Step By Step How to Make Panoramic HDR Images

Panoramic HDR image of Coal Harbour - Vancouver BC

Panoramic HDR image of Coal Harbour – Vancouver, Canada

I am convinced that digital photography has changed so many aspects of photography forever.  HDR and photo stitching are just two of those aspects. In the film era you could achieve a lot in the darkroom with blending, dodging and burning, but not to the extent that HDR allows us to achieve now. Photostitching has also allowed us to produce images that were not possible a few years ago. In the days of film, panoramic images were possible, but required a camera made for that purpose, nowadays we can shoot panoramic shots with any digital camera, they can even be shot using an iPhone. So the merging (excuse the pun) of the HDR and Photostitching was inevitable.

This process is a little time consuming and needs to be planned beforehand, but the results can be really spectacular and make your images very dramatic. This article will give you a starting point into exploring the world of bringing HDR and Photostitching together.

What is a panoramic HDR image?

A panoramic HDR is quite simply a series of HDR images that have been stitched together using photo stitching software. It is an image comprised of any number of images, sometimes up to 60, depending on how you plan your shots. Sounds complicated right? It’s really not. If you follow a simple plan, it’s actually pretty easy. It is all in having the correct workflow, so here it is.

The panoramic HDR workflow outlined

The quick process we will be running through is as follows:

  1. Plan and shoot your HDR and panoramic images
  2. Edit your HDR images
  3. Stitch your HDR images together
  4. Edit the final image in Lightroom or Photoshop

That’s it, simple and we will do it in small steps, so it is easy to follow.

Step 1 – plan and shoot your HDR and panoramic images

HDR Images

I have written Getting Real with HDR – a Step by Step Tutorial for Realistic Looking HDR. Take a look at that if you need a refresher on how to get your HDR images into good shape. Normally, when you shoot an HDR image, you will be using between three and seven images of the same scene to create the HDR. In panoramic HDR shots, you will repeat that HDR shot across the scene for five to seven shots that will capture the panoramic. The key point to remember when shooting a panoramic image is your subject matter. Choose a scene that works in the panoramic format; i.e. a seascape, mountain range, forest or a cityscape from a distance. If you are too far away from your subject, the stitched photo may lack impact, so choose your scene with that in mind.

Panoramic Images

Of course, it’s up to you how many images you want to shoot for your HDR shots. In the example shot at the top of the article, I used three shots per HDR set and used a total of seven images to capture the scene panoramically. Keep in mind that you may want anywhere between three to seven shots per HDR image and use as many images as you need to capture the scene.

Here is a visual breakdown on how this shot worked. I have broken the shots I took into sets. Each set consists of three HDR images. So, Set #1 consists of three HDR images, Set #2 consists of three HDR images. Set 1 and Set 2 overlap by 30%. Set 2 and Set 3 overlap by 30% as well, and so on.

HDR sets and flow for the image of coal harbour. Note the overlaps

HDR sets and flow for the image of coal harbour. Note the overlaps

What you will notice is that you must take your HDR images and complete the set before moving your camera for the next set. This ensures that you will get the best possible HDR shots, and that they will blend properly. Once you have your HDR shots done on Set #1, move your camera over to frame and shoot Set #2. With panoramic photography, you must overlap your images by at least 30%. It’s not necessary to overlap much more than this, but less than 30% could cause the software to struggle to find linking points in the images. If you have a scene that has lots of detail in it, 30% will be good, if you have a scene that is not very detailed (let’s say a beach scene with sand, water and sky) you may need to overlap more to make sure that the photos can stitch. Continue this process until you have captured your scene in the sets you have decided on.

Some quick tips to remember when you shoot Panoramic HDR images

1. Choose a preset white balance setting that works well for the scene, avoid using auto white balance. If you use auto white balance (AWB), your overall colours in the scene may change as you shoot your panoramic and this could cause some unusual colour  shifts in your image
2. Keep your aperture between f/8 and f/11. Once you have chosen your aperture, don’t change it throughout the sets.
3. Use a tripod to make sure that your images are sharp. Also, as you move the camera onto the next set, be sure to overlap by 30%.
4. Be sure not to allow the camera to move up or down as you shoot the images. If it does, the result will be that the images might stitch but the resulting shot will be dropping down or sweeping up and you may not be able to get it right afterwards.
5. The best idea is to use a tripod and keep the focal plane as flat as possible, to avoid distortion, particularly with a wide angle lens.

Step 2 – edit your HDR images

Edit your images by set. Start with Set #1 and take them into an HDR product such as Photomatix Pro. You could used Photoshop too, but my preference is Photomatix Pro. For more details on making your HDR images, take a look at my HDR article to get into the details of the editing process in Photomatix.

Save each set and name them chronologically. I will name my images as follows: SCENENAME – HDR PANO 1, SCENENAME – HDR PANO 2 etc. Once you have taken all your sets through the HDR process and named them in order, the photostitching part is pretty easy.

Step 3 – stitch your HDR images together

For the photostitching part of this process, you can use the photo stitching function in Photoshop or any other photo stitching tool of your choice. I have used Photoshop in the past and it works well, but for more complex stitching I find that Autopano Pro works extremely well. It has been rated as one of the best stitching packages available. I have used it to stitch some pretty crazy panos together and almost anything I have thrown at it, it has been able to process.

Lets look at how this process works in Autopano Pro:

  1. Open Autopano Pro and on the first screen that you see, click on the second icon from the left to select your images to be stitched
  2. Navigate to the HDR images that you have processed and select them
  3. Click on “detect” on the top left hand side of the screen
  4. Autopano will now scan your images and do a preliminary stitch, this preview stitched image will be displayed on the right hand side of the screen that is open. This process may take a few minutes.
  5. Once the preview image is displaying, click on the “edit” button (Right hand side of the screen) this will open the image in the Autopano edit screen
  6. There are a number of options here, below is a high level overview of the most important functions
Autopano Pro - Images selected for the pano stitch on the left and a preview of the stitched image on the right

Autopano Pro – images selected for the pano stitch on the left and a preview of the stitched image on the right

Autopano edit screen with preview of stitched image

Autopano edit screen with preview of stitched image

Autopano functions on the edit screen:

Autopano has a number of options you can use to render your panoramic image. These projections help with distortion and skewing. Below is an explanation of the most commonly used projections.

  • Spherical - the spherical function allows any panorama to be assembled. It is a commonly used function for building panoramic images.
  • Planar or rectilinear projection - this is a good choice if the angle is low, It’s recommended for architectural shots because it is the only mode that does not curve lines that are deemed to be straight lines. Sometimes if the angles are too extreme there may be a loss of sharpness, so be aware of this.
  • Cylindrical projection - this projection can be used up to 360° (horizontally).
  • Mercator projection - the mercator projection can also be used up to 360° (horizontally). The effect of stretching up and down the image may seem to become distorted.

