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9 Pro Tips for Getting Better Results in the Field from Your HDR Images

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From the book
In this excerpt from his FuelBook, The Realistic HDR Image, Tim Cooper offers some advice to assure that your HDR photos look their best.

Here are a few tips that may help you achieve better results in the field:

  1. Find the important bright area when metering. It’s essential to realize that not every bright area in the scene needs detail. Typically, light sources themselves can do without detail. It’s also unreasonable to expect to get detail from the bright sun. Likewise, reflections from light sources in glass, mirrors, or metal should be ignored. Of course there are always exceptions. A very ornate lamp shade or chandelier will benefit from proper exposure. The main idea is to keep larger, important bright areas from blowing out.
  2. Don’t concern yourself with the blackest black. Most images benefit from a pure black somewhere in the scene. Like you do for the highlights, determine which areas are truly important. Trying to get detail in every black and every white will result in an image series that becomes difficult to process correctly.
  3. HDR software has the ability to blend together images that are not perfectly aligned, but it does take the software longer to produce the final results. If the images are too far out of alignment, however, the software may not be able to achieve perfect registration. While you might get lucky with a hand-held series of exposures, it’s best to ensure perfect alignment by using a tripod. The use of the tripod will also allow the use of smaller apertures for more depth of field.
  4. Use a cable release or remote. Along with a tripod, remote releases will help keep your images sharp by reducing camera shake.
  5. Use the Self Timer. Some cameras will not shoot all of the exposures at once when set to Auto-Bracket. This means you have to press the shutter release button or cable release for each shot. While this is not terribly time consuming it would be nice if the camera would simply fire them all of with one press of the shutter. Try setting your camera to Self Timer. In many cases pressing your release once will trigger the camera to shoot the whole series of brackets automatically.
  6. Consider using Continuous High Speed Release mode on a Nikon or Continuous Shooting mode on a Canon. By default, pressing your shutter release button shoots a single frame. In Continuous Mode, your camera will continue to shoot until you release the button. This mode can be used to capture a series of exposures in rapid succession, eliminating subject movement in between shots.
  7. Many scenes don’t require exactly three-, five-, or seven-stop brackets. They might need four or six. In these cases it’s easier to set your Auto-Bracketing to capture more images than are necessary and delete the unnecessary images back at the computer.
  8. If you are unsure about your metering or histograms, hedge your bet by capturing more images. It’s better to come home with extra images that are too light and too dark than to wish you had those images while you’re processing your HDR.
  9. Shoot in RAW. RAW files contain much more information than JPEG files. More image information allows more options when it comes to blending your images together. HDR programs will process JPEG files, so uploading your old images is not an issue. For the most latitude in processing your images, however, set your camera to shoot in RAW.

Figure 1 Why use HDR? The primary reason for shooting multiple exposures and blending them in an HDR program is to capture full detail in a scene that contains very bright areas and very dark areas. These high-contrast scenes can be found everywhere, from landscapes to interior architecture and real estate scenes.

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