Shooting for HDR Tutorial
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, will help you eliminate mistakes early on. If you’re looking for an HDR Processing Tutorial, click here to check my detailed writeup on the topic.
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- 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 would ultimately result in soft images. Be sure you have a good solid tripod head as well to make adjustments easy. I use the Induro AT-213 tripod with the Manfrotto 498rc2 ballhead. I find it’s a solid combo.
2) Use Auto Exposure Bracketing and a shutter release
Pressing the shutter can move your camera; you don’t want to be pressing the shutter for every exposure. I use a 2 second timer and a wireless remote (I use the Vello Wireless Shuterboss). I make all my adjustments, wait a second or two, then fire off the camera using the wireless remote. This helps reduce vibrations – especially if you have a heavy camera/lends combo on top of your tripod head. Also, using a timer will allow you to press the button once to capture all your exposures.
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 by either 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 dial in your exposure.
5) Use Live View
This is not a must, but I strongly recommend it. One major reason is Live View will lock up your mirror giving you a sharper image due to reduced vibration. Also, you can zoom in using Live View and nail your focus.
6) 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). Set your focus point, turn off autofocus and recompose your image. This setup works for most folks. I’ve configured my cameras to use Rear AF. My shutter button does not cause the camera to focus – this allows me to ensure the camera is focusing on exactly what I want it to (and when I want it to).
7) 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. My ISO is typically set at 100 or 200.
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.
Be sure you’re shooting RAW and are capturing the full dynamic range available in the scene. This may require 3,5,7 or even more exposures. It’s ok to have more exposures than you need – you can always delete the extra images if you don’t need them; you can’t always go back and reshoot your scene.
Finally, in terms of HDR software, I use Photomatix which you can download here. If you decide to pick it up, just use the code CertainPointOfView for a 15% discount.