Easy HDR without a Tripod

HDR photography. Ahhh! You either love it… or you’re wrong!

The beauty of HDR is that its beautiful. High Dynamic Range photos have vibrant colors and tactile textures that make you want to sing!

One of the main inconveniences preventing more photographers getting going with HDR photography is that you need to take all your photos using a tripod. That’s right isn’t it – otherwise it just doesn’t work. But… a tripod is heavy, awkward, irritating, it slows you down, its embarrassing and that’s the end of that.

But, you see, that’s not entirely true. On a recent trip to New Zealand I cleverly left my tripod in my car back in the Sydney airport carpark. Disaster? Not quite. Check out these before and after photos of this church at Lake Tekapo, taken hand-held.

So, without further ado, here are 4 easy steps to take great photos in HDR without a tripod (these are based on the Canon 70D but most other DSLRs will have similar settings – consult your manual):

1. Setup your camera for HDR by selecting a bracket of 3 shots at -2EV, 0EV, +2EV. This is fine for most lighting situations and when hand-holding its best to minimize the amount of shots in the bracket. Always use Aperture Priority mode for HDR as this ensures all the shots have the same depth of field. And, finally, set the camera’s drive mode to Continuous Shooting – this causes the three shots to be fired off in rapid succession with only a single press of the shutter release.

2. Set your camera to a 2 second shutter delay. This gives you a crucial 2 second gap between pressing the button and the shots being taken, enabling you to re-stabilize yourself and the camera.

If you’re lucky and you have a camera with a Custom exposure mode setting, you can save all these settings and then easily access this entire HDR configuration by simply selecting the Custom mode. You should also save a preferred aperture and ISO – I’d recommend f8 and ISO100 as a good starting point for HDR. For more detail on Custom mode see this previous post.

3. Use a wide angle lens. The wider the lens the less any movements you make between (or during) exposures will be noticeable. These days the HDR software is excellent at compensating for any minor movements you do make between shots (like breathing!).

4a. Notice the shutter speed that your camera has metered for the first (normal 0EV) exposure. Then multiply this by 4. That will give you the shutter speed that it will use for the longest (+2EV over-exposed) shot. This needs to be a shutter speed that you’d be comfortable hand-holding for any normal shot. For example if the metered speed is 1/125th, then the longest exposure in the bracket will be 1/125 x 4 which is 1/30th second, which is fine if you’re using a wide angle lens. Of course anything faster is even better.

4b. If you need faster shutter speeds either increase your aperture (using lower f numbers) or if the aperture is fully open, increase your ISO. Increasing ISO will introduce more noise into the photos but modern cameras and software are getting much better at minimizing the impact of this so don’t worry about it too much.

And that’s it! With a wide angle lens, a 2 second shutter delay and a reasonably fast shutter speed, those three shots will be sharp enough and aligned enough for the software to easily iron out any discrepancies.

Having tried many different ways to process my HDR photos, I think the best results are achieved using a combination of software: Photomatix, Lightroom and Photoshop. With a bit of practice, and some tricks to streamline the process, you can get great results in only a few minutes with lots of potential for personal creativity and minimal headaches. I’ll show you how in a future post…


In Other News

If you want to keep up with all the latest trends in photography gear and techniques the only place you need to go is This Week In Photo. Its a regular weekly podcast hosted by the ultra-smooth Frederick Van Johnson.

And if you want to learn photography techniques, and how to use lightroom and photoshop there’s only one place to go for that too. The recently renamed and merged KelbyOne now combines all the online training videos from Kelby Training with all the resources of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP). Its money very well spent!

Finally, if you haven’t already subscribed, Adobe have an amazing proposition for photographers. Get both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop (essential post processing tools for HDR photographers) for just $9.99/month on their Creative Cloud Photography Plan. This is one of those rare times when its really easy to reach for your wallet!

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    High Dynamic Range

    HDR has been a controversial subject in the world of photography. Some of the best and most popular photos have been made with High Dynamic Range techniques. And also some of the worst.

    The recent history of art has encouraged and even required its artists to push boundaries as far as they’ll go. Painting reached astonishing levels of photo-realism in the 17th century, but in more recent years there came the impressionists, the minimalist abstracts and the expressionists, and society’s expectations and perceptions of painting were blown explosively out of the water. Some contemporary journalists were clearly unimpressed:

    Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.
    Louis Leroy (on Monet)

    HDR photography is still a very new technique. When it suddenly became popular a few years ago it was often used without subtlety, and the Harry Potter school of photographic wizardry was born. But the backlash was equally unsubtle. The result was that these expressionist techniques were refined and the volume turned way down, and then the real value of HDR became obvious.

    We’re used to cameras only telling part of the story. The range of tones they can capture is much more limited that those we can see. So the photographer has to compromise and make a decision. Shadow or light? Often the result is all the better for this limitation, as a tale half told can leave interesting questions dangling around the frame. But sometimes it’s good to tell the whole story.

    HDR reveals what’s hiding in the shadows or drowning in the highlights. It reaches in and pulls out textures and colors, and suddenly a new more intense reality emerges. In capable hands it’s very impressive stuff.

    The godfather of HDR is Trey Ratcliff. He posts a new HDR photo on his blog Stuck in Customs every day, and some of these photos are stunning. If you’re a photographer and haven’t tried this yet, read his free introductory tutorial and give it a go.


    In Other News

    So many books but so little time!

    When you pick up a book and start to read you’re making a big commitment – it may take many days or even weeks before you turn that final page. So if you’re going to read a book you’d better make sure it’s a good one.

    Following hard on the heels of David Bowie’s list of his 100 favorite books, released a couple of weeks ago, here’s a recent interview with Woody Allen in which he describes just 5 books that most influenced him.

    My advice? Read the classics. The clue’s in the title…


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