, your shutter speeds are going to become slower and slower. This is going to make it very hard to hand hold your camera. When shooting with HDR in mind, you want there to be as little movement as possible during the multiple exposures. Anything you can do to eliminate the possibility of movement is worth it.

Switching from hand held to a tripod is a sure fire way to keep your camera still during multiple exposures. The type of tripod you need will simply depend on you and your shooting style. If you don’t do a lot of traveling, and simply drive to a location and set up, you may want to invest in a strong, heavy, aluminum set of tripod legs. If you love to travel, hike, and really get out there, you will need something that isn’t going to bog you down on your journey.

For those people, I would suggest a smaller, more compact set of carbon fiber tripod legs, or even a light weight version of aluminum legs. Your tripod head is just as important. You need something that will support the weight of your camera easily. Ball heads are all the rage right now, and for good reason. They allow smooth, easy movements of your camera, without the use of long rods that stick out everywhere.

Step 8: Use Your Cameras Self-Timer


Another way to take movement out of the equation is to use a self timer. This gets rid of the possible movement from holding down the shutter with your finger. On most cameras, there is a setting where you can start a timer when the shutter release is pressed. If you don’t have this setting, you will need to purchase a shutter release cord.

My preference is to use the 2 second timer in camera, not having to use a shutter release cord is just one less thing to carry around, and the 10 second option just takes too long. With the self timer setting, you simply press the shutter release down and then step away from the camera. Two seconds later, your camera fires off all 3, 5, 7, or 9 exposures in sequence. Hearing the sound of all these exposures may cause a sudden feeling of satisfaction and anticipation to come over you, but don’t be alarmed.

Step 9: Choose the right lens for the shot

HDR photography can be used for any image with a high level of contrast, but most often it is used for landscapes and cityscapes. These subjects are often large and overwhelming, and having the right equipment can make all the difference in the world. For most situations, the best option is going to be a wide angle lens.

That is, any lens that can zoom out to about 28mm or wider. The 24-70mm lens is my absolute favorite lens for shooting landscapes, and I highly recommend it. Anything under the 28mm range is going to start getting pretty wide, so get a lens that you can afford that falls into this category. Now, one of the downsides to using wide angle lenses is distortion, but that is for another article!

Step 10: Switch to Manual Focus

Now that you have your lens ready to go, it’s time to get used to the world of manual focus. Auto focus is an amazing bit of technology, but it isn’t so great for landscapes. If you really want to get everything in your frame in focus, you have to go manual. Auto focus will pick a certain spot in the frame, usually the center, and make sure it is as sharp as possible. With manual focus, you will want to set your focus point to infinity (the little sideways figure 8 on your lens) and forget about it. The infinity setting will average out the entire frame and bring it all into focus.

This isn’t always the best thing to do though. Sometimes there is a subject that has supreme importance over the rest of the frame, but I would still suggest manual focus. When this is the case, switch your camera over to the live view setting if you have it. This is where the screen on the back reflects what you would normally see by looking through the view finder. With this selected, you should be able to zoom in on your subject. After zooming in on the screen (not with the lens), you can begin to turn the focus knob on your lens, getting the focus to that perfect sweet spot. This will ensure that your subject is tack sharp, but don’t be surprised if other parts are slightly softer.

Step 11: Purchase a Bubble Level

Having a level frame is so important! If you simply go out and eyeball your frame for straightness, you will almost always be off. That means that in post, you will have to straighten the image, losing sometimes valuable and crucial pixels in the process. Purchasing a cube level for your cameras hot shoe is the easiest, and cheapest way to ensure straight images. Try and get used to the mindset of getting as much done in camera as possible. Don’t rely on post processing to correct laziness in the field.


There you go! Your camera should be all ready to go. Now get out there and shoot some brackets! In the next installment of this three part series, we will go over a step by step guide for shooting in the field.

Composition, what to look for in your images, the wonderful world of histograms and more. In closing, here is a large version of the image you saw at the beginning. If you’d like to see it full size, click the image to be redirected to flickr. There you can click full size and scroll around in it. Happy shooting!


Stay tuned for two more posts in this series – ‘Beginners Guide to HDR Photography’. The next post will be on shooting in the field and getting the images back to the computer. The final post will cover post processing techniques.

Note: post updated for accuracy.

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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

  • Mr C August 23, 2013 01:35 pm

    I admit I didn't read every post here.... but to those who can't bracket, or simple don't want to, you can create a HDR from one photo. Best using RAW, take it inot a program like Lightroom. After you have the original image as you like it, save it. Lower the exposure setting -2, save that one. Raise the exposure of the original by +2 and save that. You now have 3 images to tose into Photomatix..... HDR..... You are simply doing the exact same thing your camera is doing when bracketing.... but no chance of camera movement.

  • Terry Doyle February 19, 2013 06:13 am

    "Try and get used to the mindset of getting as much done in camera as possible."

    Interesting thought, that. I have been wondering lately whether that's true for more things than just HDR? Should I, e.g., use the creative modes or scene types in my camera or just wait until post processing.

    New models of digital cameras have a LOT of settings, so many that I will likely never learn them all, let alone be able to find the menu and pop in a new, obscure setting from the dozens of possible settings.

    That's why there's a Quick Menu on my camera, I expect but I digress. The question is: in general terms is: Is it better to get more processing done in the camera than wait for PP?

  • Zuzana January 18, 2013 03:53 am

    I'm only on point 10 and I've learned so much. FANTASTIC article. Now back top reading...

  • gerry schnaible November 7, 2012 07:35 am

    I enjoyed this article immensely. I have been looking for some easy to understand HDR and this was perfect for my needs. Thank You James.

  • Chris Allen October 15, 2012 08:51 am

    Hi James, Thanks for the great article. I have been trying HDR for a while but wasn't getting great results. After reading this article I had to try it. One of the shots I took that night is one of my all time favorite pictures.

  • joodles November 30, 2011 09:07 pm

    plz forgive my stupidity but i dont understand how to make my 500d take a series of shots ( mind you shots that automatically change its iso gradually) by itself, ive read the tutorial twice and everyones comments. i also dont understand the concept of creating a HDR shot from a moving object >>>>eeeppp. <<< im assuming that done as said previoulsy using a RAW image. is that correct?