The key factor in choosing a projection is in how the projection affects your image visually. Does it work for the subject matter? Does the image look correct? Ask yourself these questions as you experiment with the projections.

Once you are happy with your projection and the way the image looks, you can now save the image to a folder on your computer.

Choose the projection that works best for your image

Choose the projection that works best for your image


Render screen and options

Render screen and options

This is the process of saving your panorama.It is called rendering because the software needs to perform the final stitching and edits to your image. On the rendering screen, you will need to take note of the following:

Interpolator - the interpolator is the method used to assemble the pixels of your panoramic image  and will determine the quality and sharpness of your image. There are a few different options here, but the most commonly used options is Bicubic. The other options are useful for advanced stitching.

Blending settings - the purpose of the blending settings is to allow the combining of the overlapped sections of your panoramic to look smooth and seamless. You will notice  the following presets:

  • Simple - this is fast, but it is possible that defects are seen where the areas overlap
  • Anti-ghost - conserve the image’s strong characteristics (stops, lines, curves) when mixing while automatically removing objects that have moved
  • Exposure Fusion - to be used if the panorama was created with a bracket shoot. Keeps the best of different exposures.
  • HDR output - to be used by users who wish to create a “.hdr” format file in order to create post-production or special effects. Don’t use this on these images as they have already been processed as HDR images.
  • Custom - this is enabled when you manually change the parameters and they no longer correspond to a profile.

On the advanced settings, I generally leave that on the default.


This section allows you to determine what the format in which you want your image to be saved. The two formats I use most are TIFF and JPEG. TIFF is an uncompressed file (which means all the information is still in the file, this is great if you are planning to print the image out large) The downside to TIFF is that the files are big. JPEG is a compressed format, that means that some image information has been discarded, the quality will still look the same to the naked eye, but if you print a JPEG image up really big, you may notice some image degradation. Depending on your final output and your space constraints you can choose the format that works best for you. Take the quality up to 12 and set the DPI to 300. This will ensure that you have the best quality image saved.


On this screen, the software needs to know where to save your panoramic and what you want to call it. Choose your destination folder and name the file. Once this is done (it sounds more complicated than it is) click on the render button and the software will begin rendering your image. Depending on the size of the files being stitched, this rendering process can take a few minutes. Once complete, a screen will pop up to let you know that the image is now rendered.

4. Edit the final image in Lightroom or Photoshop

Your image is now stitched together, but the final step in the process is to edit the image in your choice of image editor (Lightroom, Photoshop, Gimp or any other) You will want to follow the basic workflow I outlined in a previous article.  Once that is done, you will now have a fantastic Panoramic HDR image. Not too many photographers attempt these images as they take some time to get right, but the results can be spectacular. Give this a try, let me know where you struggled or any insights you had during the process, above all go out and have fun with it!

Panoramic HDR image of Coal Harbour - Vancouver BC

Panoramic HDR image of Coal Harbour – Vancouver BC

The post Step By Step How to Make Panoramic HDR Images by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Getting Real with HDR – a Step by Step Tutorial for Realistic Looking HDR

Try to make your HDR images look as realistic as possible

Try to make your HDR images look as realistic as possible

If you have been photographing for more than a year or two, you will have heard about HDR (which stands for High Dynamic Range). We have probably seen them, the “overcooked”, over processed HDR images that float around the photo websites. For some photographers, the process seems to force them to overdo their images and after a while that seems to be the only result they are trying to achieve. Do a Google search on “bad HDR” and you will see what I mean. The images have halos,  the colours are surreal and look metallic, the contrast is off and in short, the image is really messy.

When I first shot HDR, I fell into this trap too. These results caused many photographers to say that HDR is not a useful technique and is really gimmicky. That perception is partly true. HDR in the hands of someone who cannot use it effectively can result in some weird looking images, however, HDR done properly can produce some incredible results. To see some good examples of HDR done properly, visit the website HDR Spotting and take a look at the editors picks. There are some astounding images there. The colours are amazing, the contrast is perfect and the detail in the shadows and highlights, sublime. That is what HDR should be. It should be the best combination of the highlights and the shadows properly exposed, the image should look as real as it can. So, how do you get this right you might be asking, read on to find out.

What is HDR?

As I said earlier, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Your cameras sensor has the ability to capture light and colour. The extent to which your camera can do this is called the dynamic range. More specifically, if your camera can render lots of details in the shadows and the highlights in the same shot, then it has a high dynamic range. Over the past few years, digital sensors have become so much better at capturing more detail. This is a huge benefit for photographers and of course for HDR photography. This means that we can get more details out of every image and as a result, the HDR images will be that much more detailed.

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver - HDR image

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver – HDR image

How do I shoot HDR?

Making an HDR image involves 3 distinct and separate processes. I will go into detail on each one, but at a high level, they are as follows:

  1. Image Capture
  2. HDR Processing
  3. Image editing in Photoshop

Lets start with image capture first. This is the photography part of this process. It’s pretty simple really. Set up for your shot as you normally would. Make sure you have your subject well composed and you are ready to go. The difference between HDR and normal photography, is that with HDR you will take either three to five bracketed images of the same scene. The reason for the number of images is that you will blend these images together in a dedicated HDR product.

My recommendation for HDR software is Photomatix Pro. It is a programme that has been around for many years now and has some really good editing functions. It’s probably the most widely used software when it comes to HDR. Photoshop also has an HDR function, but in my opinion, its not as refined as the Photomatix Pro yet. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Photoshop fan, it is an incredible tool, I am sure that Photoshop will have something within their functions that will be competitive in time, but for now, I still use Photomatix.

Step #1 –  Image capture

These are the steps I follow when I intend to do an HDR shot. They are not rules, nor are they inflexible, they just work for me. You need to find what works for you and gives you the best results, this method has helped me get my best results, so try it out. Tweak it and change it as you need.

  1. Use a tripod – it is a good idea to put your camera on a tripod for HDR, especially if you are shooting in low light. I have done some handheld HDR but only in bright conditions. The tripod will also help you get your composition right.
  2. Put your camera into Manual mode “M”
  3. ISO Settings – it is a good idea to keep your ISO settings at 100 or as low as your camera will go. That way you will avoid introducing unnecessary noise into your images. The process of HDR allows you to capture the dynamic range of light and colour in the scene. Using high ISO settings is great when you are trying to shoot a low light scene and capture it in one shot, but for HDR you will want to keep it as low as possible.
  4. Set your aperture to anywhere between F/8 and F/ 11 and don’t adjust your aperture between shots.
  5. Adjust your shutter speed so that you are exposing the scene perfectly according to your cameras light meter.
  6. Capture one image at this reading
  7. Underexpose by one or two stops (depending on the scene) and capture another image by adjusting your shutter speed.
  8. Do this twice on either side of the perfectly exposed image.

