How to Take HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photos

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In the first part we covered what an HRD photo is, now we’ll go into a basic tutorial about how to create your own HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo. Please keep in mind that I’m very much an amateur – I just started experimenting myself so this is more of a “how to get started” type of guide. sunset HDR photo

The photo shoot

What you need:

  • Camera (with ability to change exposure settings)
  • Tripod (not required but highly recommended)
  • Photomatix Pro ($99, but you can get it for $85 with our Photomatix coupon code ) or Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5/CS6  with Photomatix HDR software plugins

Most modern digital cameras have exposure settings so you should be able to do this even with a normal digital point and shoot camera. SLR cameras usually have a bracketing feature which makes it easier to change the exposure settings automatically. If you are using a point and shoot, you’ll need to find a way to keep the camera as steady as possible when changing settings. I’d recommend using the following settings:

  • Lowest ISO setting (200)
  • Aperture Priority Mode (usually a big [A] on the wheel)
  • 3 exposure settings
    • EV 0 for the first picture
    • EV -2 for the second picture
    • EV +2 for the third picture

Instructions for the Nikon D50 I personally use a Nikon D50 so these settings are achieved by rotating the top wheel to [A], pressing the “menu” button, going to camera settings (the wrench icon), making sure “CSM/Setup” menu is set to “Detailed”, then going to image settings (pencil icon), scrolling down to #12 “BKT Set” – and setting it to “AE & Flash” with “2.0 Step” setting. This puts the camera in a mode where the 3 consecutive shots will each have a different exposure setting. Once you have the camera set and on a tripod, take the 3 pictures, each with a different exposure setting. If you have a remote, I’d recommend using that, but if you don’t (like me) then try to not move the camera each time you take the photo. See my HDR tutorial video. High Dynamic Range Processing After the shoot, download the photos to your computer. Photoshop CS2 comes with a “merge to HDR” feature, but the tone mapping features are a bit more complicated to get a hang of. If you are feeling brave, check out the “Creating A 32-Bit HDR File In Photoshop CS2″ section of the High Dynamic Range lesson (about halfway down the page). If you don’t have Photoshop, and/or want an easier way to process the photo (and have $99) I’d recommend getting a free trial download of Photomatix Pro. Once you have the program installed you can fire it up and follow the directions. The tutorial at the start of the program (which can also be found online) is pretty good at stepping you through the process. Note: HDR Soft also has a Photoshop plugin, but I highly recommend using the standalone Photomatix Pro to generate the photo. You can download a free trial of the program to test it out but it will create watermarks on the photo until you buy a license. I looked around at other options for processing HDR photos but didn’t really find anything I liked besides Photomatix and Photoshop. Modern HDR photography is a fairly new field so I expect this process will be made easier in the future. Please feel free to offer any suggestions, feedback, or your own experiences. Happy shooting!

Once again – if this is something you really want to get into and get good at, check out the HDR Video Tutorial set or any other of Trey’s material on the topic. He’s the best HDR guy out there.

39 Responses to How to Take HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photos

  1. Okinawa says:
    I always think a visual guide works well in trying to guide people through HDR, as it can be a bit confusing at first.
  2. Dude, you rock. Thank you for posting this HDR tutorial. I’ve got a Nikon D70 and can’t wait to try this.
  3. […] just got worse. This time, we get to do HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography. More info here, here, here, here, and here. That’s for noobs like me, since it is very confusing for me. How worse? […]
  4. Justin says:
    TIP: If u don’t have remote, use the timer mode on the camera. Works well on an off a tripod (eg sitting on a bench).
  5. Markus says:
    Great tip, Justin. I agree, esp for night shots.
  6. Stephen says:
    Nice tutorial; quick and to the point. I also like the panoramic HDR you have above :)
  7. Ian says:
    Nice tutorial. There seems to be a fine line between an HDR image that has a ‘wow’ factor and one that just looks too fake. I also agree that Photomatix Pro is a great piece of software, and much simpler (and I think producing better results) than the Photoshop alternative.
  8. Nick Brock says:
    Hey a have a few questions for ya.
    I use a Nikon D80 (still getting use to digital SLRs)
    I was looking under the menu for the EV step and I only have two choices 1/3 and 1/2. How do you get 2stepp. I changed my menu settings to detailed.
    Also I was wondering if you would recommend me setting the ISO even Lower than 200, I can go as low as 100(I wasn’t sure if you said 200 just as a good balance or if our cameras are different).
    I was also wondering what to do about aperture settings and what you recommend or if with the 2 step setting it changes that for you.
    Thank you for your time and sorry about all the n00b questions:)
    I really appreciate your help and information.
  9. Markus says:
    @Nick: I’m not sure about the D80 since I’ve never used it, but I’ll try to answer your question anyway from my D50. Don’t change the EV step – change the BKT Set (different setting).

    ISO 200 is the lowest my camera goes, but if you can set it to ISO 100, try it – it might be good especially for the underexposed (dark) shot of the series – to avoid noise. Experiment with it.

