Taking HDR Bracketed Photos – Part 5

It has been a busy past few weeks, I haven’t been able to update my blog. Work has been very busy and my son got married last weekend.  I thought I would share some tips on taking bracketed photos for use with HDR.

HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range”, if you do a search for HDR or even look on my blog for “HDR”  you can see some amazing photos that use this Photo technique.  I’m not going to go into how you apply these techniques to create these photos.  I’m going to discuss how you take the photos to put in the software.

HDR will take 3 or more photos that have different exposures, with the HDR software the photos can look for the dynamic range in each photo to fill in the shadows in photos that are under-exposed or bring out more detail in photos that are over exposed.  Thes HDR software products will combine the photos to make a single HDR photo.  The first step to getting these photos is to take a bracketed group of photos.

Photo bracketing is basically taking a 1st photo at normal exposure and then at least 2 additional photos, the 2nd photo is over exposed and the 3rd photo is underexposed. Some cameras have the ability to take photo bracketed photos automatically with either 3, 5, or 7 photos in bracketed group.  Some camera’s can’t take bracketed photos at all,  but this won’t stop you from taking the photos, I’ll show you later in this post how to take HDR photos even when you don’t have Bracketing on your camera.

Below is a list some tips to make sure you remember when taking HDR photos with Bracketing.

