a1 August 2012

Tutorial: How to take handheld HDR photo?

This photo I took recently in Warsaw was shot hand-held despite it was getting quite late.
For taking HDR photos a steady tripod is really recommended. Mainly because this way you can avoid misalignment issues between the bracketed shots. Another reason is that you can shoot at ISO 100 even when it is relatively dark.

However, there are situations when you can't use tripod (because it can be forbidden, for instance in some museums) or you don't like to carry it whole day. Actually the latter is often true for me as when travelling I walk for even 10 hours a day. Having already two cameras (and both Canon 50D and Canon 5D MK II bodies aren't light) plus a few lenses, bottle with something to drink etc. I try to limit remaining equipment. As tripods are large and sometimes heavy I often leave them in a hotel room. But still I take a lot of HDR photos and I would like to share some tips on how to shoot HDRs hand-held with you:
  • always use the auto-bracketing feature of your camera. Most of the cameras support only 3 photos but in the majority of cases it will be enough (but not always - take a look at this post). Using auto-bracketing feature is useful because you don't need to change exposure parameters manually between the shots.
  • use 2 seconds timer (or 10 sec if your camera doesn't allow shorter times) and/or burst mode. The first will reduce camera shake caused by you pressing the shutter release, the latter will ensure that the time between bracketed shots is short.
  • use wide-angle lens whenever possible. Short focal lengths like 10-22 mm on a crop camera (or 16-35) are best for hand-held shots. At these focal lengths any misalignment between the shots is harder to notice (and therefore easier to correct).
  • try to put your camera on something steady or position yourself next to something like this (eg. wall, fence), i.e. find some artificial tripod.
  • ensure that all photos are shot using fast enough shutter speed. Normally when you take a photo at focal length of X mm it is enough to use shutter speed of 1 / X to have a sharp shot. However, in case of HDR you need to ensure that every shot will satisfy this condition as you want all of your bracketed photos to be sharp. In a lot of cases you will need to either open aperture a little bit or increase ISO.
    For example let's assume that you shoot bracketed sequence of -2; 0; +2 with 50 mm lens. Although normally 1/50 s would guarantee sharp photo, in this case +2 EV photo also requires 1/50 s to be sharp. That means that you have to shoot your normal exposure at 1/200 s and underexposed photo at 1/800 s...
  • when merging your HDR in your HDR software make sure alignment option is turned on.
Hope these short tips help when you find yourself in a situation when you can't use tripod.

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