It's the year 1991. I'm a kid on a beach in St. Petersburg, Florida trying to capture another amazing sunset with my new awesome camera. This was the day I first learned about the inadequacies of digital photography. That picture I took . . . sucked. The sunset didn't look nearly as magical as it appeared in person. Me = bummed.
We have all experienced this at one point or another in our lives. A camera's ability to capture the contrasts of the world has tough competition . . . the human eye. A digital camera just cannot replicate extreme highlights and shadows in the same photograph. One day maybe, but today, not so much.
The goal of translating what my eye could see to my photography is what first attracted me to HDR. HDR has got a bad rap in the last few years because of overuse. Many photographers are pushing the sliders way too far to the right. In my opinion, when used for good and not evil, HDR can be magnificent.
A barrier that HDR photographers my never break through is the fact that people can usually spot multiple exposure photography. Even though an HDR photo may closely resemble how the scene naturally appeared, we have been trained to know that a digital camera cannot replicate wide dynamic ranges. What is really a natural looking photograph gets flagged as not. Still though, if your goal when creating an HDR image is to emulate the dynamic range of the human eye, then your photo has the potential to be naturally amazing.
So, “How in the heck!?”
First of all, choose your exposure values in the AEB setting menu. I usually max out the range of my camera at -2, 0, and +2. Your intent is to take multiple exposures of a high contrast scene. Different cameras have different bracketing options. Some cameras will allow you to take as many as 7 exposures. The Canon 5D2 is limited to 3. Using a tripod will help the processing tremendously.
For HDR timelapse shooting, your intervalometer needs to be set in a slightly different manner. The “long” menu is key here. With your camera set in continuous shooting mode with the AEB enabled set the long value to 2 seconds. This will tell the remote to press and hold the shutter for 2 seconds. The final step is to set an interval amount. Consider the amount of time needed for the camera and CF card to write your multiple exposures when determining an interval. Once you press start on your timer remote the HDR timelapse sequence will begin.
Magic hour is over, time to edit! Do your chosen HDR editing software a favor and copy the file folder to a faster local or external drive on your computer. When you open this folder, you should have a group of pictures that vary in exposure like this.
Now I need to mush my three exposure bracket into one beautiful photo. The software that I have chosen for batch processing my HDR timelapses is SNS-HDR. I had tried other programs and plugins prior to discovering SNS and none can come close to its ease of use and most importantly, absence of flicker. When I first attempted HDR I tried the popular program called Photomatix. My results were frustrating because of the amount of flicker that Photomatix would cause. I gave up on that program long ago but recent results like Tanguy Louvigny's have made me think again vimeo.com/32238183.
To learn more about how I use SNS-HDR to batch process raws click on the “How to HDR Timelapse” video below. If you are determined to perfect this art take the 18 minutes and listen to me ramble. For your initial tests go ahead and shoot jpeg or at the most small raws. This will make the learning process more enjoyable and your computer processor will thank you. Remember you still must take all the steps necessary not to induce flicker while shooting. If you aren't shooting wide open then you may experience aperture flicker. To avoid this make sure to employ the “Lens Twist Method“. Batch processing a large amount of large raw files can take several hours depending on the obvious factors. As a habit I do this processing before I go to bed at night.
For any questions you may have feel free to comment below, on the video link, or on my Twitter. Good luck.
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)