  • Chris October 22, 2011 02:17 am

    HDR is something I have always wanted to try but have never had the time. I finally have a day off tomorrow so dedicating it to some HDR experiments! This tutorial will set me on my way, thanks!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck May 28, 2011 05:57 am

    I would add, Mirror Up as well and weight down that tripod and use a remote release...sometimes these small things help with the clarity of your final product!

    Like these two of Mirror Lake in Yosemite

  • Rachael Towne April 11, 2011 11:11 am

    Wonderful tutorial. Most HDR tutorials don't include information on things like metering and lens choice. Now on to part 2 and 3!

  • I.Paul,Shimla February 12, 2011 05:36 am

    Kindly give some light on canon 60D for HDR photography

  • I.Paul,Shimla February 12, 2011 05:34 am

    Thanks ,your great article will certainly help me in taking HDR photographs.Kindly give some light on canon 60D

  • I.Paul,Shimla February 12, 2011 05:24 am

    Thanks ,your great article will certainly help me in taking HDR photographs.

  • Ron Hudson January 22, 2011 06:41 am

    · Mr. Brandon,
    · I have a Canon 50D, just getting start in the digital world.
    · The question is what lens to get!
    · For landscapes (Texas wildflowers)
    · Grand kids
    · Wildlife
    · I run birds dogs in competition off horseback what lens would be good to get photos of the dogs on point
    · An in which order would you get these lens
    · The pictures that you sell what size prints are they? (Most common size, is there a reason for certain sizes)
    · How do you pick what kind of paper to use for a picture
    · Plan to read all your tips.
    · Thank you for sharing and please keep writing
    · Thank You !!!
    · Ron Hudson

  • simon cotton January 8, 2011 04:33 am

    Well done, start of another photo interest and a reason to revisit old haunts. Thank you, your articles are hugely helpful ie Lexar 16 , Lens Coat 3 etc. Thank you. Simon NZ

  • David Dylan January 3, 2011 09:04 pm

    Oh, and another question; has anyone tried this with live models? Or is this too ambitious for this technique?

  • David Dylan January 3, 2011 08:49 pm

    Hi there,

    I was wondering if anyone has done this with an EOS 500D and was willing to share what worked best for them?



  • Luís December 13, 2010 08:44 pm

    @anonymous: Exactly, ISO doesn't really "determine" the image sharpness, it rather affects it. Bigger ISO, more light, less sharpness due to the added noise. And I think that was what James was trying to say, but by the logic of it, if decreasing the ISO from 400 to 100 improves the sharpness, decreasing even more to 50 should make the image even more sharp. If so, the question should be "whether or not this makes the image MORE sharp" instead of "whether or not this makes the image LESS sharp" because if you say it that way to someone that isn't familiar with what ISO is for, it would give the idea that reducing from 400 to 100 would make the picture sharper but reducing even more to 50 would make the picture less sharp! Or that's my opinion anyway =] Thanks for replying "anonymous" =P

  • anonymous December 12, 2010 12:53 pm

    @Luis: ISO doesn't determine image sharpness. ISO will affect the amount of noise in a picture so high ISO and noise can make an image look less sharp. The ISO 50 will make the image look more sharp but since ISO 50 is so low, they aren't sure if there are any negative effects. Don't take my word on this, as I am not a pro. I'm just saying what I think.

  • Luís December 11, 2010 01:18 am

    Just one little thing: You said just before Step 7 "Some cameras will even go down to ISO 50, but there is debate as to whether or not this makes the image less sharp."

    Shouldn't it be "more sharp"?

    Great tutorial =]

  • James Brandon November 23, 2010 11:12 am

    thanks for your input Brendan ;-) Do you see any more depth in the normal exposure?

    The waterfall isn't the subject of the image, it's hundreds of yards off in the distance. Therefore it's compressed by the camera lens.

  • Brendan November 23, 2010 10:30 am

    im a little late here but that picture is a perfect example of overcooked hdr... the area around the waterfall looks more like a painting, there is no depth to it

  • James Brandon November 18, 2010 12:29 am

    for those wondering, part 3 just went live over in the post processing section! go check it out

  • Ramsay November 11, 2010 01:43 am

    Hi James - Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to put this on video and explain. You're a fantastic teacher.

    I figured out where we confused each other - which I am sure was largely my still being an student of the craft. On the DPS comments you specified that you "adjust the shutter speed" while in Aperature Priority. I took this literally to mean that you were manually adjusting the shutter speed (i.e. not the exposure compensation feature on the camera, but the shutter speed itself). Turns out that you are adjusting the exposure compensation, which by its very nature adjusts the shutter speed accordingly.

    This now makes perfect sense - and again, thank you for clarifying.

  • James Brandon November 7, 2010 12:08 am

    abuvespa - yes sir you sure can! you don't have to have any kind of fancy equipment, just a digital camera and the ability to take multiple exposures. go check out part 2 in the "post processing" section of this site and get ready for part three to drop soon!

  • abuvespa November 3, 2010 04:08 pm

    hi james....
    i'm from indonesia, i would like to studying a HDR photography, but now i just used a photoshop tecnique
    I have canon 50d and kitt lens, can i take HDR photos?

    Thanks for your att.

  • Chuck November 1, 2010 03:39 am

    Just read the article and found it very interesting and informative. Thanks for posting it. Plan to read number 2 now.

    Just an additional note about your photos on flikr, I liked the black and white and sepia toned ones very much. A couple of the Christmas tree photos looked almost like paintings to me. I have no idea why they turned out that way, but they were a bit less impressive and looked less like photographs. Just my personal preference, but I like to see photographs as photographs and paintings as paintings.

    Overall, I am impressed with your work, both photographs and articles. Keep up the good work.

  • James Brandon November 1, 2010 12:21 am

    Elena, part two is already up over in the post processing section of this site. Go check it out. Part three is on the way

  • Elena October 30, 2010 02:17 pm

    Great article, thank you! I am an amateur photographer, I have no professional aspirations, but I do want my photos to be the best I can make them. This is terrific! I am greatly looking forward to parts 2 and 3.

