Camera Settings for Shooting Quality HDR Brackets

While processing and organizing your HDR brackets are important topics, all of our hard work in those areas won’t matter much if we don’t take the best shots possible in the field. In this article I’m going to discuss the camera settings that will help you do just that.

Always shoot in RAW

Capturing your brackets in RAW mode will give you the most flexibility during post processing. RAW mode images contain all of the data captured by your camera sensor. They are saved to your memory card with no adjustments made by your camera. On the other hand, JPEG images are saved with processing and compression already applied by the camera. This leaves little room for the amount of changes we often make during HDR post processing. Using RAW images will give you access to a variety of options not available for JPEG images.

Set your White Balance

The Auto White Balance (AWB) function on many recent camera models is very good. I have found that the AWB function on my Canon 60D is often as good as using Custom White Balance. AWB works well for single shots but for bracketing you want to keep everything as consistent as possible. The white balance is determined by the camera sensor on a ‘per-shot’ basis. This means that every bracket could potentially have a slightly different white balance applied. White balance can be corrected in post processing but you don’t need to worry about it as much if you get it right in the field.

White Balance for HDR - Canon 60D - Curt Fleenor Photography
To achieve this consistency, simply use one of the preset white balance modes on you camera. Because I mainly shoot landscapes, I will use either the Landscape or Cloudy presets. For the most part, these are typically spot on and require little adjustment.

ISO Setting

ISO, the digital equivalent to film speed, controls the light sensitivity of your sensor. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light your sensor will be. Typically you will want to shoot at the lowest possible ISO. Higher ISO settings can begin to bring digital noise, or grain, into your images. Most modern DSLR cameras handle the digital noise very well at higher ISO settings but HDR processing can actually add noise to your final image. Start with the lowest setting you can to help reduce the amount of noise from the beginning.

AEB Menu - Canon 60D - Curt Fleenor Photography

Manual or Aperture Priority

There are entire articles that have been written about this point alone! In the end, it all comes down to how you are bracketing. If you are using the in camera Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) function then you may be better off using Aperture Priority (AV) mode. If you are going to be setting the exposure of your brackets yourself, then Manual mode is the probably for you.

Manual mode is exactly what it sounds like, everything about the exposure is set manually by the photographer. ISO, aperture, shutter speed, focus point – they’re all under your control.

Aperture Priority Mode allows you to set your desired aperture (f-stop) and let the camera determine the shutter speed needed for each bracket.

Having used both, I find that I get more consistent results using Aperture Priority mode.

Drive Mode

If you have a Continuous or Burst mode available, use it! This lets you shoot your brackets as fast as your camera allows. Capturing you brackets in quick succession will help to minimize any camera shake between the frames. If you are shooting a scene with moving subjects like people, trees or animals then shooting in burst mode can also help reduce the amount of movement between your brackets.

Reference Display for HDR - Canon 60D - Curt Fleenor Photography
A shutter release cable is a very cheap and handy tool to have for shooting HDR brackets. A release cable lets you fire off your brackets without physically touching your camera. This can all but eliminate camera shake.

If you don’t have a shutter release cable don’t worry there is another option and it is built right into your camera. Using the self-timer mode in conjunction with the Auto Exposure Bracketing mode will achieve the same result. Turn on Auto Exposure Bracketing and get your shot setup. Change your drive mode to Self-Timer, press the shutter button and stand back. All of your brackets will be taken when the timer goes off, no cable required!

Metering Mode

As a general rule, I will use Evaluative Metering mode (Matrix mode on Nikon) when shooting HDR brackets. This mode averages the entire scene to determine the correct exposure. I have found it to provide the most even distribution of exposure across brackets

Focusing

Choose the area of the image that you want to be the focal point. Use either manual or auto to lock in your focus on that point but always switch back to manual before you begin taking your brackets. Your camera will try to refocus between frames if you don’t set it to manual. I’ve forgotten to do this more times than I care to admit and nothing is more annoying.

Custom Menu for HDR - Canon 60D - Curt Fleenor Photography
This is a lot of information to process so here’s a quick recap:

Shoot in RAW
Lowest ISO
Aperture Priority
Continuous or Burst mode
Evaluative (Matrix) Metering
Manual Focus

These simple pointers were the most helpful for me when I first started shooting HDR. Using them consistently over time has helped me to bring home better sets of brackets and has saved me lots of time in post processing. Hopefully, you’ll find them useful too!

My photographic journey has taken me from simple landscape photos into the world of High Dynamic Range (HDR) images and long exposures. I use these disciplines to bring out the beauty of the world around us. Landscape photography is my first love but great images are everywhere and there is an ever-expanding set of tools available to the modern photographer to help create a unique vision. This is an amazing field whose technology is expanding exponentially and I am willing to try it all!

http://www.CurtFleenor.com

  • Neil

    Wish I knew this when I first started

    • Curt Fleenor

      You and me both Neil!

  • Abishek

    Thnx Curt. Just looked at your blog. Awesome. I’ve bookmarked it.

    • Curt Fleenor

      Thanks for that!

  • http://twitter.com/Edithlevy21 Edith Levy

    Another great article Curt.

  • Chris Maskell

    A great post Curt. Most HDR guides miss the very important points you raise here

  • http://jimijonesVisuals.com/ Jimi Jones

    Very informative post, Curt.

  • Paul M

    Excellent article Curt. My rule of thumb when setting ISO is to set it at the lowest possible number. When shooting in the dark I pick the lowest ISO that ensures my longest shutter speed doesnt go beyond 30 seconds.

  • http://www.dhruvpatelphotography.com/ Dhruv Patel

    Great information !!
    Thanks a lot :)