Making The Most of Exposure Settings With HDR

Article by Chris Sutton

How many of you forget about the exposure settings on your camera?

Many a time I’ve forgotten to use this function when the lighting conditions were either too bright or just that little bit too dark. But have you ever used it to give you more exposures than just the 3 or 5 bracketed shots your camera allows?

First off the camera I used for this exercise was a Nikon D80, not a high end DSLR and a few years old now. So as long as your camera can shoot brackets and has a exposure compensator facility then you shouldn’t have any problems recreating this method yourself. The picture is of a vase of flowers still blooming from Mothers day and using the natural light from a window to light the subject.

A tripod is a must here as I’m going to be taking 9 shots and as I have to change the EV settings between each set of 3 bracketed shots, there was no way this could be hand held.

The method I used was to take 3 bracketed shots as normal with my EV settings at 00. Then while holding EV button, I turned the main control dial to adjust the setting to -1.0. I then fired off another set of 3 bracketed shots. Then did the same by changing the setting to +1.0. and shot another 3 off giving me the 9 shots I wanted. At this point I’m beginning to wonder if there is a limit to how many shots Photomatix can load up in one process. The D80 EV compensator settings can go to -5.0 and +5.0 using 0.5 increments, giving me a possibility of shooting 63 different exposures using this method. The mind boggles at this point and beginning to wonder if I tried to do that many exposures my computer would just point and laugh at me and say “you’re having a laugh mate.” So for now, I’m sticking with the 9 exposures. Without any pre-processing I loaded all 9 raw shots into Photomatix. Wow, the resulting image that loaded was not what I was expecting and I did very little work with the sliders as the image was just about how I would have wanted. The detail from the 9 images was far greater than I expected. Straight away my mind was racing ahead of me. “If that’s what I was going to get with 9

images, what would it look like with 12 or more? Time to get back on track…….

After saving the image as a jpg the final processing was done in Photoshop using Color Efex filters.

Here are the before and after pics. The before shot being straight from the camera and the middle of the 3 bracketed shots with settings on the EV set to 00.

This wasn’t an exercise about creating a good hdr image  or good composition etc (as can be seen with all the clutter in the background). This was purely to show that even if you are restricted with how many bracketed shots your camera can take, you still have more options available if you know all the tools your camera has to offer and how best you can use them to take full advantage of the facility they offer. All I’m itching to do now is to take this to another level and hone my editing skills more. I hope this gives a little bit of an eye opener to those who are still fairly new to this great art of ours.

Chris Sutton

You can see more of my work on my facebook page.

  • Harry

    Hello Chris,

    from the 9 shots you told from your example, you can take only 7 shots in photomatix, because two of them done twice.

    If you took although all of your 9 images to photomatix and gave them other numbers of exposure in photomatix, is that not the right way.

    The best result can you recieve with taking all shots with different exposure settings, in this case even 7 shots.
    And 7 shots for that picture is surely enough. The rest you can handle in photomatix.

  • Harry

    Hi again,

    can you tell, how you did this dreamy look in that image? Did you the most work in photomatix or in color efex pro? Which steps are needed to create thar look?

    • Chris Sutton

      Hi Harry. Thanks for the feedback regarding photomatix. Yes i have duplicated a single image before to give me 3 or 5 starting pics in photomatix and changed the ev on each one to +1 +2 00 -1 -2 and i have managed to get some reasonable results depending on the type of photo subject. But you can never achieve a true HDR as you don’t have the full dynamic range of information to begin with.

      The method I used above was purely experimental on my part as I’m still finding my feet with hdr processing, and I’m guessing there are many other people out there who are also fairly new to hdr photography and are finding it frustrating at times if they are struggling to get the results that they were hoping to achieve.

      With the help of Jimmy’s Tutorials and tips along with many other fine photographers who share their knowledge and know-how here I find that HDR ONE is a gold mine for the likes of me. The method I have used here may be a common method used by the more advanced photographer and nothing new to them. But something that a new aspiring photographer who has a low end camera may find useful.

      To answer your question about the shot….

      Once the images were blended and tone mapped in photomatix, the final editing was done in Photoshop. Various filters were used in color efex pro yes. ie, neutral density filter to help adjust the contrast. Slight use of reflector effects and to give it that “dreamy look” i used the glamour glow filter. Also some shadows and highlights and selective brush and burn.

      Apart from that not much else was done and probably only 30-40 minutes work involved. But then again I didn’t set out to make a masterpiece !! :)

      Regards Chris

      • Harry

        Hello Chris,

        you are right with your words.

        I am also an advanced photographer since 24 years.
        And i am also doing HDR since more than 2 years with a lot of good images.