This will result in five images being captured.

Below are the three images I used in making the HDR image you see above. Take a look at how the colours and exposure don’t look good at all.

3 Different exposures for the HDR image above

3 Different exposures for the HDR image above

Some photographers use five shots for their HDR shots, some use seven or up to nine. I have found that three to five shots seem to work best for most scenes. I have only used nice shots on a few occasions, but have not been happy with the results. The colours seem to be “muddy” and unclear once processed. If necessary, shoot seven images and see how that works.

Once you have completed the shoot, download the images to your computer. It is important NOT to edit the images before blending them into an HDR image. Some of the shots might look over exposed or under exposed, thats OK, in fact they must look like that. The software will deal with these issues, so don’t be concerned that the images look bad out of camera, they need to be processed and then the magic begins.

Click on - Load Bracketed Photos

Click “Load Bracketed Photos”

Step #2 – HDR processing

I will be explaining the Photomatix software in this article. I have tried HDR with each new version of Photoshop and I am still happier with the results I get from Photomatix Pro. You can download a trial version of Photomatix from their website. It is fully functional, the only thing is that the trial version puts a watermark on the image. This is OK for trying it out, you will see exactly what the software can do, if you think it is worth it, then you can buy it. Ok, so here is how you take your images into Photomatix Pro

  1. Open Photomatix Pro (or if you’ve set it up as a Lightroom plugin, select your bracketed images, right click and choose “edit in” and Phototix Pro)
  2. Click  ”Load Bracketed Photos” and then click on “Browse” and select the images you have taken (you can also drag and drop them into the box)
  3. Click OK once the images appear in the box
Select the options displayed on the screen above

Select the options displayed on the screen above

Preprocessing options are available.  Make selections on the box as shown in the screenshot above. Then click preprocess and Photomatix Pro will begin to tone map the images into a composite 32-bit image. This process is generally quite quick, between 30 seconds and a minute.  Once complete, click on the Tone Mapping button.

Use the “Remove ghosts” function if you have people or moving objects in your images. If you don’t have this, then you wont need to use this function.

The HDR editing screen

On this screen, you are able to select a variety adjustments that will create an overall change to the image. There are no absolutes here. Each adjustment makes minor or major differences to the image and the combination of the adjustments provides diverse options.


At the bottom of the screen you will see different “treatments” (or presets) which you can use as a starting point to your image editing process. I would avoid using these as they are generally overdone. Try and use the functions on the left hand side to edit your image.

Below are the details about each function on the left hand side of the screen and what each does. One of the best ways to see what a function does is to slide it all the way over to the left and then to the right and see how it affects your image, but here are the details:

General Settings

  • Strength - affects the degree to which contrast and detail are enhanced in the image. A value of 100 gives the maximum amount of enhancement. To get a more natural effect, move the slider to the left. The default value is 70.
  • Color Saturation – controls the saturation of the RGB color channels. The greater the saturation, the more intense the color. Move the slider right or left to change the setting. A value of zero produces a grayscale image. The value affects each color channel equally. The default value is 46.
  • Luminosity – controls the compression of the tonal range, which has the effect of adjusting the global luminosity level. Move the slider to the right to boost shadow details and brighten the image. Move it to the left to give a more “natural” look to the resulting image. The default value is zero.
  • Detail Contrast – controls the amount of contrast applied to detail in the image. Move the slider to the right to increase the contrast of the details and give a sharper look to the image. Note that increasing the contrast also has a darkening effect. Move the slider to the left to decrease the contrast of details and brighten the image.
  • Lighting Adjustments – affects the overall ‘look’, controlling the extent to which the image looks natural or surreal. When the Lighting Effects Mode box is unchecked, move the slider to the right to make the image look more natural and to the left to make it look more ‘painterly’ or ‘surreal’. Use this carefully as it can have an unpredictable effect on your image.
  • Lighting Effects Mode – the checkbox lets you switch between two modes for the Lighting Adjustments setting,where each mode produces slightly different results. Checking the box tends to produce results with a type of ‘Magic Light’ effect.

More Options

  • Smooth Highlights – reduces the contrast enhancements in the highlights. The value of the slider sets how much of the highlights range is affected. This control is useful for preventing white highlights from turning grey or uniform light blue skies becoming dark blue-grey. It is also useful for reducing halos around objects placed against bright backgrounds. The default value is zero.
  • White Point and Black Point - these sliders control how the minimum and maximum values of the tone mapped image are set. Moving the sliders to the right increases global contrast. Moving them to the left reduces clipping at the extremes. The White Point slider sets the value for the maximum of the tone mapped. The Black Point slider sets the value for the minimum of the tone mapped image.
  • Gamma – adjusts the mid-tone of the tone mapped image, brightening or darkening the image globally. The default value is 1.0.
  • Temperature – adjusts the color temperature of the tone mapped image relative to the temperature of the HDR source image. Move the slider to the right to give a warmer, more yellow-orange colored look. Move the slider to the left for a colder, more bluish look. A value of zero (default) preserves the original color temperature of the HDR source image.

Advanced Options

  • Micro-smoothing – smoothes local detail enhancements. This has the effect of reducing noise in the sky, for instance, and tends to give a “cleaner” look to the resulting image. The default value is 2. Important note: The Loupe may not properly show the effect of the Micro-smoothing setting when the area magnified is uniform. If you want to see the effect of the Micro-smoothing setting at 100% resolution on a uniform area such as the sky, you will have to select an area that contains an object in the scene in addition to the sky.
  • Saturation Highlights – adjusts the color saturation of the highlights relative to the color saturation set with the Color Saturation slider. Values higher than zero increase the color saturation in the highlights. Values lower than zero decrease it. The default value is zero.
  • Saturation Shadows – adjusts the color saturation of the shadows relative to the color saturation set with the Color Saturation slider. Values higher than zero increase the color saturation in the shadows. Values lower than zero decrease it. The default value is zero.
  • Shadows Smoothness – reduces the contrast enhancements in the shadows. The value of the slider sets how much of the shadows range is affected. The default value is zero.
  • Shadows Clipping – the value of the slider sets how much of the shadows range is clipped. This control may be useful to cut out noise in the dark area of a photo taken in a low-light situation. The default value is zero.

Once this part of the process is finished, then it is time to take the image into Photoshop. Save the tone mapped image and then re-open it in Photoshop.

Step #3 Image Editing in Photoshop

This is a very basic workflow. It will enhance the lighting and tonality in your images. These techniques are discussed here at high level.

