This isn’t an HDR tutorial. There are a lot of good ones available out there, and maybe I’ll create one someday, too, but this isn’t it.
This article doesn’t deal with in-camera HDR software, or, for that matter, any software. This is about what can go wrong when taking the photos for an HDR image.
As with any process, there are possible exceptions to any of these guidelines and there will probably be some points I’ll forget to mention. (Pobody’s nerfect, right?)
An unstable camera setup: Clean HDR images may require unusually long exposures and definitely require a still camera. You definitely need a solid tripod on a stable surface and the kids and dog shouldn’t be anywhere close.
The wrong shutter mode: It doesn’t matter if you’re a brain surgeon; you’re not steady enough to avoid shaking the camera when tripping the shutter manually. If you don’t have an electronic remote control or standard cable release, use your camera’s self timer and set it for at least a few seconds of delay. You don’t want to be touching the camera when the shutter opens.
Moving the camera between exposures: This is related to item number one, but worth mentioning separately, particularly for those of you who need to adjust camera settings manually between shots. Any change in the camera angle, zoom, or focus settings between shots can be disastrous. Be careful when adjusting the settings and try to avoid touching the lens rings.
Forgetting to turn off autofocus: I’m sure there are those who will want to argue this point, but you’ll need to have an awful lot of faith in your camera’s AF to trust it for multiple exposures. Subtle lighting changes and other situations can affect your camera’s ability to focus. Use the autofocus initially if you like, then turn it off and don’t adjust the focus until you’ve completed all the exposures.
Shooting in the wind: This one is somewhat debatable. I’ve seen some very interesting images with dancing flowers and the like. Overall, unless that’s the effect you’re looking for in the final image, the wind is not your friend when it comes to shooting for HDR. Yes, Photomatix, Photoshop and other software can help eliminate ghosts, but the technology is far from perfect.
Forgetting about moving things: Yes, this is another debatable point. You may want the waves or the waterfall in your image to blur. That’s fine. Keep other things in mind, too, like the fact that the sun, moon and stars appear to move very quickly in the sky, so if you take too long between exposures, you may have a hard time lining things up later. People, animals, clouds and other moving things can all be problematic, so think about them before you shoot.
Poor creative technique: As awesome as HDR effects might be, your image is still going to be flat and lifeless if there’s no focal for the photo, no appeal to the composition or any other basic problem with the picture. Create an image with impact first. Then worry about the dynamic range.
Insufficient exposure range: In most cases, you’re going to want to bracket your exposures around 2 stops above and below normal for the maximum effect. This will vary from camera to camera and according to the situation, but you need good highlights and deep shadows to get the best effects. Good blending will take care of the steps in between. If you’re unsure, add more steps to the bracketing, so you’ll have plenty to choose from.
Shooting at a high ISO setting: Noise is amplified in HDR images and even the best noise reduction software will sacrifice some detail. For clean, sharp images, always shoot at the lowest ISO setting possible.
Poor color rendition: remember the fundamentals for building good color in-camera. Use your polarizer to “punch up” colors. Set your initial exposure for the right area of your scene. Be sure your white balance setting is correct. Remember, you’re going to be working with multiple images later, so try to get things right ahead of time.
I have what’s best classified as a love/hate relationship with High Dynamic Range images, for several reasons. I’ve seen some incredibly beautiful images created with modern digital HDR techniques. I’ve also seen some that absolutely failed. Some of those failures have been my own attempts. I won’t be showing you any of those.
While HDR isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s probably safe to say that most photography buffs will want to try it at some point. It’s a reasonably simple process with today’s DSLRs and software and if done correctly, the results can be beyond incredible. Depending on the overall effect you’re trying to achieve, however, there are a few things that can turn a potentially amazing photo into a disappointing experience.
Let me be clear about a couple of things before we start:
Alright, then - here we go.
As previously alluded to, this is probably far from a complete list. It should, however, give you a solid foundation for creating photos that will convert well to HDR images, whether in the camera or the “lab”. Remember, practice makes perfect, so get out there and start bracketing!
Article by Dana Crandell