Nov 122011

Useful Tips on Creating HDR Images from John Omvik!


In order to capture the dynamic range of an HDR scene you need to bracket several exposures. For the best results you must ensure, that with the exception of exposure times, little varies from frame to frame. The best way to do this is to lock your settings in manual mode.

Most modern cameras allow you to save custom user settings in the camera so that they are easy to recall when you need them. If you are serious about HDR photography it makes sense to dedicate one of these custom user settings for HDR.

Here is the list of settings I recommend.

– RAW Image Capture: This ensures that you get the most from every shot. Some cameras allow you to choose between 12 and 14-bit RAW files. If you have an option always go with the higher bit depth. Never use reduced resolution RAW files, always choose the full size. Like my grandmother used to say, never worry about the sausage that is too long, you can always make it shorter, but not the other way around.

– Manual White balance: When shooting RAW, the white balance really doesn’t matter since you can always change it later. I recommend picking one setting and sticking with it. Choose Daylight or Tungsten, if you are really picky create a custom WB setting, but always use the same setting for the whole sequence.

– Shoot Aperture Priority or Manual Exposure: Regardless of which one you use, you want to lock the aperture down and only vary the shutter speed. Varying the exposure with different aperture settings or f-stops will set a different depth of field for each frame which will create problems in the merge and alignment process.

– Set your EV increments to 1EV: Most cameras are set to 1/3 EV increments by default, each time you move the command dial one click it changes the exposure by one third of a stop. For HDR 1/3 EV is just too fine an exposure resolution. Change the camera settings so that a single click adjusts the exposure by 1EV and you’ll need to touch the camera less between each exposure.

– Use the AF Lock button to focus: Most cameras are set to focus by default when the shutter button is pressed halfway down. This is a great feature for most types of photography. For HDR however, you don’t want to have to acquire focus for each shot of a sequence and risk focusing on different areas of the image by mistake. Having different areas in focus can also cause problems in the merge process. It is much better to set your camera so that it only focuses when you press the AF-On or AF-Lock button. This way you can lock your camera down on a tripod, frame up your scene, acquire focus once and lock it and shoot your bracketed set of images without refocusing. Just make sure to lock down the focus first for your next scene as well. Remember even if you use a cable release, if the camera is set to focus on half shutter press, pressing the button on the cable release will be the same as pressing the actual shutter button.

If you follow these tips and set your camera up in manual mode, you will get much more reproducible bracketed exposure series and be more likely to get better HDR results.

In the next tip, I’ll explain in more detail why RAW capture produces better HDR images than TIFF or JPEG.

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