Shadows and Highlights

Photoshop has a function called Shadows and Highlights. Use this tool to bring out detail in the shadows of your image. Use it carefully, if you overdo the treatment on the shadows, there may be some unsightly image degradation or “noise”. This function is not great for adjusting highlights, so use it for the shadows only. This tool is found in Photoshop as follows: IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > SHADOWS AND HIGHLIGHTS. The adjustments of AMOUNT, TONAL WIDTH and RADIUS should all be kept aligned close to one another to ensure that the adjustment looks realistic.

Shadow and Highlights function in Photoshop

Shadow and Highlights function in Photoshop

Levels Function

The levels function in Photoshop is for adjusting the lighting in an image. This means that if your image is a little dark you can push up the exposure slightly and see more details in the image. The levels function shows a representation of a histogram. Move the sliders in to touch the edge of the histogram as a general rule. This will ensure that your image has a good representation of highlights and shadows.

The Levels functioning Photoshop

The Levels functioning Photoshop

Hue and Saturation

Once the exposure and lighting has been adjusted and looks correct, then you may begin adjusting the colour in the image. The tool to use will be the Hue and Saturation tool. The important tip here is not to adjust the master channel but rather to adjust by each channel independently. To do this, click on the top toggle button that says “default”. A drop down menu will appear and each colour channel will be available from there. Slide the Saturation Slider to the left to desaturate (remove colour) or to the right to saturate. That way you have the best control of the colour in your image.

Hue and Saturation Function in Photoshop

Hue and Saturation Function in Photoshop

Dodging and Burning

These functions are localized adjustments. By using a brush tool, you are able to make certain areas of the image darker and other areas of the image lighter. This is useful for adding the finishing touches to your image. There is also the sponge function which is a saturation tool which can saturate colours at a local level.


Almost every image that comes out of a digital camera requires sharpening of some sort. The easiest and quickest tool to use is the Unsharp Mask tool and it works effectively.

Unsharp Mask Tool in Photoshop

Unsharp Mask Tool in Photoshop

The Unsharp Mask has three separate sliders: Amount, Radius and Threshold. As a general rule you can keep the Amount anywhere between 80 and 120%, Radius can be set between 1.0 and 3.0 pixels and Threshold is generally at zero. Adjust the sharpness of the image according to each image requirement and beware of degrading the image by over sharpening. You will easily notice if an image is over sharpened by the appearance of a “halo” around certain edges in the image. The idea is to sharpen the image but not make it overly sharp and lose image quality.

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver - HDR image

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver – HDR image

Once you are done, save your image and thats it! Have a go, try different settings in different light, let me know what you think and how your images turn out. If you have any questions, drop them into the comments box below.

Please leave your comments and questions below. If you want more HDR tips, try some of these articles:

The post Getting Real with HDR – a Step by Step Tutorial for Realistic Looking HDR by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

HDR Vertorama Photography – How to Create Mind-bending Images

If you are anything like me, then you are always looking for ways to create something original in your photography – images that have not been taken and presented a thousand times before. But being truly original and creating photos that have real impact is the hardest thing of all. It seems there is nothing that hasn’t been done yet. Or is there?

In this article, I am going to show you a technique for creating interior photos that you will certainly not find in every other portfolio – photos that will turn heads for sure. The technique that I am referring to is called HDR Vertorama Photography.

Matthias Church Budapest Hungary HDR Vertorama

What is a Vertorama?

Panorama photography is a well-established photographic discipline: you take a series of photos while you pan your camera in a horizontal direction between each pair of shots, ensuring that adjacent photos have enough overlap. Such a series of photos can then be combined into a single image with a much wider angle of view, a process that is called stitching.

But what happens if you turn panorama photography sideways? Turning an idea on its head can sometimes produce ingenious and unexpected results, and doing this literally with panorama photography falls into this category.

To answer the question: what you get is a Vertorama – a panorama in vertical direction. This may sound trivial, but when applied to interiors, this technique can present scenes in unseen ways. A room photographed as a Vertorama, seems to be opening towards the viewer. It depicts an interior in a way that you can only experience if you scan the actual scene with your own eyes, and it puts your audience inside the scene rather than in the spectator’s seat.

Why Does This Require HDR?

Photographing such a wide angle of view presents some challenges. One of them is the unusually high dynamic range encountered in such scenes. When you scan an interior (like a church, for example) from bottom to top, you will see very dark areas as well as extremely bright parts (e.g., the windows). In order to capture the scene realistically, combining the Vertorama technique with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography is a natural choice. HDR will allow you to depict the details in the highlights and shadows in such a scene, despite the unusually high dynamic range. The resulting photographic discipline is called HDR Vertorama Photography.

The Anatomy of an HDR Vertorama

Vertorama and HDR photography are combined in such a way that each section of the final image consists of an exposure series, taken with a different tilt angle. Each of these exposure series is merged into an HDR image and tone mapped into a section HDR image.

Hdr vertorama anatomy 01

Camera positions (left), exposure series (middle) and tone mapped section HDR images (right)

The section HDR images are stitched to produce a Vertorama, and finally, the Vertorama image is cropped and post-processed.

Hdr vertorama anatomy 02

Stitched HDR Vertorama (left) and final cropped image (right)

All the source photos for a single HDR Vertorama are called a set, and depending on actual scene, you may end up with 12 to 30 photos in a set.

The Camera

As long as you are shooting from a tripod, the range of cameras that can be used for this technique is wide. Any DSLR and mirrorless camera will be just fine. Having a camera that lets you change lenses is an advantage because in order to get the most out of your HDR Vertorama shoots, you should be using an ultra wide-angle lens with a shorter focal length then you will find on most fixed-lens cameras.

The Lens

You should use a rectilinear lens with a short focal length – the sorter, the better. With an ultra wide-angle lenses, you get a very wide angle of view, enabling you to capture more of an interior scene. If you own a DSLR with an APS-C-sized sensor, for example, the Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S DX Nikkor, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM SLR or Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM may be good choices, depending on which camera you are using and what budget you have available.

In contrast to a fisheye lens, a rectilinear lens has little or no barrel distortion. This means that straight lines in the scene are also (almost) straight in the image, and this creates the characteristic look of these images.

The Nodal Point Adapter

A nodal point adapter is a device that you screw on top of your tripod and that allows you to rotate your camera/lens combination around the nodal point of the lens. This avoids so-called parallax errors where objects at different distances from your camera move relative to each other in the overlapping areas of two consecutive source photos. If you are using a well-adjusted adapter, the overlap regions of the different sections of your Vertorama will perfectly match which is important for the stitching.