  • James Brandon October 30, 2010 01:29 pm

    Ramsay - scratch that last comment, it probably only confused you more! This is a bit too tough of an issue to tackle in text. I made a quick video to help you through this issue and it will go live on my blog first thing in the morning. Be sure to check it out and let me know if it helps or not!

  • James Brandon October 30, 2010 07:28 am

    Ramsay - In Aperture Priority mode, you set the aperture and the camera selects the shutter speed to come to a correct exposure value. If you change your aperture, the camera will adjust the shutter speed accordingly to stay at the same exposure value.

    However, if you adjust the shutter speed, you will be telling the camera to under or over expose the image by however far your move the dial. I am not familiar with the D40x but there should be a dial for each one. I know this can be confusing, let me know if this helped?

  • Ranajit October 29, 2010 01:37 pm

    Nice article,James.
    I have canon 50d and I have tried with hdr.problem I faced
    1) I have 2 stop option in AEB.quality is not good as I cannot make more than 2 stops.
    2) I got frame distortion with high speed continuous shooting. Jim told that earlier.
    Is it possible to take hdr with 50mm 1.8 or 70-200 4L?
    I don't have wide angle currently.

  • Ramsay October 29, 2010 07:50 am

    Hi James - I'm using a D40x. My understanding was that in Aperature priority one could manually control the Aperature value and that the camera would automatically select the shutter speed, and that Manual mode provided manual control of both. If your camera allowed you to set both while in Aperature priority - why not be in Manual mode?

    If I am in Aperature priority and i manually adjust the EV - will it produce the same effect?


  • Rebecca October 29, 2010 04:24 am

    Excellent article. I've been wanting to try this for some time and now I can! Every step was so clear and beautifully illustrated that even a beginner could follow. I'll admit I'm lazy with white balance so this was a gentle but important reminder! Thank you so much!

  • James Brandon October 28, 2010 11:52 pm

    Ramsey, what camera are you using? You should definitely be able to adjust the shutter speed in Aperture Priority mode. When you adjust the exposure +/- 1, 2 etc. in Ap mode, your shutter speed is what's causing the exposure to go up or down. If you were is shutter priority mode and did the same thing, the aperture would be causing the exposure to go up or down. Does this help?

  • Ramsay October 28, 2010 07:43 am

    James - great article, thanks.

    Quick question from someone with no AEB, in the comments above you indicate one should shoot in Aperature priority mode and then "dial down your exposure by adjusting your shutter speed". Do you mean we need to be in Manual mode (given one can't adjust shutter in Aperature priority)? If I use Aperature priority mode do i just manually adjust the exposure +\- 1, 2, etc.?


  • James Brandon October 27, 2010 07:38 am

    hal - good luck with the 7D, I hear it's an awesome camera. you'll love the 24-70 too!

    cc - i feel your pain, I've been there before! while HDR isn't the answer to every travel or landscape image, it sure helps a lot of them. The clear choice in your situation would be to get Photoshop. You can do virtually anything with that program, and CS5 has a new HDR feature. While I don't recommend it over Photomatix, it's a great choice if you can't get both. Keep in mind though that Photoshop is going to run around $700 I believe, while Photomatix is only $99. Photomatix ONLY does HDR, Photoshop does virtually anything you can set your mind to. Good luck!

  • CC October 22, 2010 03:19 pm

    Hi James,

    I've been a lazy DSLR owner for almost 2 years, and I'm glad I'm finally learning more about HDR. Basically, 90% of my photos look like your left hand "before" shot -- fine, but flat looking and lacking the full range of color. It's been really frustrating trying to capture a dramatic scene and having my photos just fall flat. I haven't really invested in post-production software, but it seems like the logical next step would be to get either Photomatix or PS5. Do you have a recommendation for one that is a good starter? I'm pretty comp savvy but all the options in PS makes my head spin sometimes.

    Anyway, looking forward to the rest of the series; this is giving me some extra motivation to get out and shoot this weekend :)

  • Hal Cook October 20, 2010 03:45 am

    Hi James,

    First i wish to thank you for the very good Tips and info. I just got my Canon 7D and lurning how to us it.
    i ran across the web and look forward to more of your good sugestions. I am looking for a wider lens and will take your tip on the 24-70mm.



  • James Brandon October 14, 2010 05:25 am

    c. diane - thanks. Yes I reject anyone who doesn't use the same equipment as me ;-). All kidding aside, I believe I did reply to a question earlier in the comments. I use Canon gear because Canon is the first digital camera I got. That means I don't own any Nikon gear therefore I'm not going to write an article from a Nikon perspective. I read articles all the time from photogs who use Nikon. If there is a setting I want to play with and am not familiar with, I just pop open my manual and figure out the Canon equivalent (or Google it). If you have Nikon gear, it should be pretty easy to translate what I'm saying and apply it to your camera. It may just take a little effort.

    As for your camera setting recommendations, there is no one setting for all things HDR. Shutter priority is NOT a good setting for HDR as your depth of field and focus will change through each exposure. The only thing you want changing throughout your exposures is light, therefore you should stick to aperture priority mode. As far as setting your camera to 4 seconds and f/5.6, this again depends on the scene and how much light is in that scene. Thanks for the info!

  • C. Diane October 13, 2010 11:21 pm

    Hi James,
    I have seen some people that have asked you about the NIKON CAMERA. You haven't reply them. Are you rejecting those that use NIKON camera or just dislike this. All you talked about the Canon Camera. I have done my research on how to do the HDR on the NIKON. My suggestion on using the NIKON camera is +2 and -2 then 0, ISO 100 with Shutter Priority. 4 second and F/5.6. Give it a try the Nikon user... Cheers!!!!

  • James Brandon October 12, 2010 12:57 am

    That's pretty right on Murchy. If there is a lot of action going on in the frame, and not a huge amount of contrast, you can easily get away with processing an HDR from a single RAW image. In Lightroom, I just make two virtual copies of the image I'm working on and slide the exposures on each by two stops. I then take those three images and send them to Photomatix.