    Aperture settings depend on the situation – I usually go with F 5.6. If you want to learn more, check out idigitalphoto’s guide to aperture.

  10. Jeffrey Jose says:
    Thanks for the tutorial. Nicely explains the concept.
  11. Karen says:
    Hey,
    I have a Nikon D40X. It’s new and I am still trying to get used to it. Anybody know how I can program it? It does not have the same icon’s as the 50.
    THX
  12. Dan says:
    Aww, I wanna try this but my E900 doesnt have exposure settings :(
  13. Russell says:
    Hi, I am also going to try this HDR so have been looking over the net for ideas and how to’s, one thing I found was this website (hope it’s ok to include)
    http://www.hdrlabs.com/tutorials/index.html

    Hope this helps
    Russell.

  14. Okinawa says:
    Wonderful processing!
  15. Andy says:
    I have the Nikon D60. This does not have bracketing, so am I best off going to aperture priotiry mode (A) and taking my pictures ? And does it matter if the apateure changes (F numbers) between the shots ?

    Any other advice for the d60 when taking hdr images ? I am just learning ! Andy.

  16. […] a link to a small gallery at the bottom of the guide of some seriously wacky looking sunsets! 18. Visual Photo Guide This guide is quick and to the point – no padding. Some settings for your camera are recommended […]
  17. Ivan says:
    Why do you state turn the dial to A but on your video you say use P
    Kind regards Ivan
  18. mason says:
    andy, you pretty much have to shoot on manual to get good hdr’s. im using a d90 now and it simply sucks on anything toher than manual, in fact u should shoot all ur pics on manual, you lose so much vivid detail in all other forms
  19. wawan says:
    hey, i have nikon d90 camra, and have a menu auto exposure, that wich allow me to take 3 photos and then merge them automatically, can this work?
  20. Kinan says:
    Thanks for the tutorial. Will start experimenting with HDR!
  21. Dave says:
    Can somebody walk me through the settings on my Canon XSI digi slr?
  22. Alasdair says:
    Nice tutorial, check out my HDR pics at http://www.macleod.arknet.co.uk/photoblog :)
  23. Alex Kay says:
    simple and imformative tutorial. thx!
    id like to start creating HDRs in my wedding photography
  24. Kevin says:
    I enjoyed the tutorial, I enjoy some good examples of HDR!
  25. Ellisgeek says:
    if you can’t find the exposure look for “EV” instead it’s the same!
  26. Athleo says:
    Another thing you can try is to use 1 image in raw and ajust the exposure there, then merge the 3 images, might not get the exact results but worth a try???
  27. Dave says:
    Thanks mate, i enjoyed reading, sorry i can’t stop i’m off to have a play :)
  28. Hyatt says:
    hey.. i tried and got good results.. can i also use startrail soft……
  29. […] these, what do you need to do them? Is it photoshop? Using a standard camera. Take a look here: How to Take HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photos or just google […]
  30. Fred says:
    so cool thanks allot!
  31. Krysten Polka says:
    Do you mind if I quote a small number of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources returning to your website: http://www.visualphotoguide.com/taking-high-dynamic-range-hdr-photos/. I am going to aslo be certain to give you the proper anchor text link using your webpage title: How to Take HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photos – Visual Photo Guide – Visual Photo Guide. Please be sure to let me know if this is ok with you. Thank you
  32. Jasmine says:
    Very good tutorial on taking HDR photos. I am just starting out on this area, so I am now researching how I can take good HDR photos. Thank you for your tutorial, will try taking some shots later!

    I am using Photoshop, so I think it isn’t necessary to get Photomatix Pro.

  33. jim says:
    @Jasmine Actually Photomatix has some excellent plug-ins for Photoshop – you really can’t go wrong with them.
    Tone Mapping Plug-In for Photoshop is amazing and with our special Photomatix Coupon code; HOTSHOTPHOTO – you can get $12 Off! Go here to check it out:
    http://www.hdrsoft.com/order/features_compare.html
  34. Travis says:
    I’ve just started experimenting with HDR as well. This is a good tutorial. I just posted one on how to do it in photoshop on my blog.
  35. […] Tutorial: How to create ‘High Dynamic Range’ images using Photomatix | Vanilla Days How to Take HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photos – Visual Photo Guide How to do HDR Photography – […]
  36. TYHO says:
    Nice Tut!

    See my shots at http://www.tshot.nl

    thnx!

  37. […] holiday recently I tried my hand at some HDR (high Dynamic Range) photography, focusing on the method of using bracketed exposure compensation when shooting in Aperture Priority mode. (typically +2, 0, […]
  38. Markus says:
    @Ivan: someone corrected me about this – A is better so the depth of field doesn’t change between shots, but sometimes I have to use P just to get different exposures since sometimes the 2nd and 3rd exposure for some reason end up having the same image (not really sure why that happens). So I’d go with A, if you have issues, revert to P.

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