Some HDR Camera Options

Seattle Skyline_tonemapped

A while back I posted a video on how to set up the Nikon D300 for shooting HDR using the Auto Bracketing feature (click here to read the post and watch the video).  I received a lot of emails about the tutorial, most of which asked about other cameras and how to set them up to do the same thing.  Unfortunately I don’t have the resources to answer this question for every digital camera out there but I can give a few pointers that will work for the majority of dSLRs and a few point and shoot models to boot.

The first thing you will need is a tripod.  This is important for two reasons. 1) The images need to be perfectly registered to achive a good HDR result. 2) You won’t be able to use the continuous shooting mode because you will be making manual changes to the exposure, which means that you will not get good alignment of your images by handholding the camera.

The next step deals with making the exposures.  For a good HDR image, you should try to use at least 3 images to cover the entire dynamic range of the scene.  I use 2-stop increments and get pretty good results.  There are times when I will need 5 images but 3 is my norm.

Getting the exposures without an auto-bracket feature can be pretty straight forward.  The first option is to use the Exposure Compensation feature of your camera.  Most cameras will allow for +/- 2 stops of compensation, if not more.  You should have your camera set to Aperture Priority and select the aperture that you think is most appropriate for your scene.  After setting the aperture, take your first picture.  This will be your normal exposure.  Next, find your exposure compensation dial/button/setting and dial in -2 stops and take another image.  Finally, go back to the compensation and dial in +2 stops and take your last image.  You should now have 3 images that are ready for HDR processing.  By the way, if you are using an auto-focus system (and who isn’t these days) you should set your focus for the normal image and then turn the lens to manual focus to make sure it doesn’t shift between exposures.

The other way of getting your bracketed shots is to use the Manual mode on your camera.  You can start off by placing the camera in Aperture Priority and taking a meter reading with your selected aperture setting.  Let’s say the meter is giving you a reading of 1/250 at f/11.  Remember that reading and then switch to Manual and dial that setting in.  After taking your first image, simply change the shutter speed to 1/60 and take a shot and then 1/1000 and take another, remembering not to change the aperture between exposures.  You now have your 2-stop bracketed images for making the HDR image.

You can see that, with all the changes that you will be making to the camera, the use of a steady tripod is really key to getting a great HDR shot.

The other piece of advice I would give everyone is to sit down with your owners manual and look up Bracketing or AE Bracketing and see if there isn’t a built-in solution for your camera.  You might be surprised at what you find.


  1. Wouldn’t you only want to vary the shutter speed for HDR? If you change aperture, you would change the depth of field and that could cause the image to look different across the bracketed shots.

    • Joe, you are right about changing the shutter speed, not the aperture, which is why I said to set the camera to Aperture Priority. In doing so, the camera will hold the aperture that you select and adjust the shutter speed accordingly.

  2. Although I agree about getting much better results with a tripod, I would like to point out that it is possible to do it handheld if your camera auto-brackets. Requirements are to have enough light to make for a fast shutter, even in the longest exposure. Then aim one of the focusing dots on a small target in the viewfinder. Finally, the various HDR-merge programs aren’t all equal. I use Photomatix-pro as my HDR of choice, but sometimes it can’t handle misalighed images. In that case, I ask CS4 to try. (same engine as pano merge, I think).

    For an example (of Budapest’s Chain Bridge, taken handheld from a slow-moving tourist boat) try the last photo in the oldworld section of my website.


    • Steve, I suggested the tripod because it is very hard to align the camera from shot to shot while you are manually adjusting the camera. Even if you use the same focus point in the scene the alignment can be off enough to ruin the HDR process. I handhold my auto-bracketed shots all the time, especially if I am using pretty fast shutter speeds. As for the CS3/CS4 option for creating the HDR file, the process to use is Merge to HDR which is found in the File, Automate menu section. By the way, nice shot of the Chain Bridge.

  3. Another option, if you use Lightroom, is to make two virtual copies and then alter the exposure as necessary to get the desired spread.

  4. I’ve had countless people (friends/family/etc.) request ‘how-to’ or ‘how-do-you-do-_____’ information on their cameras. My first question to them is ‘have you read your manual?’. 99.99999% of the time they say ‘no’ and I just smile.


  1. Jeff Revell says:

    Camera options for capturing HDR images in today’s edition of PhotoWalkPro

  2. Jeff Revell says:

    Camera options for capturing HDR images in today’s edition of PhotoWalkPro

  3. Some HDR Camera Options
    from @photowalkpro

  4. Dave Warner says:

    RT @CelticCamera: Some HDR Camera Options: by @PhotoWalkPro

  5. Nirav Shah says:

    Basics of Some HDR Camera Options –

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