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Tim has been interested in photography for many years. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Biology and a Master's in Environmental Science. Writing nature articles allows him to combine his interest in photography and nature into one medium.

High Dynamic Range Photography with a Canon T1i

What is High Dynamic Range Photography (HDR)

High Dynamic Range Photography (HDR) is a form of photography were multiple photos are taken at different exposures and then combined into one photo.  The photos have to be processed in a special software program specifically designed for HDR or software that has specific processes, such as Photoshop CS5, that can convert the images into an HDR image.

When to use HDR

I believe that one of the best features of HDR is the ability to show areas that are in bright light and areas in shadows with good exposure and detail.  Because of the multiple photos at different exposures, there can’t be a lot of movement or the photos won’t match up.  However, some software programs are able to handle minor descpeancies in photos through removal of “ghost artifacts”.

An example of a good time to use HDR is when you are in a room that is relatively dark, but there is bright sunlight coming through a window.  If a single photo is taken, either the interior or the exterior may be properly exposed, but it will be impossible to get both exposed properly with today’s cameras.  With HDR, you could take a photo with proper exposure of the bright window, another with proper exposure of the dark interior, and a third in between, and combine them in HDR software to create one good photo.

Dust Reduction

One potential issue with HDR is dust on your camera sensor.  If you have dust on the sensor, it will be more prominent on an HDR photo because the photos are combined.  So, one dust spot will be approximately 3 times darker if you’re taking 3 shots.  If you’re taking 6 shots, it’s even more pronounced.  So, if you have a dirty sensor, take steps to clean it or use the “Dust Deletion” function that’s found on some cameras (inlcluding the T1i).

Mirror Lockup on the Canon T1i

It might seem that taking and developing HDR photos is difficult.  It’s really very easy.  However, there are some preparations that have to be taken for best results.  First, because multiple photos will be taken and matched up in software, it is a necessaty to have the camera somehow fixed so it doesn’t move between shots.  I think the best way is to have the camera mounted on a tripod.  I suppose it’s possible to use a monopod or maybe handheld, but I think the odds are very low that you would get a usable HDR image (I think handheld would be next to impossible).  If you can’t use a tripod for some reason, try other means to keep the camera stationary.

After you have the camera somehow fixed (preferably on your tripod), the next series of preparations are in the software of your camera.  If you have the ability to lock your mirror during the shot, then it’s best to specify it on your camera.  “Mirror Lockup”, as it’s called on the T1i, will prevent the camera from vibrating slightly when taking the shots, making the final that much clearer.   On a Canon T1i, press the “Menu” button on the back of the body.  Once in the menu, click your right arrow until you reach the “Custom Functions” submenu.  Press the “Set” button and then use the right arrow key to find the submenu entitled “Mirror Lockup” (on my T1i, it’s the 9th submenu in “Custom Functions”).  Click the “Set” button again and use the down arrow to highlight “Enable”.  Then, click “Set”.  You now have “mirror lockup” selected.  Once you have finished with your HDR photos, be sure to change “mirror lockup” to “disable” or you will continue to have it set in “mirror lockup” mode.

Next, I typically set the “Exposure Compensation” on my T1i using the menu.  Press the menu button and then navigate to the second icon oat the top.  You’ll see a setting called “Expo. comp./AEB”.  Hit the “Set” button and then you’ll see a compensation screen.  Turn the dial on the front of the T1i and you’ll see the compensation bars spread out.  How far apart you want to place those bars vary, but try “-2, 0, and +2” to start and then experiment from there.  Once you have it the way you like it, press the “set” button one more time.

One last thing I do is use a remote wired release.  I think this is very important and removes vibration caused by depressing the shutter button.  Although my favorite release is a wired release, there are wireless releases that you can also purchase.  I like the wired release, just to keep it simple, and I don’t find that the wire gets in the way.

So, here’s an example of the way I setup to take an HDR photo in the interior of a building using my T1i:

  1. Determine where I want to take the shot
  2. Set up the tripod
  3. Set “Mirror Lockup”
  4. Set the “Exposure Compensation”
  5. Plug in the remote shutter release

Now, you’re ready to take HDR photos.

Taking Multiple Photos with the Canon T1i

Okay, so here’s where we’re at:  your camera is set to take shots at three different exposures.  Every time you press the shutter release, it’ll rotate through taking one photo at an exposure compensation of -2, one at 0, and one at +2.  After it’s taken one of each of these exposures, it’ll start back and repeat the process. However, because “Mirror Lockup” mode is activated, you’ll have to press the shutte release twice for each photo.

Okay, so you’re all set up and ready to take your photos.  This is the really easy part, but might be a little confusing at first.  Here’s the way it works with this setup:

  1. First press of remote release – The mirror locks up
  2. Second press of remote release – The first photo is taken (exposure 0)
  3. Third press of remote release – The mirror locks up
  4. Fourth press of remote release – The second photo is taken (exposure -2)
  5. Fifth press of remote release – The mirror locks up
  6. Sixth press of remote release – The third photo is taken (exposure +2)

And that’s it.  You’ve taken a series of three shots ready for HDR.  As you become more advanced, you may want to try additional photos.  Most software will support more than three photos for HDR.  I believe Photomatix will do at least nine, but it may be more.  So far, for me, it seems that three is usually enough, although I have taken up to six photos.

HDR Software

There are several programs that can process your HDR photos.  I use Photomatix HDR from HDRsoft and find it very easy to use with really good results.  If you have Photoshop CS5, I’ve heard it has a decent version of HDR that you might want to try first.  If you decide to use Photomatix HDR, check out the resources page of the HDRsoft website for a list of excellent tutorials on how to use the software.  I particularly like the tutorials by Trey Ratcliff and Ferrell McClollough.  Two other excellent resources are a book by Ferrell McCollough entitled [amazon_link id=”1600591965″ target=”_blank” ]High Dynamic Range Digital Photography[/amazon_link] and Tony Sweet’s DVD [amazon_link id=”B001KZAP2C” target=”_blank” ]High Dynamic Range Photography Made Easy[/amazon_link].

You Can Do It:  HDR is not that Difficult

HDR is really very simple to shot and to develop.  Just take it slow and practice in a low stress setting.  After you figure out the nuances of HDR, I think you’ll agree with me that HDR is a snap.

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