  • Murchyk85 October 11, 2010 06:31 pm

    Hi, James!
    I just started with an HDR photography and thanks to your article I discovered some things/settings that I haven’t been even thinking of before. As the rest of readers I am also looking forward to the next parts :)
    By the way, many guys here are talking about generating HDR image from one single photo and I am a bit confused here: aren’t these kind of HDR photos called pseudo-HDR? I mean, yeah, I understand that for Photomatix you will use 3 photos, but still these 3 photos you would artificial create in photoshop, right? So, in the end the HDR photo will be also artificial… so called pseudo, right? Please, correct me if I am wrong :)

  • James Brandon October 9, 2010 11:37 pm

    Thriell - Parts 2 and 3 are rolling out very soon. Don't worry, I won't leave you hanging!

    Thanks for all the comments everyone!

  • Thriell October 8, 2010 01:08 pm

    It's been well over a week and there has been no mention of when we get to see parts two and three of this article. It's almost cruel to write an article that gets someone that hyped about doing something and then never finishing the series.

  • art October 7, 2010 09:24 pm

    To: bobg

    Now that is what I and every other d5000 owner needed. This is a great guide to setting up our camera for hdr picture taking.

    Thank you very much......PERFECT set by set, it's like HDR for

    Thanks again for a great link.

  • BobG October 7, 2010 08:09 pm

    @art Ahem, my bad I misread your post (I realised just as I clicked submit!)

    I don't have the D5000 but I guess some more info might allow other readers to help you out. It seems you have to press the shutter button manually 3 times unless you enable continuous shooting.

    Have you seen this guide here: which explains how to setup the D5000 for HDR step by step.

    I've checked this link and it's safe.

  • art October 7, 2010 02:06 am

    Oh I know everyone says it does but It seems no matter what I do It has never did what everyone says about taking three different ones.

    Also the second like says error when pressed...


  • art October 7, 2010 02:05 am

    Oh I know everyone says it does but It seems no matter what I do It has never did what everyone says about taking three different ones.

  • BobG October 7, 2010 01:06 am

    @art Yes it does, 3 frames only. the D3000 does not have bracketing.

    Here is a big list of cameras that support bracketing:

  • art October 7, 2010 12:07 am

    I will try this agin. does anyone know how to set a nikon d5000 to this type of bracketing.

  • Rhonda October 6, 2010 11:56 am

    When will the remaining lessons be added?

  • murchyk85 October 5, 2010 04:19 pm

    Hi, James!
    I just started with an HDR photography and thanks to your article I discovered some things/settings that I haven’t been even thinking of before. As the rest of readers I am also looking forward to the next parts :)
    By the way, many guys here are talking about generating HDR image from one single photo and I am a bit confused here: aren’t these kind of HDR photos called pseudo-HDR? I mean, yeah, I understand that for Photomatix you will use 3 photos, but still these 3 photos you would artificial create in photoshop, right? So, in the end the HDR photo will be also artificial… so called pseudo, right? Please, correct me if I am wrong :)

    Read more:

  • Jeanne October 3, 2010 11:25 pm

    Wonderfully written and easy to understand. Can't wait for the next lesson. Thank you!

  • ernesto c bernal October 3, 2010 08:12 pm

    thanks so mush for this interesting article. looking forward for the 2nd and 3rd instalment of this article. more power to DPS.

  • Ira O'Hara October 3, 2010 07:50 am

    Hi, James!
    I just started with an HDR photography and thanks to your article I discovered some things/settings that I haven't been even thinking of before. As the rest of readers I am also looking forward to the next parts :)
    By the way, many guys here are talking about generating HDR image from one single photo and I am a bit confused here: aren't these kind of HDR photos called pseudo-HDR? I mean, yeah, I understand that for Photomatix you will use 3 photos, but still these 3 photos you would artificial create in photoshop, right? So, in the end the HDR photo will be also artificial... so called pseudo, right? Please, correct me if I am wrong :)

  • akc October 2, 2010 09:43 pm

    Thanks for a wonderful article...cant wait to read the next parts. I currently dont know how to blend the images ; would wait for the same.

    Would want to specially commend the examples used by you, like the 10 people in a line to explain DOF and workers to collect light for explaining ISO. These were outstanding!

  • Kyle Bailey October 2, 2010 10:15 am

    Nice article for those starting with HDR and good things to remember if you've already taken the plunge. Here are a few images that I've shot using my Canon 40D and 7D and turned into HDR photos. Most are 3 exposures but a few are single exposure psudo HDR and a few others utilize more than 3.


  • Rafi Markus October 2, 2010 07:58 am

    This truly is a great article. Two features stand out, the first is the full coverage of a complex subject. The second is James Brandon's clear and sometimes even humorous method of explaining. Even the most inexperienced will understand what he has to say and will look forward to his next article.

  • James Brandon October 2, 2010 01:34 am

    Jim - No harm in a little back and forth, I welcome it! I think we just have to agree to disagree here. I'm fully aware of what a RAW file is. We simply disagree on how to approach the use of them, and that's fine. Our debate is whether to "fix it in post" or my advice to get it right in-camera so you don't have to worry about correcting it in post. This has nothing to do with the definition of a RAW file though. If I didn't know what a RAW file was I think I'd be in trouble!

    Also, I checked out your website. Great work dude! Love "The Risen" photo in the seascapes section. Cheers.

  • Jim Worrall October 1, 2010 11:42 pm

    @James Brandon

    Hi James, I appreciate your feedback.
    I won't argue the point with you here, (feel free to email me), but I feel that you have a wrong impression of what RAW files are. RAW files are exactly that, " raw data" captured by the camera's sensor, no more, no less.
    Whether the colour correction is performed by "in camera" firmware or by the photographer during post processing is the relevant point here.

    Best regards, Jim.

  • James Brandon October 1, 2010 11:19 pm

    Loving the conversation we have going here everyone. Thank you so much for all the great feedback. A couple people wanted to know why I didn't go into software programs on this post. Remember, this is a 3 part series, I will go over shooting in the field in the next part and post processing (software programs) in the 3rd installment.

