Organ Pipe Airstream

My personal HDR setup in the field

Richard Charpentier Ghost Towns, Notes from Rich, Photography, Photomatix, Photoshop, RLC Design, Tech Tips 5 Comments

bottles-1Over the course of my learning process with HDR photography I’ve quickly posted how the HDRs come together on the computer when I’m done shooting.  The post was a little too quick, and glazed over way too much regarding setup and processing, and I’ll re-do the post here in the next week.

Initially I was going to go through the HDR workflow in this post but I realized there’s a larger story to tell when it comes to setting these photos up.  Specifically, how do you first get the images you want to HDR?  I haven’t seen to much on that written on other sites, so I thought it would be good to share with you today.

On Monday I took a quick trip to the Vulture Mine as part of my ghost town tour that I’ve been doing.  That place is a photographer’s dream, and it’s an amazing spot for shooting HDRs as well.  Contrasty subjects, shadowed regions and blown out areas, etc.  A total playground!  The best part about Vulture is it’s history and the fact that so much of the site is still in tact!

With all of that said let’s get on with setting up for HDRs when out shooting…..

As you may or may not know, HDR photography works best with multiple exposures of the same scene.  Normally you over expose, under expose, and properly expose.  Not the easiest thing to get the same exact shot over and over again if you’re having to change settings on your camera and shooting handheld.  I’m just not that good at realigning shots over and over again.  Two things help me deal with that when out shooting, auto bracketing and my tripod.

bottles-2I’ve been using Canon DSLR’s since 2000.  My first camera was a Canon 10D.  Great camera, and like the others I now use it offers an auto bracketing feature.  Auto bracketing is a setting in the camera that let’s me specify that I want to shoot at more than one light level.  Specifically it lets me set 3 exposures where I don’t have to change settings over and over again.  Instead I can setup a shot, set auto bracketing, and then shoot 3 photos each at a different exposure leve.  Often I’ll setup a -2, 0, and +2 exposure spread.  Once that’s setup in the camera I’m ready to go.  Heck, if you’ve got a steady hand and good light you could shoot handheld if you really want to (and if you want to be disappointed with 50% of the shots).

My second tool for shooting a decent HDR is my tripod.  I use a Bogen Manfroto with a pretty cool ball head.  It’s one of their more light weight tripods, but it’s a sturdy little number for sure.  In addition to my tripod I’ve recently added a monopod to my tools as well.  It’s used in high light conditions where I know I’ll be snapping off a series quickly.  I can stay steady for a few seconds.  In lower light conditions I always stick to the tripod if I can.  It always yeilds the best results.

Actually, in most situations I’d recommend using a monopod or tripod.  That’s even when you’re not interested in HDR.  A steadier camera offers you little to no blurr, sharper images, etc.  You don’t need the type of tripod I own, but you do need a tripod.

With auto bracketing and a good tripod in hand you’re basically ready to setup your HDR prep shots.  There’s still a little more to the camera setup, so I’ll mention that next.

Auto bracketing is the key to easily creating a series of photos for HDR.  But there’s a little more to it that makes it easier on me.  When I setup shots that I’ll process later I always make sure to setup in Apeture Priority mode (AV on a Canon camera).  When I vary the exposures the apeture remains constant, and the shutter priority is changed.  That means that each shot wont change what I’m focused on, it only changes the length of the exposure, and therefore the light that’s allowed in.  In other modes the apeture might get changed with each exposure, and it might allow for a change in what you’re focused on leading to weird results for sure.

bottles-3In addition to making sure my apeture remains the same I do one other thing with the camera.  I set up the high speed multi frame shooting.  You know, when you hold the shutter button you get the “bang, bang, bang” of multiple shots back to back.  On the Canon with auto bracketing on it does a pretty cool thing.  I hit the shutter button and it fires off only 3 shots.  My under exposure, 0EV exposure, and my over exposure, then it stops.  Very cool, especially if you’re shooting with a monopod or handheld.  No rechecking settings, no shoot and wait, shoot and wait.  3 immediate shots in a row and the light levels you wanted.  Slick!

I’ve gone so far as to save some favorite setups in my 40D’s custom functions.  I’ve got 3 custom functions on my camera, and I’ve saved 3 different types of configurations for HDR photography.  One setup for lower light with a higher ISO, one setup for a broader depth of field, and one specific for high light environments.  These 3 custom functions are useful often, but you really need to judge what you’re trying to do.  Many times I find myself flipping over to apeture priority and resetting things depending on where I am.