Hdr vertorama parallax error

Example of a parallax error

You can buy off-the-shelf nodal point adapters that are usually quite bulky and expensive, or you can assemble your own as shown in the example below: This do-it-yourself nodal point adapter consists of:

  • a panorama plate (1 diagram below)
  • with a scale that helps you control the rotation (2)
  • a macro rail (3) that enables you to move the camera back and forth for finding the nodal point
  • two quick release clamps for mounting the camera on the rail (5) and the rail on the panorama plate (4)
  • an L-bracket (6) for conveniently mounting the camera in landscape and portrait orientation
  • a snap hook (7) connects the L-bracket (and the camera that is permanently mounted to it) to the camera strap when the camera is not mounted to this adapter

Hdr vertorama nodal point adapter


Before you can produce usable source photos with an adapter like this one, you need to adjust it such that your camera is really rotated around the nodal point.

Setting up Your Camera

To prepare for the actual shoot, mount your camera onto the nodal point adapter and the adapter onto the tripod. Set up the nodal point adapter and tripod such that your camera can rotate around the horizontal axis.

Hdr vertorama camera orientation

To set up your camera, do the following:

  • Aperture – put your camera in aperture priority mode (“A” for Nikon, “Av” for Canon) and dial in an aperture that puts more or less the entire scene into focus – f/8 usually works pretty well
  • Focus – focus your camera and then put it into manual focus mode to avoid focus changes between the exposures
  • White balance (optional) – set the white balance to a fixed value depending on the type of light at the location. If you are shooting in Raw format, you can also skip this step
  • Mirror lock-up (optional, DSLRs only) – turn on mirror lock-up to reduce camera shake caused by the slapping mirror
  • Cable release – attach a cable release (remote trigger) to release the shutter without touching the camera
  • Cover the viewfinder (for long shutter speeds) – cover your viewfinder to prevent light from entering and falling on the camera’s sensor during the exposure

Finding the Right Exposure

There are many ways of finding the right exposure values for your source exposures. Here, I will show you a quick and simple one that uses the auto exposure bracketing (AEB) function of your camera to shoot the exposure series for your HDR process. Your goal is to set up the camera for an exposure series that remains the same for every section of the Vertorama.

To do this, put your camera in aperture priority mode, set the correct aperture, and scan the scene from the bottom to the top by rotating your camera. While you do this, your camera will adjust the shutter speed to get a correct exposure of the part of the scene it currently sees. Take note of the range of shutter speeds you see in the viewfinder (highest and lowest).

To set the correct exposure, put your camera in manual mode, dial in the respective aperture again and set the shutter speed to a value that is in the middle between the highest and lowest speed you saw during the scan. Now, set up your AEB function such that it goes above and below that shutter speed as much as possible.

For example, if your camera measures between 1/20s and 1/640s, the right shutter speed would be around 1/125s (roughly the middle between 1/20s and 1/640s). If your camera can do 3 shots with +-2 EV, set your AEB function to that setting. This gives you an exposure series of 1/30s, 1/125s and 1/500s for each section, and this produces a result that is close enough to what we need in this situation.

Taking the Shots

Your camera is now ready to take the photos. You should try to take the photos as quickly and fluently as possible as follows:

  1. Rotate your camera down: Your first section should be the floor right at your feet. This section will contain your tripod and possibly your feet. These things are not meant to be in the final image, but this gives you some room to maneuver in post-production.
  2. Wait for the right moment: Check the conditions before you start to shoot the series. When there are no people around and the lighting conditions are stable, you can start shooting.
  3. Action! When the conditions are right, start photographing the first section. When the section is done, rotate the camera to the next section such that the overlap with the previous section is about 30% and shoot, and so on. Do this until your camera points at the ceiling for the last section. It is important that you take the photos quickly to avoid that movement and changes in lighting interfere with your shoot.


The post-processing stage involves a number of steps. If you shot your source photos in RAW mode, you need to develop them in some RAW converter. Depending on the ISO setting you used to capture the photos, you may want to apply some noise reduction already at this early stage to keep the noise at bay over the remaining workflow.

Basilica St Martin Weingarten Germany HDR Vertorama

Vertorama Creation

When the preparation of the source photos is finished, it’s time for the merging and the stitching. Remember that the source photos have to be combined in two different ways:

  • The exposure series for each section needs to be merged into an HDR image
  • all the resulting HDR images for all sections need to be stitched to generate the final HDR Vertorama

Depending on the software you use, the order of these two steps can vary. We will do the HDR merging first and then the stitching. This is generally easier.

For creating the HDRs, you need to load each exposure series into your HDR software (e.g., Photomatix), and merge them, one by one. This is straightforward and there are not a lot of decisions to be made. The result will be one 32-bit HDR image for each section (we call these the section HDR images in the following). Then you need to tone map each section HDR image, using the same settings for each one of them:

  1. Load one of the section HDRs into your HDR software and find the right tone mapping parameters. How you set the parameters is completely depending on your personal taste and style. There is no right or wrong here.
  2. Once you have found pleasing settings, apply these settings to all section HDRs and tone map them.
  3. Save each of the tone mapped images as an 8 or 16-bit image. Saving 16-bit images will give you a better quality but produces larger files.

After this step, you have a tone mapped image for each of the sections, and these images need to be stitched. There are many software products that can stitch photos. I prefer to use Photoshop for this task as it has a very simple but yet powerful stitching module called Photomerge.

Stitching your tone mapped images in Photomerge (File > Automate > Photomerge) is simple: the Use drop-down menu (1) lets you work with individual files or whole Folders of images. Browse your disk (4) to select the files or add all files that are currently opened in Photoshop (5). Choose Cylindrical (2) as your Layout and check the three check boxes at the bottom (3) to let Photomerge apply a number of corrections to your images. When you press Ok, your images are stitched fully automatically.

Hdr vertorama photomerge

When the stitching is complete, Photoshop presents you with the result. The edges are a bit wonky and it is laying on the side because Photoshop thinks it is a panorama. Merge all the layers into one (Layer > Merge Layers) and rotate the image accordingly (Image > Image Rotation).

Hdr vertorama after stitching

Use the Warp tool (Edit > Transform > Warp) to correct the typical distortion of an interior Vertorama image that makes it wide in the middle and narrow at the top and at the bottom. You can do this by dragging the corner handles of the Warp box to the outside and the right and left edge handles to the inside.

Hdr vertorama distortion correction

Apply the warp distortion and crop the image such that the uneven edges are removed and the composition is symmetrical.

Hdr vertorama cropping

This completes the actual HDR Vertorama creation. You now have a stitched image that covers the entire tonal range of the scene (due to using HDR). The remaining post-processing steps are not specific to the HDR Vertorama technique. As with any other photo, you will at least want to correct the colors and increase the contrast. But you can also apply arbitrarily complex adjustments to the image and process different parts of it selectively.