    Blake - I couldn't agree more that using one RAW file is easiest. Especially if there is major movement in the frame. The problem with processing an HDR from a single RAW file is that you don't have as much light information as you do when shooting 3, 5 or 7 exposures. RAW files can only get pushed so far, and the major issue that becomes a problem quickly is noise. When I shoot 5 or 7 exposures, noise is reduced greatly. To fix the ghosting problem, I just use the new ghosting feature in photomatix, or do touch up work in PS. I'll get into more of that in the last post.

    Mark - I'm not sure if there is a program that can combine exposures with different depth of fields. I think there are only very few instances where it would be necessary to change your focus to capture the whole frame. There are those occasions though certainly.

    Jim - I'd have to say I disagree on this. I would caution against putting so much faith in your RAW files. There are two ways to look at RAW files. One is to just shoot away without a care in the world and fix it in post because you shot in RAW. The other is to get everything right in-camera so you don't have as much post to worry about, but you have those RAW files as insurance just in case. I would strongly suggest the latter mind set. There are some occasions where your white balance will be so far off that you can't recover it in post. And light isn't your only concern here. What if (because your white balance was off) you blow your red channels? How will you get those back? If you get it right in-camera, then that is one less thing you have to do to every image you process. And when you shoot thousands of images, this becomes a BIG deal.

  • Pssequimages October 1, 2010 10:57 pm

    Thank you --how WONDERFULLY Helpful --so much fun to be had with HDR, just knowing how to set it up is worth the trip!

  • Soli Framroze Contractor October 1, 2010 09:21 pm

    Great introductory article. Unfortunately my Nikon 40DX has not got AEB.

  • Blake October 1, 2010 07:03 pm

    The other (easier) option is to take one photo at an average exposure where the sky is no 'too' bright and the foreground is not 'too' dark. They usually end up looking like pretty average photos. You then put it into your favourite photo editing program, open up the raw file and jack up the exposure two stops and save a file, then drop it down two stops below the original and save a file. You then have three images of the same shot with different exposures. You then add the three photos into a HDR program (like Photmatix) and then turn them into a HDR image. You then play around with the contrast, luminescence and other settings till you have what you want.

    I prefer this method as there is no need for a tripod and there is no movement in the frame.

    One major problem with HDR shots made from multiple photos (using AEB) is the movement in the frame, for example trees blowing in the wind, water ripples, boats, birds...etc When you take three different photos and then HDR them together, these moving objects will become blurred.
    When you take one photo and turn it into three on the computer you eliminate this problem and everything is sharp.

    Hope this helps someone.

  • Khurram October 1, 2010 03:59 pm

    Very nice article. The best thing i like is the way you describe Aperture & ISO :) Since most of the new photographers don't understand that in the first go. Thanks for sharing this nice technique & those interesting examples which now i can share when someone asks me about aperture & ISO :)

  • Christina October 1, 2010 01:01 pm

    Thank you! Great article!

  • Jim Worrall October 1, 2010 12:25 pm

    I wouldn't worry about setting white balance if shooting in RAW (as shown in the tutorial).
    The white balance is determined during post processing when using the RAW format.

    If shooting jpegs then yes, I would be concerned about white balance.
    Cheers, Jim.

  • Diane October 1, 2010 12:20 pm

    Thank you for this article. I love your explanation with people and bees. I usually remember 'the smaller the number the smaller the depth of field' but this is even better. I want to race out and try this. I'm definitely looking forward to your next articles. Thanks!

  • Diane October 1, 2010 12:18 pm

    Thank you for this article. I love your explanation with people and bees. I usually remember 'the smaller the number the smaller the depth of field' but this is even better. I want to race out and try this. I'm definitely looking forward to your next articles. Thanks!

  • Mark October 1, 2010 09:40 am

    @Aaron Meyers

    I think you could do much better with a short cord shutter release. You could still hold down the shutter release in continuous mode, but be separated from the camera physically. I don't know about Nikon, but a three foot shutter release for my Canon was only about $10 US and I use it a bunch.

  • Martin Soler HDR Photos October 1, 2010 08:23 am

    Great beginner's guide. With a Nikon the settings are almost the same except you need to get a remote since the self-timer doesn't work the same way (only does one shot). Additionally a Nikon will take 5 or 7 shots to get the different shots which is a bit annoying when downloading all the shots onto a computer.
    But otherwise the settings on a Nikon are quite comparable.
    See my Nikon shots here, most of them are HDR: Nikon HDRs of Paris and Street Photos - Martin Soler

  • DrZaius October 1, 2010 08:11 am

    Great article, and timely for me because I just started playing around with HDR a few days ago. Though I find that using manual focus in low light conditions with no live view is hard for me to do (my D80 has none). Maybe I'll have to get me a new D7000 :)

  • Danferno October 1, 2010 07:51 am

    @ Mark There's an article about that somewhere on dps, I believe photoshop's photomerge works if you use it right.

  • Vishal Pipraiya October 1, 2010 06:59 am

    woohoo. I have been reading articles on this site for quite some time but let me tell you that this is simply one of the best ones I've read in a while. Not just for tackling the hot topic of HDR but because you explain the individual concepts of photography required for HDR so well that this one article just goes ka ching! Many thanks!!

  • pikesan October 1, 2010 06:58 am

    Fantastic! Took all the mystery out of shooting HDR. You never mentioned what software to use to combine the shots. Guess I'll have to go to Hawaii now!

  • Daniel Jobsky October 1, 2010 06:45 am

    Great Article. Two things though. If you only take one shot and try to post process as HDR, you may not have captured all the detail necessary to get the desired results. The advantage of bracketing is that details that are are not visable in an underexposed image are captured in the overexposed one and vice versa.
    The second thing I would like to know is can these articles be printed (without all the sidebar messaging)?

  • mark October 1, 2010 06:17 am

    James I enjoyed your article and have been playing with hdr on a little P&S camera.