Well, that’s about all there is on the truly technical side.  A big part to getting what you want in the end is understanding your camera in the beginning.  Or dragging a book or two along with you regarding the features of the camera you own.  And yes, I actually do that sometimes if I don’t remember all of the settings I want to use to achieve a particular result.  I love my “Digital Field Guide for the 40D” and the one I own for my 30D as well.  There’s a lot of features on these cameras!

bottleshdr-1Beyond camera setup and tripods other stuff goes into my setup in the field.  My camera bag (sometimes my Crumpler sometimes my Lowe), a few extra lenses, cleaning kit, water (for me), and a few extra high speed cards.  HDR requires many exposures, and when shooting in RAW that means you can fill up a small card pretty fast.  Normally I’ve got an 8GB in the camera, a spare 8 in my pack, and even a 4GB just to be safe.  I’ve never filled my 8GB yet, but it could happen!

I guess I’m a funny site at times.  One or two cameras, my pack, tripod or monopod, water bottle, map of where I’m going, and a few other odds and ends.  My pack always seems a little heavy, but that’s ok.  I’ve normally got what I need!  In the end I usually come home with one or two scenes that I really like, so it’s all worth it in the end!

The series of photos in this post are from my recent Vulture Mine trip.  I really liked the bottles, the window, and the sink.  Unfortunately I’m not thrilled with the final result.  I think I could have done more with this scene.  Additional work through Photoshop might occurr, or I might just have to take another ride down to Vulture sometime soon.  That’s something I certainly wouldn’t mind.

I thought I’d include this photo series to show you what went into the HDR, and what the final HDR looked like.  What really caught my attention for this shot was the window.  Several stained pieces of glass that were very yellowed.  A few clear pieces that allowed the blue of the sky to show through.  I knew they’d be interesting along with the old bottles and sink.  Still, I was hoping for a little more in the result.  But I think it gives you an idea about HDR being more than the sum of it’s parts when you look back at the 3 exposures.

Well, that’s it for this morning.  I’ve got to get ready to head into the gallery and start printing for a few clients today!  Hope today’s post helps readers understand what I do when I head out to find images!  😉

Comments 5

  1. Rich,

    Got to visit some of these ghost towns soon. The only one I’ve seen is Bodie, CA, but unfortunately didn’t have a camera there then.

    I just looked at the auto bracketing options on my Nikon D300 and find that I can select as many as 9 shots ranging from +4 to -4 EV.

    I wonder if having more than 3 exposures to include in the HDR composition would produce a better exposed overall image. Have you experimented with more than 3 exposures to see whether the differences are worthwhile? I guess that the proof would be in the trying.

  2. Post

    I’ve absolutely done more than 3 exposures. Once I’ve setup I can actually change my bracketing on the fly. I only do that when on a tripod, just to be sure.

    When I’m looking for more extremes I’ll do 6 or 7 exposures for the final processing.

    I figured I’d leave that out as I didn’t want the post to go on forever. Down the road I’ll be talking about more exposures and setup on the Canon. Glad to hear your D300 has the 9 shot range, that’s just plain cool……

    Why is it I want a D700 so much lately????

  3. I haven’t looked at the specs of the D700, but I suspect that the same 9-shot, +4 to -4 EV range is available with it too. There is lots to lust about when it comes to the D700. It has the same sensor as the D3 at less than half the price. I played with a friend’s D3 last summer and we too a series of test shots pushing the ISO from 200 to 3200 in increments of 200. The results just blew me away. The noise that I expected just wasn’t an issue at 3 or 4 times as high an ISO setting as I had expected. While my D300 is a giant leap in this kind of performance over my old D70, it just can’t compare with the D3/D700. Full frame cameras have a big edge here.

    On the other hand, my 70-200 mm with 1.7 teleconverter is the equivalent of 510 mm with the D300 but only a measly 340 mm with the D3/D700.

  4. As a technically challenged individual, your explanation and progressive display of photos leading to the final product is well met.

    Are you aware of the ghost town of Calico, near Joshua Tree National Monument?

  5. For me, when I’ve shot HDR in the past, my final HDR image ended up looking a lot like the correct exposure image. The most noticable HDR images I’ve seen have been processed with something other than Photoshop. Essentially the effects have made the image look great. Have you found this to be true with your HDR work too?

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