In this particular case, I applied selective adjustments to the white interior to desaturate it slightly, to the floor to enhance the reflections, and the paintings on the ceiling to balance the colors and make them stand out. I added more saturation to the windows and more contrast to some of the ornaments. Finally, I added a vignette to the edges and a spot light effect to the paintings in the ceiling to guide the viewers’ eyes.


HDR Vertorama Photography is a technique that lets you depict interiors in a unique way. If you are willing to invest the effort and time it takes to master this multi-exposure technique, you will be rewarded with images that will stand out in your portfolio.

Basilica St Martin Weingarten Germany HDR Vertorama

Please share your comments, suggestions and tips below.

For more articles on HDR check out these:

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5 Tips for Successful HDR Photos

How do you create successful HDR photos? It’s a question that I’ve gotten from time to time, and before we get started with this post I do want to make clear that there’s no question that HDR photography is one of those never ending battle grounds in the photography world. Much like the Windows vs Apple battle of the PC world, HDR vs non-HDR is a battle that continues to stir the pot.

Five tips for successful HDR photos – for those that wish to do it!

While it’s always fun to add fuel to the fire from time to time, let’s put the argument of whether or not it’s a valid form of photography aside for a minute, and simply focus on trying to get those who wish to learn a new technique on the right track from the start.

Tip #1 – use a tripod

HDR Photography Tip - Use a Tripod

Using a tripod to photograph HDR brackets helps keep the frames from shifting between shots. (This image was taken with my iPhone using an Olloclip fisheye lens and processed using Snapseed)

This should be a no brainer and I really didn’t even want to put it into this article, but alas, here it is.

A tripod will not only allow you to stabilize each individual image (some of which may be fairly long shutter speeds), but in order to capture the full dynamic range of the scene you will need to take multiple exposures with your camera and it’s vital that these frames line up perfectly. A tripod will ensure that each frame you capture is identical to the previous one, with the only exception being the exposure times.

Tip #2 – don’t tone map a single exposure and call it HDR

I see this all the time, and while I understand it’s a great way to get more out of a single exposure, it’s not really an HDR image. Yes you can create an underexposed, neutral, and over exposed image in Lightroom from the same RAW file, and then merge those three images into one HDR photo, but it’s really not the same as capturing individual images.

Why you ask? Simple. When you capture one exposure at a given set of settings (Exposure Values) on the exposure triangle you are recording data within that given range. No matter what you do to that file in post production the data captured by the camera doesn’t change – you’re only changing the way in which that data is output into an image.

When you capture three or more images at different exposures (EV), then those three images are all going to have different levels of data from which you can pull; allowing for a truly high dynamic range photograph. The more images you capture the more data you’ll have at your disposal. That being said there’s the law of diminishing returns, which basically means that there comes a point when adding more data to the pile doesn’t help improve the photograph.

Tip #3 – know when you need it and when you don’t


Use HDR only when you need it (IE: when the light range of your scene is too large to capture in a single exposure)

Some people use HDR for every photograph they take. In fact it’s step two on this list of 10 Steps Every HDR Photographer Goes Through. You do not have to do this.

HDR stands for ‘high dynamic range’ so if you’re photographing a scene where the lighting is fairly even from shadows to highlights (the scene fits nicely on the histogram, with nothing clipped at either end of the scale) you don’t need to do HDR. Your camera is capable of pulling out enough detail from the highlights and shadows to cover the scene in its entirety with one exposure. It’s also probably not worth it to try capturing moving objects or people in HDR as they typically don’t look right when they get tonemapped.

So when should you use HDR?

Use it during sunrise or sunset, especially when you are photographing into the sun. Use it to photograph during the middle of the day. Use it to photograph architecture or man-made objects, as HDR has a way of really bringing out the detail of craftsmanship.

Tip #4 – invest in a good tone mapping program

Once you capture your bracketed set of photos you’re going to want to put them together in the best way possible. There are a ton of great programs out there to do this, but I recommend using either HDR Soft’s Photomatix Pro or Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. There are free alternatives out there, but I find that they don’t do as good of a job at tone mapping. Remember the tone mapping process is done algorithmically so the more powerful the software’s algorithms, the better the end results.

Tip #5 – control the urge to go big

HDR Tip - Avoid Going Too Big

Avoid the urge to create surrealistic photos (unless this is truly the style you wish to go in).

This is where HDR really becomes a touchy subject. Some people say that it’s their style to create over the top, surrealistic style, HDR photography and other’s say that they are destroying the world of photography by creating these highly saturated and oddly lit photographs.

It’s easy to get carried away with tone mapping your images, but if your goal is to recreate what you saw, the best way to do this is to remember to tone it down a bit before you press that process button. It’s also a good idea to watch out for haloing which takes place typically along tree lines (as you see in the photo above above the dark trees on the left side of the image).


Final word

While this is not an exhaustive list of HDR tips, it is a good start to get you on the right track to capture your first high dynamic range photos. That said, if you’re a bit more experienced with HDR and are looking to take your HDR photography to the next level, check out this post Creating HDR Panoramic Photographs written by one of my buddies on his HDR workflow process for creating massive HDR Panoramic images.

Do you have some tips to add to the list? Leave one in the comments below!

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

5 Tips for Successful HDR Photos

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Coping with Extreme Brightness (Without HDR)

Extreme brightness

Good photographers learn to work within the limitations of their equipment and learn to cope with scenes where the brightness range is too great for the camera’s sensor to handle. Here are some ideas for you to explore – and none of them involve HDR techniques.

1. Look at the light

I suspect the reason that most photographers are attracted to HDR photography is because they like the look of the high contrast, super saturated images you often see created with this technique. It’s not really about capturing every detail of a high contrast subject.

Look at the light instead. If you are shooting a landscape or architectural study, and the brightness range of the scene is too much for your camera to handle, you are most likely shooting in the wrong light for the subject. Wait until the sun is lower in the sky and the light is softer. The quality of the light will be better, the brightness range will be less, and the photo will be better.

2. Let shadows go dark

Extreme brightness

You don’t have to see into the shadows. Let them go dark. If the brightness is too bright, expose for the highlights (i.e make sure the camera captures all highlight detail) and let the shadows go where they will. It won’t work all the time – sometimes you just need better light (see tip one). But exposing for the highlights and letting the shadows go dark is a good exercise in observation and creating images. Work with the light to create graphic images, not against it.

You can take this even further in post-processing. Photographers Eduardo Izquierdo and Tom Hoops both deliberately make dark backgrounds in their portraits darker or even black so that the viewer’s attention goes straight to the model, without distractions. Maybe it’s time for a low dynamic range setting on our cameras?

3. Exposure blending

Extreme brightness

Sometimes you will come across a scene like the one above where the brightness range is too much for your camera but the quality of the light is good. The issue here is the difference in brightness between the light coming through the window and the light illuminating the interior of the building. If you expose for the interior, the window will burn out. If you expose for the window, you won’t get much detail in the interior.