    I may be a little outdated since I learned photography back in the silver days when every shot cost money!!!.... but when focusing for maximum depth of field I used to focus on an object about 1/3 of the way into image and stop down to f11 or above. The depth of field extends much further BEHIND the focal point than it does in front of it. So by focussing at that 1/3rd point you also bring much more of the foreground into focus.

    Test it out. Set up some dominos (or something) at regular measured spacings across your table and test different focal points and apertures with the camera at each focal point. Try also moving the camera closer to, and further away from the first domino and running the same experiments and see what happens to your depth of field.

    once this becomes natural to you you hardly need to worry about focus.... Ooops I forgot. today most cameras have Auto focus.

    HEY JAMES... Whilst aperture priority HDR is fabulous for dealing with the light Issue i have seen some work using multiple exposures to amazingly increase Depth of field. (eg an insect on a leaf right in front of the camera and flowers in the mid ground and mountains in the background all razor sharp. I might experiment with Shutter speed priority to see if I can get an appreciably better depth of field. Do you know an application that merges images for that intent?

  • benjie soriano October 1, 2010 06:12 am

    thanks so musch for sharing tips on HDR photography.looking forward for the next topic on post processing hdr

  • eifion October 1, 2010 06:01 am

    Hi All.
    A Brilliant Article and its taught me a few more thing about HDR that were unknown to me.
    Although Ive only been using A DSLR for about 15 months once I saw A HDR Photograph I was hooked.
    Of course taking the shot you want in Bracket Mode is just have the battle. Once taken these shots need to be merged to create The Final HDR Image.
    I use two methods.
    The first is Merge to HDR Pro which is in Photoshop CS5 and is very good.
    The second is my personal favourite and is Photomatix Pro. You can use RAW or Jpeg but not a mix of the two.
    I find using RAW brings out the best HDR results.
    Another Plus using Photomatix is that its easy to use simple instructions and controls.
    Some of my latest HDR Shots can be viewed on The Woophy Site,see link above, but are no way works of art. but somewhere you can see the effect of using HDR.
    Best Regards to all.

  • art October 1, 2010 05:59 am

    what if you have a nikon d5000

  • Tracy October 1, 2010 05:50 am

    I have really been trying to get my HDR shots right. I really appreciate this article and can't wait for the other 2. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

  • PatB October 1, 2010 05:40 am

    Great article and I was very pleased to see it at this time. I've been thinking about giving HDR photography a try and had figured out a couple of things, but this really laid everything out in clear detail. Thanks!

  • Aaron Meyers October 1, 2010 12:33 am

    I also want to point out that on Nikon cameras with AEB, it does not automatically fire the x number of shots like it does on a Canon. This means that you have to push the shutter release button 3, 5, 7, etc times so that each shot is taken. I was quite jealous of my friends Canon 7D when he could just set the timer, step back and have it fire his shots. Not a huge deal because if you're using a tripod the scene isn't going to change in between the time it takes to fire those shots and wait for the timer, but things like clouds, shadows, etc could change.

    Additionally, setting a Nikon camera to high speed continuous shooting will help. I can just push and hold the shutter release down and it'll fire off however many shots right away with little to no shutter shake in between.

  • 00&7 October 1, 2010 12:26 am

    You're just brilliant, Mr. Brandon. I'm a fan.

  • James Brandon September 30, 2010 11:22 pm

    Diana - thanks for the flickr link! I don't use flickr all that much, just to upload a photo here and there. You will find most, or pretty much all of my work at my blog (

    Airi - thanks!

    Goreshi - Not sure. If that's your camera, just go into the menu options and see if you find one for AEB. If not, read the comments above on shooting HDR manually if you don't have AEB

  • goreshi September 30, 2010 03:26 pm

    is this possible for canon 1000d??? I would love to try...

  • airi September 30, 2010 01:20 pm

    wow! that a good lecture from you...easy to understand and useful.thank with your note.

  • Diana Mikaels September 30, 2010 11:32 am


    :) :) :)

    Thanks so very much for these explanations, and I look forward to the comming suite :)

  • James Brandon September 30, 2010 08:48 am

    Great tip Paul!

    Momomo - thanks for your input, I appreciate it ;-)

  • momomo September 30, 2010 06:32 am

    great tutorial and excellent example of how stupid hdr can look

    "closely resembles how the human eye views a scene.”

    dont know about your eyes, but in mine, rocks usually dont glow

  • Brian September 30, 2010 05:02 am

    Sorry, I didn't see and read previous post about not having the feature on the Nikon D60's and D40's.

  • Briqn September 30, 2010 04:07 am

    Very good tutorial, but I have open problem. I have a Nikon D60 and it doesn't (or I can't find it) AEB. Is there a work around for it? I figure I'll have to do it manually.

  • Paul Timpa September 30, 2010 02:07 am

    Regarding mirror lock-up, for cameras with a Live View LCD, you get the best of both worlds as the mirror is already up preventing the vibrations, and the camera will still take all of the auto-bracketed exposures in a row without you having to touch the camera. This works in a 5D II, and perhaps other cameras with Live View. I use it all the time...


  • Scott Ingram September 30, 2010 01:55 am

    Just as a tip, those of you with newer DSLR's, that have a Custom function (C1- C3 on the dial on Canon cameras), you can assign one of those custom slots with all this information.
    Meaning that instead of having to go through a 3 minute song and dance of setting up the camera everytime you want to shoot HDR, you can just turn the dial to the C1 and shoot.

    [eimg url='' title='Canon5DMkII_mode_dial.jpg']

  • GJ September 30, 2010 12:37 am

    ahh mine only takes the 3 images in row only if I use the self timer. otherwise I have to press the shutter 3 times. so mirror lock-up helps.

    and those exposure sliders go left and right from the middle. like -1, 0, +1 or -1/3, 0, +1/3 i.e it's always balanced. I guess it doesn't make any difference anyway. I can always take 2 sets like you said.

    I don't know how relevant this is but mine says "If the custom functions menu's auto lighting optimizer is set to other than disable, the AEB may not be so effective."

