HDR – First Steps

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Ok, seems like you really want to get started 😀 .

Scene selection

Of course, you can use just about any scene, but sometimes, this technique is just bad. The typical situation would be a sunset or just any time shooting into the sun – that’s the real extreme light situation! Magic also happens when you have some glass or water reflections in the shot. It is very good for landscapes with clouds in the sky, but it requires some photoshop fixing, because the technique tends to create the clouds veeery dark and psychadelic. Or if you are in the forest and sun rays are coming through the trees, this technique will give them the glow, that’s usually very hard to achieve. It is useful for architecture and indoor shots too, but many people tend to overdo it, resulting in strange aura around the objects.

This technique is generally unsuitable for portraits and scenes where there is a lot of movement. Well, in case of the movement in the picture, you can try single RAW tonemapping. With portraits, it usually creates a brutally unnatural effect. I guess you could use it even for portrait, but you would have to be very subtle and in my opinion it’s better to just use  RAW and edit it simply with photoshop or Lightroom. If you are handy, you might need to not edit it at all 😉 .

You can find HDR pictures in our galleries. We certainly don’t claim they are perfect, but we try to make it as good as possible 😉 .

Setting up your camera

As a photographer, you should be familiar with your camera’s manual mode. But let’s face it, today’s cameras are quite smart so why not let them do the work for us and that’s why it’s useful to use the aperture priority mode of your camera. In this mode, your main dial controls the aperture and therefore the depth of field. Your ISO setting should be as low as possible, typically ISO 100. The machine than calculates the right shutter speed for the scene. The aperture priority mode is usually marked with an “A” on your camera’s mode dial (“Av” in case of Canon cameras). The aperture (f stop) value setting depends very much on what exactly you want to shoot – for landscapes, the typically good value is about f 10, because this way, the whole scene will be in focus. If you’re shooting directly into the sun, you might want to crack it up even more to reach the good values of exposure. To explain that: let’s say your camera has the shortest shutter speed of 1/4000 seconds. Now, if you have too much direct light, your normal and underexposed (I’ll explain that a bit later) pictures might end up the same. Also, higher f stop values make the nice star effect for lights 😀 . Of couse, there might be some special situations where you will have to use the manual mode, but most of the time, aperture priority mode should meet your needs perfectly.

So much for the aperture priority…now to explain that magical exposure bracketing! It’s quite simple: instead of taking a single photo, your camera will take a sequence of photographs at different exposures. Entry level DSLRs will generally let you take 3 exposures at 2 EV difference and about 95% of time, this should be sufficient. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever used more exposures 😀 . This means that you will get an underexposed picture with detail in the hightlights, overexposed picture with detail in the shadows and normally exposed picture, typically with blown out highlights and black shadows to determine what areas are shadows and what are highlights. The better the camera, the more exposures it can usually take and the greater the EV difference between them can be. In a video, we will show you how to set up and how to set up and use this function on Canon 500D (also with Magic Lantern firmware) and Sony NEX-6. To set this up on your camera, I recommend consulting the user manual 😉 .


As said before, many times it’s not even necessary, expecially with the direct sunlight. Also, the HDR creation software always comes with some means of image alignment, so if your arms are at least a bit steady, you should have no problem taking the photos handheld. For best results though, you should consider the tripod. We use Cullmann Nanomax 260 tripod with video head, which can be bought for less than $100, and it does the job very nicely! It’s not heavy, it’s compact and most importantly, for this price, it’s STURDY…even with fully extended legs and central collumn. If you want a super stable cheap tripod, I recommend going for Slik tripods. They’re made of steel instead of aluminium, but on the other hand, they’re quite heavy.


Even on a tripod, you would get a lot of camera shake while pressing the shutter. There are basically two things you can do: either get a remote OR set up a timer! Or get a $1,000 tripod…I guess that would do the trick too :D. Remote, wired or wireless is a great thing, but it’s an extra piece of hardware you have to remember to pack. In our experience, timer works the best! DSLRs will usually let you set the 2 second timer. Entry level cameras will count two seconds after pressing the shutter button and then shoot the three photos. Higher level cameras will even wait two seconds between each shot, so as long as ther is not much movement in the clouds or trees or something else, you will get a nice, stable and aligned pictures. We actually ran into a problem here with NEX-6: it’s not possible to use either option! But on the other hand, the exposures are much faster than with DSLRs. We’ll show you what to do in the video ;-).

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