How to Shoot a Basic HDR Photo

What you'll learn 

1. What HDR photography is

2. When to use HDR photography

3. How to use bracketing to shoot different exposures for HDR

Having problems getting detail in the shadows and highlights of your photos? HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography might be your solution.

What you'll need

  • Camera with manual mode
  • Tripod
  • Computer running Photoshop or other HDR software
  • Cable release (optional)

A bit of theory

Before going into HDR photography, it’s worth understanding how to use your camera on manual. You can learn how to do this here.

Dynamic range is essentially the range between the brightest and darkest part of an image. While modern cameras can capture a pretty wide range, there are times where this just isn’t enough. You’ve probably taken photos on a really sunny day and noticed that whilst the sky might look good, you’ve lost some of the detail in the shadowy areas of your photo. This is an example of when there simply isn’t enough dynamic range to record everything in your scene.

High dynamic range lets you increase the apparent dynamic range of your photos, by simply recording more information. This is done by taking a series of photos at different exposure values (EVs), one being the ‘correct’ exposure, then a series of exposures less than and greater than the correct exposure.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. An HDR image includes detail in the highlights and shadows as well as the usual details from a standard exposure. HDR images are composed of a correctly exposed photo, at least one over exposed photo, and at least one under exposed photo in order to capture the full dynamic range of the subject.

Most DSLR or mirrorless cameras have some sort of “bracketing” mode built in. Bracketing* allows you to take a range of exposures at different exposure values, without having to change the aperture or shutter speed by hand. These modes have different options, including the number of brackets to take, how much to change the exposure by and where the exposures should be made.

If your camera doesn’t have a bracketing function, then you can do it by hand. Simply find the desired exposure, then figure out what your bracketed frames should be. You can do this by shooting one frame at half the shutter speed and another at double speed. For example, if my middle exposure is at 1/100s, one frame needs to be 1/50s and the other 1/200s.

As you’ll be taking a few exposures of the same scene, a sturdy tripod is pretty crucial, as any movement of the camera will make your images look strange. To reduce any movement, a cable release like Triggertrap Mobile isn’t such a bad idea either.

 *If you’re not sure what bracketed exposure means, Digital Camera World has a great guide!

The Setup

Capturing the photos

Post processing