  • James Brandon September 30, 2010 12:33 am

    Roekest - My camera doesn't do it automatically either. I will get to your question in the next post of the series, but there are a number of programs you can use to combine the exposures. I use Photomatix, but Photoshop CS5 has a new HDR feature as well. There are many other options too.

    Some cameras are starting to offer automatic HDR processing, I don't think I will ever use that feature though, unless I'm just testing it out. Photomatix gives me full control over the image turnout and that's why I use it.

  • Roekest September 29, 2010 11:45 pm

    Ok, so for those of us who do not have HDR built-in and we're left doing it "manually", how do we combine the 3 or 5 images into one? Photoshop, I assume?

  • James Brandon September 29, 2010 11:08 pm

    Chris - great points you made there, although sometimes I love barrel distortion :-) Just depends on the scene, huh?

    GJ - Mirror lockup is only going to be necessary at very slow shutter speeds. On my camera, if I use mirror lockup, the camera will no longer take all the exposures automatically in a row. I would then have to manually press down the shutter each time. I have taken plenty of 30 second exposures and still gotten sharp results, so I haven't seen a definitive reason to use it yet.

    You can certainly process an HDR from a single RAW file, I'll get into more of that later. For a lot of situations, 3 exposures will still work, but not all. One thing you can do is take one set of exposures at -2, -1 and 0. Then dial up and take the next set at 0, +1 and +2. Then, simply delete one of the "0" exposures, and now you have 5.

  • Synchromesh September 29, 2010 10:04 pm

    Really good post, thanks for this introduction, looking forward to the other parts.

  • BobG September 29, 2010 09:33 pm

    Flickr Link here:

  • Myer Bornstein September 29, 2010 08:50 pm

    Very excellent article BUT need to update it to include settings for NIKON not everyone is a Canon user

  • GJ September 29, 2010 07:41 pm

    awesome article. I'm looking forward for the next two articles. I'm using a Rebel T1i. I only have the kit lens at the moment. gotta try taking some pics. I did take some pics of the clouds with AEB. they don't look that great. but better than "normal" ones. I need to learn more about tone mapping.

    one more thing, I'd suggest using the mirror lock up function to minimize the camera shake. when you press the shutter release with the self timer on, the mirror locks up. so the camera won't shake due to the mirror going up when actually taking the pic.

    btw, mine only allows me to take 3 differently exposed images with AEB. can I shoot in RAW and change the exposure later and use them for HDR? coz my tripod is not that sturdy. so if I try to change the settings, its most likely to change the angle.

  • Chris Callahan September 29, 2010 07:34 pm

    Interesting article! I will have to try this on my trip to Colorado next week... I've tried HDR some here in Ft Lauderdale, but haven't really gotten into it (I rarely carry a tripod).

    About point of focus; the way a human eye views landscapes is often with the fore and midground in focus, and the background somewhat out of focus. Infinity focus will often leave the foreground out of focus, especially if it is close to the camera. Using a wider angle lens will helop increase depth of filed (and a prime lens will help with the awful barrel distortions of zooms!). Setting the focus manually to a point somewhat shy of infinity, then checking the scene with the depth-of-field preview button (or taking the shot and looking) will help find the point of ideal focus (math fiends and other gluttons for punishment/geniuses will find the hyperfocal distance and point of maximum sharpness, but this is way too much for me!).

    Thanks for the article! If I do get the chance for a mountainside HDR, I'll have to post it!

  • James Brandon September 29, 2010 09:14 am

    Scapevision - I'm coming from the assumption that everyone is using a self timer which sets off all the exposures automatically as I described in the post. This would not be an issue if you manually press the shutter down for each exposure.

    Derekl - The mistake you are making here is that you are changing your aperture between exposures. Your aperture should never change when taking multiple shots of a scene. If it does change, that means you are capturing different depth of field levels in each frame which won't work when combining the exposures later. The only thing that should be changing in your brackets is the amount of light in the scene, and that's controlled by your shutter speed. That's why I suggest switching to Av mode so your aperture stays constant in each exposure. You are right in saying to leave room for your brackets to happen. Make sure that none of your exposures will be longer than 30 seconds or shorter than 1/8000th of a second.

    For everyone who expressed concern over not having a camera with an AEB function: This doesn't mean you are excluded from HDR shooting :-) AEB takes some of the manual work out of the equation by automatically jumping the shutter speed to different exposure levels. If you don't have an AEB function on your camera you will just have to adjust manually. In Av mode, just meter a scene as usual. Then, dial your exposure down by adjusting the shutter speed (not the aperture) until you are 1 or 2 stops underexposed. This will be your dark scene to capture details in the highlights. Next, dial back to "0" and take another exposure for your average or "anchor" exposure. Finally, dial your exposure to 1 or 2 stops over exposed to capture details in the shadows. I understand this may be hard to understand without images but if you refer back to the post that will help.

  • James Brandon September 29, 2010 08:42 am

    Stephanie - Glad you enjoyed the article and good luck with giving HDR a go

    Wayfaring - No problem. I agree, HDR can easily be overdone. And learning when and why to back off will come with time. Give it a shot and follow along with the next two posts in the series, I promise you'll learn a lot :-)

    Craig - Av is certainly the easiest way to shoot HDR. You can certainly shoot in Manual mode on Canon systems, although I have not tested it on others. That's why I suggested to just go Av. Since this is a beginners guide, we won't go into the details of dialing in shutter speeds, aperture and ISO in manual mode. Good luck and happy shooting

  • Craig September 29, 2010 06:49 am

    Wow, never thought of using the AV for taking HDR shots, always tried to do them on Manual in the past.
    Looking forward to the next 2 parts so I know what else I've been doing wrong!!

  • Scapevision September 29, 2010 06:49 am

    Not sure why you say that in Manual mode the camera could change aperture. In Manual mode you control every aspect of your exposure, camera can't change your aperture, unless maybe you have safety shift enabled under custom functions, but even then I think it only works in AV/TV modes, I might be wrong

  • Jerod September 29, 2010 06:18 am

    Great post! Thanks for the step-by-step and I look forward to the next two articles. BTW - the HDR image is not linked to flicker.

