This tutorial will take a quick walk through the process of HDR imaging starting with choosing the appropriate camera body, the shooting process and camera settings, all the way through post processing (also referred to as "post").
What is HDR?
HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a post processing method used to combine multiple exposures in order to pick up all possible light information in a single composition. Especially in challenging lighting situations, HDR images can be very representative of what your eyes make of a setting and capture information that a single exposure cannot.
You will want a camera that shoots in RAW and incorporates autobracketing — depending on your camera body you will be able to fire 3 to 9 exposures at a time. 3 exposures should be ample to fill your histogram and the most common setting will be to go -2, 0, +2 EV to give you one underexposed, one neutral and one overexposed bracket.
You will also want to have a sturdy tripod — it is imperative that all objects in the composition remain aligned through each of your brackets. We also recommend using a cable release.
Default Tone Mapping
After bringing your images into Photomatix, start with the default map settings.
Customized Tone Mapping
In this image, we wanted to enhance the luminosity (painterly effect) and contrast. We kept strength at 100; don't go to low on the smoothing slider. Play around with the settings and see what works for you!
As for the software needed — Yes, you will need software as post production is a huge part in the HDR process — the best HDR software on the market (in our humble opinion) is Photomatix Pro 4.0 (available as standalone software or plug-in). This is where you will load your bracketed photos and put them through a process known as "tone-mapping". After the tone mapping step, Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture will do just about everything you need. Opt for Adobe Photoshop if you need precision layer masking. Other great tools and plug-ins come from OnOne, Nik, and Topaz.
Now you have everything you need — let's fire some brackets. You will want to shoot in either Manual or Aperture Priority — Aperture Priority is the most user friendly for beginners. Use a White Balance preset (the Sunny setting works for most daytime outdoor shoots). Set your ISO at either 100 or 200 to introduce the least amount of noise. Set your camera for autobracketing and fire away. For best results take multiple bracket series at different apertures to ensure you get your desired end product.