        But what ist this common method from your image above? Did you use a glamour glow filter, maybe from Color Efex pro?

        Espacally that look I think it´s great. Can you tell me how you did it please? Maybe with an direktly email to me?

        That would be great.

  • W5th

    @Chris; @Harry;

    I’m confused, surely if the Nikon D80 is anything like the Olympus E500 that I use, then the exposure brackets it takes when auto-bracketing are in the range of 3EV or EV -1, 0, +1, which means that if you change the exposure by +1EV before taking the next set of 3 brackets you’ll be taking photos at EV 0, +1, +2 (if you increase the exposure manually by +1EV) or EV -2, -1, 0 (if you decrease the exposure by -1EV), thus the number of actual shots with new information in them in a series of 9 would be 5, not 7 as Harry states or 9 as Chris says. In order to get a series of 9 shots each at a different exposure setting to be of use for HDR processing one would need to adjust the exposure manually by +/-3EV which would then give you a range of exposures from -4EV to +4EV instead of the previous set from -2EV to +2EV. If the Nikon can be manually adjusted from -5EV to +5EV then the number of variations at single stop exposure adjustments is 11, and 21 at 1/2 stops. The Olympus can be adjusted from -7EV to +7EV and also at 1/3 stops … whoop-de-woo!

    Chris, may I suggest caution in future statements as to what does and does not constitute true HDR. There are commentators out there, at least one of whom is a guest author on this site, who have presented evidence in the past that proves that manual adjustment of the EV setting in Photoshop on a single exposure produces results that are so similar to that of in camera adjustments for HDR photo processing that you need to look extremely closely in order to be able to tell the difference (I can’t believe it’s not butter!). We could get into the semantics of how one interprets the term High Dynamic Range but perhaps that should be the subject of another article.

    Harry, I can only assume that English is not your first language.

    • Harry


      sorry for my bad English, I am a german guy.

      Although I will try to explain, what I wrote before…

      If you took the first bracketing (3 shots) with TWO EV-steps (- 2, 00, +2), than you set your SHUTTERSPEED manually to -1 and take another 3 shots with TWO EV-steps (- 2, 00, +2), than you set your SHUTTERSPEED manually to +1 and take the third shot with TWO EV-steps (- 2, 00, +2), in the end you will get 9 shots. Right?
      But inside that 9 shots there are two shots, which are exactly the same in av and shutter speed!
      So you only can take 7 different shots to photomatix. Okay?

      Hope you could understand me.

      • W5th

        OK, Harry, I forgive you. ;-)

        Unfortunately, you’ve only managed to confuse me further! Firstly, if one is using auto-bracketing (at least on the Olympus and the Nikon) the EV steps are in 1, 1/2 or 1/3 steps and not 2 as you state in your response, so your first bracketing shots could at most be -1, 0, +1 surely unless you change the EV manually, in which case you would be correct.
        Secondly, you go on about shutter speed being changed manually to -1. What do you mean by this? When I change my shutter speed it’s at 1/30th or 1/60th or 1/250th, etc. Please explain what you mean by “set your shutterspeed manually to +1.”

        In closing, no, I don’t understand you and it’s not OK. Many thanks.

  • Chris Sutton

    @2a7ae643308dc1ed9cbd129482e361a7:disqus thanks for your comments.
    You may be right in what you say regarding the EV settings and number of exposures etc, but the exercise was purely to show that there are other settings you can utilize to enable you to increase the number of bracketed shots you can work with in your tone mapping software. If it means taking 9 shots at different EV settings but only really having 7 unique shots to work with then I’m sure it doesn’t matter to most as long as we achieve the results we aim for. :-)
    I use the term “not truely HDR” very lightly, as you rightly say you can get some good results from a single image as i have done so myself. The point I was more or less making was that a single jpg image will never carry the full dynamic range of information needed to create a good HDR picture. I will point out that i always shoot in raw and raw files are what i work with in photomatix.
    There are some fantastic single shot HDR images out there, but when you mention HDR photography most people will automatically think, bracketing, thus giving the misconception that a single shot processed image isn’t “true HDR”

    I hope this makes things a little clearer :-)



  • Jim Lepard

    What I usually do if I am shooting more then 3 or 9 images I separate the images in their own folder, and then I open up Adobe Bridge and find that folder with the multiple images in it and then go to the filter option on the left bottom of bridge down to exposure time and delete the multiple images, then I open up Photoshop and go to merge to HDR pro find that folder and upload them into Photoshop, it may take a while for all of them to load. I found that if you try to bring over 10 images in Photomatix at on time that the program freezes and I get an error.