So what do you do if you want good detail in both? The answer is to take two separate exposures, as in the examples above, and blend them in Photoshop. Ideally the camera should be on a tripod so that the images match exactly, but I was able to do that with the above photos even though they were hand-held and slightly out of register:

Extreme brightness

4. Exposure blending in the landscape

Landscapes are another area where you may have good quality of light, but the brightness range is still too great for your camera. That’s because the sky is often much brighter than the landscape itself. You may also want to make the sky darker for dramatic effect (as well as to capture more detail).

One solution is to use a neutral density graduated filter; a square or rectangular filter that is clear at the bottom and dark at the top that clips into a holder screwed onto the front of your lens. You move it up or down so that the dark half blocks some of the light from the sky and effectively reduces the brightness range of the scene.

Grads are great, but they’re not perfect. They work well when the horizon is a straight line across the photo, but badly if it has an irregular shape. Good quality grads are expensive, and cheap ones may give your sky a magenta colour cast.

Exposure blending resolves those issues. Just like the previous example, you need to take two photos – one exposed for the sky, and the other for the landscape itself:

Extreme brightness

Then you can blend the two together in Photoshop. The idea is to create a blend that looks natural to the eye, so that means making sure the sky isn’t too dark, or that the landscape isn’t too light, otherwise it won’t look right. You end up with something like this:

Extreme brightness

The Photoshop techniques used for this can get quite involved. Christopher O’Donnell has written a good article about it here.

Mastering Photography

Extreme brightness

My latest ebook, Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to digital photography and helps you make the most out of your digital cameras. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to master to take photos like the ones in this article.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Coping with Extreme Brightness (Without HDR)

Merge to 32 bit – HDR technique comparisons

HDR is an often discussed and debated subject in photography circles. There’s much talk about “bad” HDR, or a whether or not one should even do it in the first place. I think a lot of that stems from what I’d consider to be overdone, over-processed versions.


Depending on the software used to make your tone-mapped HDR images you may be given an option to view and/or save a 32-bit version. Prior to Lightroom 4 we there wasn’t really much we could do with such a file so most photographers never bothered saving it. Now that LR4 and PS can handle a 32bit file it has opened up a whole new set of options for HDR, one that is a lot simpler, more photo realistic, and many would venture to say – better.

The problem with most overdone HDR images is that they are often:

  • too overly saturated, way past surreal into unpleasant looking by many accounts
  • too flat, the blacks are grey and the highlights are grey and muddy looking
  • too far into the realm of “surreal” or “artistic” where the shadows are now brighter than some of the highlights, and the highlights are darker than some of the shadows. It seems unnatural and many people reject it because their brain’s can’t even register it.
NOTE this is an example of what NOT to do, please do NOT make HDR that looks like this.

Please do NOT make HDR that looks like this!


  • perhaps you’ve tried HDR and been unhappy with the results
  • maybe you vowed never to touch it for fear of producing something that falls into one of the above areas. If that is the case I urge you do take a second look and see if this is more to your tastes.
  • the process baffles you and you just want a good final result without having to learn yet another software

Photomatix Pro has been one of the front runners for HDR tone-mapping software since its creation. Now they offer a new plugin for using that 32-bit image. I’m not going to get into the step by step how to use shoot your bracketed images or use this plugin (they already have that on their site here), rather a comparison of a three different methods of making HDR images and the resulting images.


Okay in a nutshell, this is how the plugin works.

  1. select your bracketed images in LR or PS
  2. launch the 32-bit plug in (and select a couple options) and it does its thing in the background
  3. take the resulting 32-bit image and finish it in LR or PS
Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 8.06.37 PM

Select bracketed images

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 8.07.20 PM

Launch the Merge to 32-bit HDR plugin

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 8.41.07 PM

And away it goes! How easy right?

That’s it!  No sliders to play with, no presets, no way to muck it up – the software just merges them together into one massive file with a whole lot of exposure data. Then you work the magic on it in Lightroom or Photoshop (or your favorite image editor) to lighten where you want, and darken where you want – with no loss of image quality or detail.


Below you see the four bracketed images I’m using for this example. Notice that the darkest image shows lots of detail in the white wall on the right of the doorway, and the lightest image has tons of detail on the ceiling inside the building. I use the histogram and shoot in manual to make sure I capture enough range and generally bracket 2 tops apart (these are about 1 and 2/3rds apart as it was enough to get the range I needed) – notice I only ever adjust the shutter speed, keep my ISO low and use a tripod whenever possible.


Bracketed images shot in Manual mode on tripod

Below you see the 32-bit image as it first appears in Lightroom. It looks pretty contrasty (almost exactly like the second image above) but unlike using just a single image there is plenty of detail in ALL areas of this image, you just have to manipulate it out a bit!


Merge 32-bit image before Lightroom processing.

Here is the final version after doing some Lightroom magic.  I’ve used several of the sliders pulled to the max (see screen shot of my Basic panel below), as well as some Graduated filters on the edges (see screen shot below), a post-crop vignette, and several adjustment brushes to lighten and darken areas I wanted to control. Notice the white wall on the left is quite dark now, almost grey – however the highlights inside the house are still bright white. If you just darken all the highlights you end up with a flat, muddy looking mess. I’ve also darkened the wall outside intentionally to draw your eye inwards towards the brighter areas and the chair. If the wall was still pure white it would scream and draw your attention.  Notice how the image still has dark areas, light areas, and a good contrast range. All I’ve done is control the tonal values to retain detail where I wanted.


Final image after Lightroom adjustments

Basic panel adjustments in LR

Basic panel adjustments in LR

Gradient filters used to darken the edges of the doorway

Gradient filters used to darken the edges of the doorway

Now have a look at another version of the same bracketed image set, but this time created using the full Photomatix Pro software and LR adjustments afterwards.  It’s a much grungier look, which some people dislike. Personally I like this look and it’s not going too far for my tastes. There’s still pure black, and pure white in the image and it has good contrast – the tones have just been adjusted in a different way.

HDR done by tonemapping in Photomatix Pro

HDR done by tonemapping in Photomatix Pro

One more version, also tone mapped in Photomatix then split toned in LR

One more version, also tone mapped in Photomatix then split toned in LR


Let’s look at two more images as examples. I’ve used three different processes to get the final results in each set:

  • using just Lightroom adjustments
  • using the regular Photomatix Pro tone-mapping process
  • using the merge to 32bit method

Can you guess which is which in each trio?  No fair peeking at the file names!   Look over the three versions of each scene and tell me in the comments below which was done with what process.  How can be first to get it all right?  GO!








