Reading around the web, I came upon a series of sites that talk about HDR Photography technique and how the use of the Manual mode of the camera will yield the best results. Now, while this could yield great results for some people, and I think its a great way to have control over ALL of the elements of a picture, I think that the idea can cause a bit of confusion. I figure it’s probably best to do this with an example.
Take it To the Bridge
Let’s say you’re just getting into your camera for HDR work. You get the entire Shutter/Aperture combination for your work but now you’re in the exploration phase of HDR.
You walk up to a scene of a bridge at night with lights and you want to setup a 5 shot bracket. How do you know what the correct exposure is? Someone told you about Sunny F16 as a rule, but this is a scene at night, and you have no idea as to where to start. What do you do?
Scenario 1: Aperture Priority Mode + Spot Metering
You switch to Aperture Priority mode and the camera reads the scene, giving you a base exposure. Our modern cameras have got great meters inside of them. If you meter the scene and fire a shot, there’s a very good probability that the scene is going to be rendered well. If it isn’t, you use your EV to slide up and down the exposure to artistically compensate. If you need more of a dead on area, you can probably switch from matrix to spot metering – but i’ve rarely had to do this.
From here, just set the bracket that you need (However many exposures, and however many steps apart – dependent on what your camera lets you do) and fire the frame. Now, you’re off to Post Processing Land.
Scenario 2: Manual Metering
- You don’t know what your starting exposure is going to be, but you have a general idea that you want to shoot at F11. So, F11 goes into the camera, and you dial in a shutter.
- Click. Look back at the scene and wonder about the exposure. Too Dark? Too Light?
- Pull up the histograms on the image to check, or highlights to check for blinkies. Ah, a little too dark.
- Change Shutter value to another amount. What amount? I don’t know.. maybe a smidge less(or more) than what the last one did.
- Repeat steps 2-4 ad nausea.
My Beef with M Here
Manual mode in this scenario presumes you will have a ballpark idea of what your exposure of a given area is. It presumes you can walk into a room with a “This is a 120 5.6 scene” mentality. That’s totally fine if you have that and much respected. However, many users will not. And when they don’t – the Manual mode just confuses something that need not be confusing.
Now, if you are staring into the viewfinder, and looking at the lines to the right that show that you are ‘under’ on a scene, and adjusting according to that – congratulations. You are using the camera’s built in meter anyway, and there is no difference between what you’re doing there and just switching it over to Aperture Priority.
Shooting More Frames with EV
In the process of writing this out, I came across the “Canons only shoot 3 frames, whereas Nikons shoot more” situation. Figured i’d throw in a little bit of a tip while I was at it.
Remember that these cameras are shooting over and underexposed automatically when you’re doing a bracket. Switch yourself to Aperture mode, but DO NOT bracket. From there, click and make 1 shot. Go into your EV setting and minus however much you want for the next frame. Once that’s done, click again. Continute to adjust your EV for the rest of the frames, and in no time, you’re done. If you’re shooting a landscape scene this shouldnt affect your exposures too much, and any movement will easily be removed using deghosting technologies in HDR tools. Now, for high speed needs or for extended time HDR techniques, we can use the cameras built in Intervalometers or external devices. But that’s a conversation for another time.
If I can leave you with one thing, it’s this. A long time ago, people used manual mode because there was nothing else to use – not because it was a better way of doing things. While I firmly believe going manual is one of the best ways to control an image in specific scenarios – HDR photography just doesn’t seem like its one of them. For people just getting into the space, it can confuse unnecessarily. HDR photography is actually very easy to do, and doesn’t require a super secret mode of developing it to make it awesome. It just requires your time and your passion..