HDR Photography: Putting it Together, Part 2

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HDR Photography: Putting it Together, Part 2

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

By knowing how your camera meter works and how exposure works, you can create HDR images.

But How Many Do I Take?

This is how photographers know if they can get away with taking only 3 pictures, or if they need 5 or 7 or even 9!

The reality is that you should shoot between 3 and 5, which will cover most situations. And perhaps in those scenes with such a great difference between zone 0 and zone 10, 7 images.

Some photographers will shoot a sequence of nine shots, but most will confess that they don’t use all nine in post processing their HDR photograph.

What I will do is determine my base exposure for my subject. Then determine my base exposure for my darkest area of my scene. Then determine the base exposure for the brightest part of my scene. Then knowing my dynamic range of the scene, I can then determine how many images I will need to take to be able to create an HDR photograph.

How Do I Figure It Out?

Remember, not all scenes have all 11 zones! Some scenes may only cover 7 zones, or perhaps 8 zones, or even perhaps only 5 zones, such as interior shots.

This too determines the number of ‘shots’ I need to do to cover the dynamic range of the scene.

Anyways, to do this, I set my camera so that my shutter speed dial is set for one stop per click. This will allow me to easily count the number of stops I dial in.

So I determine my base exposure, then I expose for the sky, turning my shutter speed dial until I get a base exposure for the sky. The number of clicks tells me how many stops of light I had to underexpose my base exposure for my subject to get the sky properly exposed.

Then I return to my base exposure for my subject, and then dial in the shutter speed to get the darker areas of my scene to a base exposure, over exposing my subject. Once I have that count, I then return to my subject and its base exposure.

I now have a sense of the exposure range of the scene. It may be as few as 4 or five stops, it might be as much as 10 stops range. Regardless, you know have a sense of how many images you will need to take for your HDR photograph.

My Initial Base Exposure-5-4-3-2-10+1+2+3+4+5

In the above chart, I show a set of three exposures at two stops apart. When the image is processed, it will possess only 3 stops underexposed in zone 0, which for all intents and purposes is black, so no great loss, and zone 10 will only be 3 stops overexposed, which again is pure white, so no great loss. But I have recovered some exposure in the darks (zones 1-4) and I have recovered some of the lights (zones 6-9). This is the essence of HDR, recovering as much of the highlights as possible and recovering as much shadow detail as possible.

My Initial Base Exposure-5-4-3-2-10+1+2+3+4+5
Underexposure (-2)-3-2-10+1+2+3+4+5+6+7
Underexposure (-4)-10+1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9
Overexposure (+2)-7-6-5-4-3-2-10+1+2+3
Overexposure (+4)-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-10+1

With five exposures, the one at base exposure, the next one 2 stops underexposed, the third one 4 stops underexposed, the fourth one two stops overexposed and the last one 4 stops overexposed, we can achieve a dynamic range that covers easily from zone 1 through to zone 9 without any loss of detail in the dark areas or the light areas.

So. . . One, Two or Some Combination of Stops Between Exposures?

This is where it becomes an art, to do 2 stops difference between exposures or only 1 stop. That choice will be up to you. I find that between 1 and 2 stops seems to work out just fine, some will do one stop, and take 7 shots or 9 shots, or just do two stops and only take 5 shots. It is up to you depending on the scene and the amount of detail you really think you need.

Again, this is the essence of HDR photography, to be able to grab as much detail in both the dark areas of the scene as well as the bright areas of the scene. But there are some issues with HDR and I’ll cover those in my next post.

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A little bit about me . . .

Back in 1982, my Air Force roommate was in desperate need of some cash, and he had a camera. And I was in the market for a camera as I had TDY (Temporary Duty) orders for Cyprus and was looking for a good camera to take with me. So over some beers and some negotiations with my roommate (and a few hundred dollars later), I found that I had become the owner of a brand spanking new Canon AE-1 camera with an assortment of lens, including a Canon 50mm, a 35mm lens, as well as a telephoto lens.

Fast forward to today, and I am now an owner of a Canon 5D Mark II (looking to upgrade, but can’t decide on my next camera) and a bunch of Canon glass and I am primarily a landscape and travel photographer. Yea, that means that I get up before the sun rises and am out after the sun sets. Makes for interesting times!

Thank you for joining me on this photographic journey and hope to hear from you!


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