There are a lot of tutorials on editing HDR but not many discussing how to shoot HDR. This may be due to a tendency to think HDR is all about post-processing but it’s not. The capture process is equally as important and any mistakes made during capture will be amplified in post.
This tutorial, a listing of the steps I take before pressing the shutter, wil help you eliminate mistakes early on.
1) Use a tripod
You need a tripod. You can shoot handheld if you plan on doing single-raw HDR, but for multiple exposures you really need a tripod unless you have arms of steel (which I don’t by the way)- even then a tripod will still give you better results. Using a tripod will avoid issues with lining up the images in your HDR software that ultimately would result in soft images. Be sure you have a good solid head as well to make adjustments easy for you.
2) Use a cable release or timer
3) Set White Balance (do not use Auto White Balance)
Small shifts in white balance will make a mess of your images. Choose your white balance either by using custom white balance or by using one of the white balance presets. You can always adjust later in camera raw if you need to.
4) Shoot Manual
Don’t be scared of the big bad “M”, it’s the setting where you have the most control. Set your dial to M and let’s get started.
5) Spot Meter & Set Aperture
I tend to choose one element of the scene to meter around. Once I have chosen the subject, I then set the aperture. I can’t tell you what your aperture setting should be. It depends on your subject, what you want to communicate with your image, and the available light.
6) Set your ISO as low as possible
Once you have decided on the aperture, set the ISO as low as possible to get as little noise as possible. Tonemapping your images will multiply ISO noise, so keep it low. Your ISO decision will depend on many things- least of which are your aperture and the effect you want to create with the shutter speed. You will need to make some tradeoffs but whatever you decide, keep ISO at minium.
7) Focus, compose then turn off autofocus
Just as white balance shifts can occur between photos, focus shifts can occur as well (especially if you are shooting in low light conditions). So, set your focus point, turn off autofocus and recompose your image.
8) Lock your tripod
This is important but easy to forget. Lock everything down and get ready to shoot
9) Shoot, evaluate and adjust
You’re ready to shoot. Fire away and check your exposures, you may need to modify your ISO, shutter speed or aperture to ensure you are seeing detail in every exposure. Be gentle as you touch your camera, you don’t want to throw off your composition.
10) Consider registering Camera User Settings
Not every camera has Camera User Settings, but if yours does, consider registering your settings. For example, I have a user setting set with the following: F/11, 1/60, ISO 100, 2 second timer and -2,0,+2 Auto Exposure bracketing. All I need to do is move my dial to “C1” and I’m ready to go.