HDR Photo Tutorial

In this HDR Photo Tutorial I'm going to write out here the steps to take a good HDR photo from capturing the images while later in other tutorials we will go through the steps of creating the HDR final render in Photomatix or Photoshop.

I'm going to use very basic equipment to keep it simple and to allow people that only have simple camera equipment to use this HDR tutorial. I will advise of some tricks, tips and advanced methods to get the best HDR photo.

Equipment used for this HDR Photo Tutorial:

  • Camera - Nikon D300

  • Camera Lens - Nikon DX AFS VR Nikkor 18 200 G ED

  • Nikon Lens Hood

  • Tripod

We want to use a tripod, mainly to keep the images aligned as the camera should have no movement when shooting otherwise when they are aligned in the software the final image will be blurry. It is possible to also shoot HDR hand-held without a tripod but you must have the camera shutter speed set very high and your Aperture fStop set on a low setting of 4 to 5. We want the shutter speed high up in the mid thousands so that the camera will take the frames as fast as possible in hand-held mode. This tutorial will be based on someone shooting with a tripod but if you are using hand-held mode then the following instructions should basically be the same.

In the Camera we would like to set it up to use Auto Bracketing. Bracketing is a method to shoot several exposures at different settings.

With D300 we will be shooing in Aperture Priority Mode which is what you should set your camera to if it has this mode otherwise you could use Manual Mode. With the D300 we will go into the Menu and select the Bracketing Features we want to use. First we will go to CSM (Custom Settings Menu) and select e5 (Auto Bracketing Set) > Flash Only and press OK. We have now set the type of bracketing we want. You might like to also setup a new Shooting Menu Bank and a Custom Settings Bank. Remember that you must use the Flash to trigger the bracketing otherwise you will take 5 shots of the same exposure. If you don't want to use a flash then choose another Auto Bracketing Set option.

Now we will assign the Function button to the camera bracketing by going into Menu Control Features - Go to CSM #f4 and select the first line of Assign Function Button > FUNC. button press > BKT (Bracketing Burst) and press OK. Now select again the "Assign Function Button" > (the 2nd option) FUNC. button + dials > BKT (Auto Bracketing).

Now that we have the camera bracketing setup we will use 5 shots and 1 intervals. On the Nikon D300 we use the Function button that we just assigned to Auto Bracketing which is located at the front of the camera and is the lower button on the right side.

Press the function button in and hold it down while you rotate the main command dial to select the number of shots you wish to use in the sequence. We will select 5 for this tutorial although you could use only 3 or as high as 9. Now we will keep the function button pressed down and will now rotate the sub-command dial to select the exposure increment. We would like to choose "1" (1 EV) for this tutorial. You could also change the exposure increment in the Camera Menu CSM #b2.

So we now have the camera setup to take 5 exposures, 2 below the metered exposure, one at the metered exposure and 2 exposures over the metered exposure.

Now we will select the Camera Release Mode. You don't have to worry too much here but I think it's better to use either Continuous High Speed mode CH or CL (Continuous Low Speed). The reason is to ensure you have all 5 shots taken consecutively once you have triggered the shutter release button and to help you avoid forgetting that you are shooting in bracketing mode. We will be using the Interval Timer Shooting feature of the Nikon D300 in this tutorial anyway but you can also shoot at random once you have the Function Button assigned and the camera setup to trigger the number of frames in continuous release mode.

If you have a remote release cable then it is definitely the better option to set off the shutter but we will assume you don't in this tutorial. I think there is a remote made by Hahnel that works well with the D300 or the Nikon MC-30. Another option is a cable shutter release like the Nikon MC-20 that will do just a good a job.

So you now have your basic camera setting for HDR and will have set it up on the tripod. You have selected Aperture Priority mode. You should now make sure to have focused the subject and have the focus feature of the camera and lens on manual.

Focus Selector Lock: We should be focusing the camera manually or you may auto focus and then turn the focus to manual before shooting. I would suggest to use the focus selector lock that is on the edge of the D300 Multi Selector Button. When it is pointed to the "L" then it is locked. Rotate it anti-clockwise to unlock it and then setup your focus points manually and then lock it again by rotating it back to point at the "L".

Image Quality: For best results select RAW, you get the best possible image quality and processing features. With Raw we can get 16 bit high dynamic range images. You could use jpg or tiff but you will find RAW is the better option overall. In the Nikon D300 you can select Image Quality by pressing the QUAL button down on the top left side of the camera and rotating the Command dial to select your preferred option.

ISO Settings: Use the lowest ISO setting that your camera offers to ensure you have as little graining as possible for your HDR photo.

Exposure Delay Mode: In the Nikon D300 there is a feature called "Exposure Dela Mode". What this does is when you press the shutter release button, the mirror pops up and waits for a split second before taking the photo which eliminates any vibration in the mirror.

Exposure Compensation Button: Make sure your Exposure Compensation Button (if your camera has one) is dialed to "0". Often this is changed to over expose or under expose your photos to -3 or +3 etc but it should be on 0 as the bracketing will give us the exposure range. On the D300 the button is visible on the top right next to the "Mode" button.

Now we will go into the D300 Shooting menu and select the last option called Interval Timer shooting. Select "Now" and press enter > select the amount of time the photo sequence will start after you press the button. We will select 5 so we have enough time for the camera to be free of any vibrations. If you are using a remote then 1 second would be fine. So it should look like this:

00:00 ' 05

Now you will press Enter and will come into a second set of numbers. These will define the amount of exposures taken so these should be the same as you have selected earlier in your Bracketing setup so this will be 5 exposures. So now we will have this second set of numbers to read:

001x5=0005 which means we will have 1 set of 5 shots.

So that's it, now continue to press the button to the right until you get an option of "Off" or "On". Select "On" and when you are ready press the "OK" button and your images will start to shoot. The next time you want to shoot you only have to select the "Interval Timer shooting" option and press the button left to get the "Off" or "On" option so you can shoot without going through the options.

Additional Resources:

Easy HDR Bracketing on Nikon D300 - Video Tutorial
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If you have any other questions or requests for future topics, you can either ask them in the comments or email me.
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