  • chris September 29, 2010 05:54 am

    SO glad to see this post. It covers great tips that I think prevented me from getting a good HDR shot in the past (AV Priority Mode!! Why didn't I think of that!). Another thing I'd point out, that I think you mention but maybe don't emphasize enough, is that any old shot isn't going to look as vivid and gorgeous as the shot you posted above in HDR. Your scene or subject or whatever needs to have widely varying levels of relatively dark areas and relatively light areas for it to really stand out. For many shots, the HDR composition will look almost exactly the same as the exposure 0 setting because there just wasn't enough contrast (waste of time on the photographer's part).

    One question I've always wondered about and only experimented with briefly because I wanted to get an HDR shot of a moving subject... If your subject is moving, these 3 to 9 exposures will capture the subject in different positions and the composition (in photoshop or whatever) will just grab the portion that's the best exposed but leave traces of messiness everywhere else.

    Does it stand to reason that you could just take one shot while shooting in RAW (which captures all the dynamic light ranges available), duplicate the raw file a few times and then adjust the exposure for each RAW file to a different setting (eg. original photo = exp0, duplicate1 = exp+2, duplicate2=exp-2, and so on), and then merge those files together as you would an HDR shot? Will the result be that manipulating one RAW file will get the same end result as merging 3 to 9 files or am I missing something crucial? In addition to controlling for movement within the shot between "frames", it seems like this would also prevent the photographer from being constrained by having to use the optimum settings to make an HDR shot that you listed above.

    Great article-- can't wait for the rest of it. I really would love to improve my chops in this regard (even if it is becoming a bit overdone-- especially with iPhones now taking "HDR" (scare quotes intended) shots.

  • sillyxone September 29, 2010 05:50 am

    I'm a fan too, but not for overly-colored tone-mapped photos, just for making the whole picture viewable in a highly dynamic range scene.

    If there is movement involves, my favorite choice would be shooting in one RAW, then extracting 3 exposures out to fuse together. It's not as good as bracketing, but it's better than mismatched shots.

    My D40 doesn't have auto-bracketing, so I have to do it manually. If I have my laptop around, gphoto2 is my favorite way to control the camera via USB cable. Just a small bash script will tell the camera to take a series of photos at different exposures and save directly to the laptop. With no laptop, I just have to make sure that my hands don't move much between adjusting exposure compensation (Hugin is very forgivable with slightly shifted shots).

    My favorite fusing/merging software is Enfuse, which can be used in the CLI (with lots of options/params to tweak), or using it as integrated in Hugin. Bonus benefits of Hugin includes distortion/vignetting correction, and matching hand-held photos (just like stitching panorama), or creating HDR panorama (since Enfuse is part of Hugin's workflow). Oh, did I mention that Enfuse can do focus-stacking too?

  • Cornell September 29, 2010 05:29 am

    RE: "The end result is a stunning image that very closely resembles how the human eye views a scene."

    Much, very possibly most, of the HDR image results that I see are overdone and in no way resemble what the human eye sees.

  • Thriell September 29, 2010 05:19 am

    My Nikon D-60 doesn't have a convenient way to bracket exposures, but I've found that if I shoot in RAW instead of .JPG then use the ViewNX program that came with the camera to convert the picture JPG, I can adjust the exposure compensation anywhere from -2.0 to +2.0 in steps of .1. This means I need only a single shot and I can adjust the exposure compensation by hand and get as many as 40 different "bracketed" exposures. The downside is that the program is painfully slow and just making three exposures this way took me over 30 minutes.

  • Roekest September 29, 2010 05:02 am

    I have a Nikon D40 and I don't see Auto Exposure Bracketing in my manual. Is this something only higher-end DSLR's have?

  • DerekL September 29, 2010 04:22 am

    Excellent article, but one point was missed/ under emphasized in step 3... When you choose your aperture, make sure you leave enough 'headroom' to bracket your shots. If your minimum aperture is 2.8 and you have an AEB range of + or - 2, then your base aperture needs to be at least 5 or you'll miss a bracket, the same is true at the other end of the range. I've screwed up more HDR shots than I care to count by forgetting this simple calculation.

    @Wayfairing Wanderer Exaggerated HDR is not generally inherent in the process, it's usually the product of poor post processing discipline, either in the editing process or in the unwillingness to ditch an image that just isn't working.


  • Clemens Roether September 29, 2010 03:23 am

    Really good HDR article -- and there's more to come! Very well written, complete, and you made it sound easy to do. Count me in, I'm trying this right away. Thanks for opening the door to this new technique.

  • John September 29, 2010 02:30 am

    Help! I have a Nikon D40x and it doesn't have AEB. Does that mean I'm excluded from HDR photography?

  • Grant D. Taylor September 29, 2010 02:25 am

    Great article. I have been planning to try this and might have to do it now. Fall is coming and that seems like a perfect time to experiment. I can not wait for the third part of the series. The post processing is always a confusing part to me. So many sliders in Photoshop's HDR pro.

  • Bluenoser September 29, 2010 02:23 am

    Good article and very clearly explained.

    Tried to view the larger copy of the final image but there is no link to it.

  • Wayfaring Wanderer September 29, 2010 01:58 am

    I am a fan of bracketing to blend shots, although I don't do it very often. Maybe I'm just lazy when it comes to post-processing?!?!

    Sometimes, the HDR look can be a little too exaggerated for my taste. I should give it a go, though. Who knows?! I might actually like what comes out of it!

    Thanks for the in depth tutorial!


  • Ricky September 29, 2010 01:49 am

    Excellent job, that was very well done. Trying to explain something like this in writing is very hard to do, and you did a fantastic job!

  • Glenn72 September 29, 2010 01:44 am

    Thank you very much for taking the time to do this series. This is very informative and looks very interesting. Looking forward to reading the rest of your series and eventually giving this a try!

  • Stephanie September 29, 2010 01:41 am

    So happy to see this article today! This is a technique I've been wanting to try. Thanks for the great tips and step-by-step process.

  • Bluenoser September 29, 2010 01:30 am

    Good article and very easy to understand.

    Tried to look at larger version of image however there's no "link" attached to the image.