Photo: Tony Mark
High Dynamic Range Photography offers an exciting way to photograph scenes that have very dark, normal and extremely bright areas. With normal techniques you would get burned out highlights and blacked out shadows, but with HDR you can have detail in all regions from the deepest shadows to the brightest highlights.
The HDR technique also allows you to tone map. This reduces the contrast of the scene and greatly exaggerates colours to provide an amazing and unique artistic effect. Shooting HDR primarily involves taking multiple exposures of the same image and combining them to create one picture. As the images are combined, special software allows you to control how the colours and exposures react to each other.
Mount your camera on a tripod or any other way to keep it as steady as possible. Shoot in A (aperture priority) mode and choose an aperture that would make an average exposure for your scene with a shutter speed around 1/125th to 1/200th second.
If you have auto-bracket, turn it on, set for three exposures, two stops under, zero, and two stops over, or you can set it for five bracketed exposures, each one stop apart. Now your camera will automatically change the shutter speed between each photo so you will have under exposed, correctly exposed, and over exposed images taken as fast as your camera can shoot.
You can manually change your shutter speeds to bracket exposures.
While this will work, it is slower than auto-bracket and conditions may change too rapidly for this to be a good technique.
If you do not have auto bracket or manual shutter speeds, then manually change the EV control from -2 (or more) to 0 to +2 (or more) and that will make the camera change the shutter speed for you.
Regardless of the technique you choose, the aperture must stay the same so that the areas in focus (and the depth of field) remain the same throughout the exposure range. Next, you will need software that can put together an HDR photo. If you have Adobe Photoshop CS5, the HDR software is built in. Otherwise, try Photomatrix by hdrsoft.com or HDRefex Pro by niksoftware.com. Whenever possible, shoot your pictures in RAW rather than JPEG.
Obviously it helps if nothing in your scene is moving. The faster your camera can shoot, the more movement this technique will tolerate.
Some newer cameras have a built-in HDR function that automatically merges the images for you in the camera.
Once you have your sets of three or more exposures for each image, load them into one of your HDR programs. All of the programs have wonderful presets, which will instantly give you a preview of how your image will look, but you can adjust everything from colours to shadows to tone mapping.