There are several thousand tips for HDR photography and I would be lying if I said I am going to give you the top five. The reason being, as soon as I give you the “top” five, I will remember 5 more helpful hints, and as soon as I tell you those, I will think of ten more “top” tips. It is a sick cycle to get caught up in so for the sake of argument, I am going to give you 5 important HDR tips now, and throughout the next few Wednesdays I will give you some more. Today’s tips will deal with the actually taking of the exposures.
1. APERTURE PRIORITY mode is a godsend! While not always perfect for every situation it is an awesome place to start. Think of it as the HDR Photogs Auto Mode. Your aperture remains the same as your exposure value changes from exposure to exposure, which leads me into the next tip… Auto Exposure Bracketing.
2. AUTO EXPOSURE BRACKETING (AEB) is the best thing since sliced bread. Come to think of it, it is very similar to sliced bread. Each exposure in the bracket is similar to a slice of bread that makes a nice little HDR loaf. Some of the best HDR loafs contain many slices to get you through the work week of sandwich making. If your camera has an Auto Exposure Bracket mode, use it! AEB in combination with Aperture Priority is the second part to the whole HDR tri-fecta!
Many AEB modes work from +/-.3 EV, to +/-.7 EV and +/-1 EV. I suggest going the full +/-1 EV to get the full dynamic range of a scene. My camera, Olympus E-30, shoots 5 exposures compared to many that only shoot 3. Sorry to all you Canon and Nikon people who spent a fortune on your camera and only have a 3 exposure bracket. Feel free to pout about it or write a letter to your Congressman/woman, but quite frankly, I don’t think they will care!
In all seriousness, I don’t think the 3 or 5 exposure really makes a huge difference. It is noticeable in the tone mapping of your HDR image, but it is nothing that really warrants the purchase of a camera that does 5, 7, or even 9 exposures. 7 and 9 AEB’s aren’t really effective unless you are shooting at the +/- .3 or .7 EV’s. At +/- 1 EV with 7 or 9 exposures you will more than likely get too much highlight blowout and shadow clipping on the far ends of the EV spectrum.
3. LIMIT CAMERA SHAKE - A tri-pod is ironically the final piece to your HDR tri-fecta. It is possible to take a decent handheld AEB series of exposures for tone mapping, but I would suggest ensuring that your exposures will not go below 1/60 of a second. A tri-pod, regardless of the available light will ensure camera shake is at an absolute minimum! Just make sure you have a decent tripod that doesn’t wobble. Those cheap plastic imitations with 3 legs that retail for $15.99 at Wal-Mart are a sad excuse for stability.
4. APERTURE - Set your aperture to the highest f/stop manageable in the light available. Higher f/stops allow for more depth of field, minimizing the amount of “Bokeh”, you know that blurry stuff around a photo with tight focus shot at f/2.8 or so or lower? What I have noticed about Bokeh and the HDR process is that noise really likes to accumulate in those blurry areas making post processing difficult sometimes. If at all possible, I recommend a higher f/stop to make post processing easier, you can always fake the Bokeh later with a little Gaussian Blur action!
5. ISO - Set your ISO to as low as possible, given the light available. The lower the ISO the less noise you run into, the less noise you run into the less time you have to spend cleaning it up. I am 95% of the time in ISO 100 to ensure the lowest amount of noise possible! However, there are conditions when a low ISO will cause the exposures to capture very slow, below 1/60th of a second, like a dim lit room for instance. If there is any motion in these circumstances there will be ghosting present while tone mapping which is just one more thing to have to deal with in post. Experiment with ISO. One downfall to my camera is that anything higher than 800 ISO is no mans noise land, I hate that about my Olympus. You lucky Canon/Nikon owners can brag about how noise free your exposures are at ISO 3200+ while I pout and write a letter to my Congressman about it.
5(+1, yeah that’s right a bracketed tip). DO NOT LISTEN to anything I just told you! These tips are recommendations, you have to experiment. The best tip I can give you, especially with something as subjective as HDR is to experiment. Figure it out for yourself as you will soon compile your own list of tips to follow. Take mine with a grain of salt or… a loaf of bread!