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HDR Photography - How to Take the Best HDR Photos

written by: Mike Piero•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/22/2011

Have you been looking at HDR photos recently and wondering to yourself, "How do they do it?" If you have a digital camera, you can produce the same types of pictures! This article will guide you through HDR photography and how to get the shots you need to make a stunning HDR photograph.

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    Interested in breaking into the world of HDR photography? This article will guide you through the process of taking photos that will easily merge together to create the best, surreal High Dynamic Range photos you can imagine. In HDR photography, photos are taken at three different exposures to capture the highlights and shadows of the picture. Then, these photos are merged together in a program like Adobe Photoshop CS4 or Photomatix Pro 3.1.

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    What types of shots to take

    Usually, HDR photography is limited to scenes that do not move, although some exceptions can be made to that. The biggest HDR candidates are:

    • Landscapes
    • Still-life

    These are just a list of examples that could present themselves as excellent HDR photos. When looking for a place to get a great HDR shot, you’ll want to look for places that have extremes of shadows and highlights. When taking regular shots, properly exposed according to the camera, look for large areas of the photo that are either under or overexposed. When you find that, you will have found an excellent candidate for HDR photography.

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    What camera to use

    Taking photos for an HDR photo varies depending on what kind of camera you have. For point-and-shoot cameras, you will need to switch to manual mode. In manual mode, you will have to manually adjust the exposure of each of the three photos that you are going to use for the HDR merge. This can be tricky and may take some practice. When doing this, it is best to take photos at many different exposures so that you have a lot to work with when you are working with your photo editing software.

    If you are using a Digital SLR camera, this task is made easier by the use of Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB), which will be discussed later. Obviously, if you have an SLR camera, use it. It will give you better pictures and save you more hassle in the long run.

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    Getting the shot

    One of the most vital keys to taking a successful HRD photo is to use a tripod. Do not use a monopod or set the camera on a stable surface - use a tripod! Although the former can work in some tough spots where you don’t have your tripod with you, it really is taking a risk. The slightest vibration or movement of the camera can cost you the final product. Using a tripod ensures that the three exposures are of the same exact picture, provided the scenery isn’t moving.

    Along with a tripod, use a shutter release or wireless remote. This may seem trivial, but any vibration can spark changes in your final HDR photo. You’ll only notice it when you go to merge the photos together. The result will be a ghosting effect in the final product.

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    Using bracketed exposure

    Unless you are using a point-and-shoot camera, always use the Auto Exposure Bracketing feature on your camera when doing HDR photography. Not only are you setting the exposure for all three photos beforehand, but you’re also ensuring that the camera stays in the same spot. Even changing the exposure between photos can move the camera just slightly.

    Basically, Auto Exposure Bracketing allows you to setup different exposures to take even before you go to take the photo. This is much better than guessing and adjusting as you’re trying to take the photos.

    Setting a bracketed exposure is easy, although it does vary from camera to camera. On most SLRs, it involves going into the Menu and enabling the AEB setting, and choosing which three exposures you want the photos to be taken at.

    When taking the photos, hold the shutter button down until all three pictures are taken. Take them one after another, having your camera set in “burst mode". You will know that your camera is set in this mode by the three overlapping rectangles that you should see on the screen. If you see only one rectangle, then your digital camera is set up for only taking one photo at a time. You'll have to change this to the continuous shot mode.

    Once you have your photos, the next step is to merge them together. Click here to learn how to merge photos into one HDR photo using Photomatix Pro 3.1

    With HDR photography, it's important to not give up after the first try. If the photo doesn't turn out the way you wanted, do some research, think about what mistakes you might have made, and get out there and give it another try. As one of the more involved digital photography techniques, it does take practice.

Learning Your Way Around HDR Photography

High dynamic range (HDR) photography has gone from a little-known photographic technique to a photographer's tool for circumventing one of the innate limitations of photographic equipment. This series will help to give you the background and skills you need to employ this technique effectively.
  1. HDR Photography - How to Take the Best HDR Photos
  2. High Dynamic Range Photography - A Look Behind The Scenes