  1. Always shoot on a Tripod, this will ensure you are taking the same photo every time.  It will also ensure that the photo is sharp and not blurry when you are taking over exposed shots.
  2. Always use a Cable release or remote to take the photo.  Even when you place your finger on the shutter release, there can be some shake .
  3. Set your Bracketing settings in the Camera to take the photos in this order under exposed, exposed, over exposed.  Some cameras will allow you to set it exposed, underexposed, over exposed.  If you set it to under, exposed, over, it will be very easy to see these brackets in your photo software, as the photos will look dark, normal, brighter…
  4. If you use a Tripod, you can even take HDR photos at night.
  5. Set the Camera to Aperture Priority Mode.
  6. Set the Aperture to 8-18.  The higher the number the more detail you will get in the background and foreground.  HDR looks best when you have more of the photo in focus.  Not all photos look good with lots of detail, so you need to experiment.
  7. If you have time, take three or four different bracket  sets of HDR photos at different Apertures, then you can decide which one later looks the best.
  8. If you are using a 3 shot Bracket, set the under and over exposure to +2.  This gives you the most contrast in the HDR software to get the best results.
  9. If you are using a 5 shot or 7 shot Bracket, then set the under and over exposure to +1.
  10. Take a picture of your hand between HDR Bracketed photos, so you can quickly find the start and end of a bracket.
    1. Take a photo of Hand
    2. Take 3 Bracket shots
    3. Take a photo of Hand
    4. Repeat…..
  11. To ensure you have the same focus for every shot.  Press your shutter button half way to get the object in focus. remove your finger.  On your camera turn off the automatic focus.  Check it one more time and if necessary make a small adjustment manually.  Then take all the bracketed shots.
  12. If you followed these tips, you should be ready to get your photos into the HDR software.
I used to only take 3 bracket shots for HDR Photography.  I recently  learned a Technique that allowed me to use my 3 bracketed shots to take 5 or even 7 shots for Bracketed photos for HDR.  Let me explain below.
All DSLR Camera’s have feature that allows you after you have set your  aperture, to make adjustments to the Exposure value.  On my Nikon there is a button next to the Shutter Release that has a Square with a +/- inside of it.  If I press this button down and then turn my rear dial, I can increase or decrease the Exporuse Value in 1/3 or 1/2 increments.  I can see this value inside of the viewfinder, or on the top LCD screen.  Knowning that I have this capability, I can now manipulate my camera to take more Bracketed Photos.  I’ll explain more below.  There are two techniques that I will teach you, that allow a camera that can take 3 Bracketed photos and create a 5 Bracket Group and a 7 Bracket Group.
Before I talk about each technique.  Lets review some basics.  If I have Bracketing turned on and I have set my EV setting to 1, I will take three photos.  The first will be at -1 EV, second at 0 EV, and third at +1 EV.  Now using this basic setting lets look at how to take 5 Bracketed shots.
5 Bracket Shot
  1. Set Bracket to 3 shots with 1 Exposure between shots
  2. Set the Apreature (lets use 11 in this example)
  3. Hold down the exposure Button on the camera and decrease the Exposure until you read -1 EV in your view finder.  Normally you will have to do either 2 or 3 clicks on your dial to make this happen.
  4. Use the Auto Focus to Focus on your subject.
  5. Turn off Auto Focus.
  6. Take the  three bracketed photos.
  7. Hold down the Exposure (+/-) button and then turn the toggle/dial until you get to +1 EV
  8. Take the three bracketed photos.
Now that you have taken the 2 sets of 3 Bracketed shots.  Lets explain what has occurred.  When you set the exposure to -1 you basically took 3 photos, the first two photos were underexposed (1st at  EV -2, 2nd at EV -1) and the last photo was at normal exposure (EV 0).  When the next set of bracketed photos were taken at +1 EV, you then took the first photo at normal exposure, and the next two shots were over exposed (1st at EV +1, 2nd at EV +2).  Let look at this below:
1st Bracketed set     (+2, +1, 0)
2nd Bracketed set   (0, -1, -2)
Now we have 6 photos total (+2, +1, 0, 0, -1, -2), when we get these 6 photos back to our Photo software on the computer, we can delete one of the two Normal (EV 0) photos and then use the remaining 5 photos in the HDR Photograph software.
By using the manual change of Exposure (+/-), we can slide up and down the exposure to take the three bracketed photos.  This is much easier then trying to set the shutter speed manually and keeping track of the correct settings.
Lets now look at how to use this technique to take a 7 bracket shot.
7 Bracketed Shot
This technique is going to be very similar, except we will take a total of 3 Bracketed photos.  now, this will mean we are taking 9 photos total, but this time we will be deleting two photos.
This time we will set the EV on the Bracketed photos to two (2), so every bracketed set we take will be (+2, 0, +2).  When we use manually change the EV like we did on the 5 Bracket group, we will go down -1 and up +1.  The difference this time, is that we will take three sets of brackets.  The first will be at -1, seconds at 0, and the third at +1.  This will give us three groups as seen below.
1st Set at -1 EV (-3, -1, +1)
2nd Set at 0 EV (-2, 0, +2)
3rd Set at +1 EV (-1, +1, +3)
So now we have 9 Photos (-3, -2, -1, -1, 0, +1, +1, +2, +3).  We just need to discard one of the extra -1 and +1 photos and we will then have 7 total shots (-3, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3), that can be placed into the HDR software.
Something to keep in mind is these techniques will only work in Aperture Priority Mode.  If you try to set to Manual mode, the photos will not be correctly bracketed.  If you try this in Program mode, the Aperture, and Shutter speed will both change, which will cause the focus point to change.  You have to set your camera on a Tripod to make the photos sharp.  There will always be a little bit of camera movement even on a tripod.   Fortunately all the HDR software products out there, do a great job, lining up the photos to ensure there is not ghosting.  But try to keep the tripod and camera in the exact same place if possible to get the sharpest photos.
How to take HDR Brackets without a Camera that has bracketing.  
This tip if you have read everything above is going to be very easy if you paid attention.  I’ll start by discussing a 7 shot HDR Group.  Once you learn this one, you will be able to apply this to 5 and 3 HDR groups.  On some DSL Cameras, this can also be used to go to 9 and 11 Bracketed Groups.
Here it goes:
  1. Put your camera on a Tripod
  2. Select your Aperature (how much detail) – Aperture Priority mode
  3. Take a Picture of your Hand
  4. Use the manual EV (+/-) mode as follows for each photo.
    1. Set to EV -3, take photo
    2. Set to EV -2, take photo
    3. Set to EV -1, take photo
    4. Set to EV 0, take photo
    5. Set to EV +1, take photo
    6. Set to EV +2, take photo
    7. Set to EV +3, take Photo
  5. Take a picture of you hand
  6. Your Done.
Now you can repeat this for 5 Bracketed Group, by doing Steps 2-6 under the Manual EV Step, 3 Bracketed Group is done by doing Steps 2,4, and 6 or Steps 3-5.  That sounds pretty easy!!!    If you want you can do all of these steps by doing the +EV shots before the -EV shots.  I just personally like to see my darker photos before the lighter photos in Adobe Lightroom, so they stand out.  If you don’t want to use your hand to take the shots between shots, then use a white piece of paper or your 18% Gray Card.  I use the gray card myself most of the time, just so I can ensure I have a point of reference for White Balance.
Just remember, one of the things that you can’t control when taking HDR photos, is the movement of objects in your shot.  Trees, leaves, car’s, people, animals will move between these shots, so it is possible that you will see blurriness between your shots on these types of objects.  As you learn to use PhotoShop, there are some ways to even remove these blurry objects.  In your HDR software, always select the remove Ghosting option if you see this as well, they do a pretty good job at removing the ghosts.  As long as the object you are taking a photo doesn’t move, like a building doesn’t move, then everything should be okay.