To revisit my original question – is merge to 32-bit the answer for better HDR? I think that’s probably still up for debate. It does however allow you to create a much more photo realistic result with relatively few easy steps, and less hassle. So if you fall into one of the categories at the top of the article I’d suggest you give it a try especially if you want to do tone control but not alter the look of the image beyond that of reality.

As always, give me your thoughts and opinions. There’s always many different options and opinions and no one solution is right for everyone.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Merge to 32 bit – HDR technique comparisons

Tips for Great HDR Sunsets

HDR is a bit of a buzz word in photography in the last while and there is much debate about it, whether it’s good or bad, appropriate or not, or even real photography or not.  Even right here on Digital Photography School, you can find articles for, and against, doing HDR.   I’m not going to get into any of that today, I’m just going to speak to those of you that do enjoy doing it and would like some tips for doing HDR sunsets, which is one of the toughest subjects to handle with this technique.   So if you are anti HDR, just carry on, or perhaps this may sway you a little to want to try it.

HDR or High Dynamic Range, why it’s great for sunsets

When we talk about a scene having a High Dynamic Range, it simply means that there is wide range of contrast from the darkest area, to the brightest area.  Sunsets exemplify that because we are usually shooting into the sun, a bright light source, and the landscape is often so dark it’s in a silhouette.  By shooting correctly and processing well you can achieve a result that has detail in both those areas.

Tips for shooting the right images

There are a few things you need to get right in camera when you’re at the scene so follow these tips.

  • Make sure to bracket your images far enough on both ends of the exposure scale , but dark enough and bright enough.  What I mean by that is your darkest image should have a gap on the histogram to the right side (meaning there are no white areas, and no blinkies on your camera display) and your brightest image should have a gap on the histgram’s left edge (there are no black areas)

Your darkest image’s histogram should look something like this with a gap on the right side.

Your brightest image’s histogram should look something like this with a gap on the left side.

  • shoot raw files, they will give you the most amount of data to work with
  • bracket your images 2 stops apart, because assuming you followed the tip above and have shot raw files, they carry plenty of data at least 2 stops either direction so shooting 1 stop apart will cause you to shoot more images than you need and just end up bogging down your computer in processing, OR you won’t shoot enough range
  • shoot at low ISO, ideally 100.  HDR processing introduces a lot of noise into your image so start with a lower ISO to minimize that problem.
  • use a tripod as your shutter speeds will likely be fairly slow, and it also allows you to get all your bracketed shots perfectly aligned for a sharper final image.  For the image above my settings  are:  ISO 400 (I did that because the light was fading fast and I wanted to shoot a bit faster), f8 at 1/1000, 1/250, 1/60, and 1/15th of a second
  • use a remote trigger (cable release) to fire the camera, so you aren’t touching it during the exposures to reduce camera shake and a blurry image
  • change only the shutter speed, NEVER the aperture.  If you change the aperture in your bracketed images you are changing the focus from one to the next and your resulting blended HDR image will likely have some odd focus issues or halos.

This is what your bracketed set should look like.  Good coverage on both the dark and light ends of the light scale.  Notice the darkest image has lots of nice colour in the sky, whereas the brightest one has a ton of detail in the foreground area but none in the sky.  This is normal, and exactly what you want.

Tips for processing the bracketed images

I use Photomatix as my HDR tone mapping software of touch.  I find it gives me the flexibility to be able to produce both natural looking and surreal results.  Whatever software you use for your tone mapping, try some of these tips for better sunset results:

  • if there are moving clouds in the scene or trees blowing, use the software’s deghosting feature to remove of minimize those.  It will make the final result look much sharper.
  • when adjusting the tones in your software of choice keep your saturation settings low, don’t overdo it. In Photomatix I always (let me repeat that word), ALWAYS, keep my saturation under 50!  When I pull it back into Lightroom afterwards and punch my blacks and contrast up the saturation increases with it, so it’s really easy to take it too far.
  • watch the sky for halos (white areas glowing around the edges of things) especially if the sky cloud free against something dark like a tree or building.  Halos are generally an affect that is thought of as poorly done HDR and why many people do not like the technique.  Sure you can create a surreal look but I do think you can take it too far.  Just as an example, here’s what “too far” looks like in my opinion. Do NOT make something that looks like this. Notice the extreme noise and graininess in the sky? This is caused by pushing too far.

This is straight out of Photomatix. Notice how flat and drab looking it is?

Often when shooting a landscape in HDR you’ll find that one area looks good if you push it a little further, but the other half doesn’t.  Such is the case here.  I find that I can push the land and foreground area a bit further to get more detail out, but then the sky looks bad or has halos.  So you can mask back in one image of the sky if necessary, or blend the two together using Photoshop and pick which areas are best from each version.  See below for an example. Version #1 processed for a nicely blended sky.

Version #2 in the middle is our over processed one from above but the foreground land looks pretty good.

The final version above is #1 and 2 above blended together using layers and masks in Photoshop. Notice how it takes the best of both images and combines them.

HDR sunset with a person?

Let’s look at another example.  Some people say you can’t do HDR when you have a person in the shot.  Can you?   Take a look at the images below and you tell me if it works or not.

There has been no image blending on this final version, just tone mapped and tweaked in Lightroom. I do confess though that this is not  sunset, it is in fact a sunrise.  But you get the idea, it’s the same because the sun is on the horizon in both cases.

How to handle a sky with lots of fluffy clouds

Another common problem when doing HDR for landscapes is when there are lots of big white fluffy clouds, they often tend to come out looking rather dark and foreboding.  This is another good time to use the masking technique.  In the images below I’ve processed the HDR how I like it for the foreground, nice and crisp.  But my clouds have gone too dark.  If I choose to pull back on the surreal look I lose that nice detail in the grass and pyramids.  So I’ve taken the best of both and combined them once again.

Version #1 above, processed for detail in the grass, but notice how dark the clouds are.  They were not storm clouds but they sure look like it now.   I want to get those soft fluffy ones back so I took one of the original single images from my bracketed series and combined it with this one to get the following final image which I think is much softer looking.

Final blended version above.  See the difference?  It’s subtle but I think it makes a huge difference to the final appearance and feel of the image.

Summary and action plan

So where to go from here is to get out and try this for yourself.  If you have some bracketed series that you’ve already shot you can go back and try processing them with these tips and see if it makes a difference.   Or better yet, get out there and go shoot tonight’s sunset or tomorrow’s sunrise if you’re a morning person.

One other unrelated tip I’ll leave you to get better sunsets in general is to find an interesting subject in front of your sunset.  Notice in these cases I have a great scene or something with a great foreground or shape (pyramids) to add some interest to the scene.  A plain old sunset on a flat horizon is really not that interesting no matter how great the colours are.  So find a suitable scene during the daytime and come back at dusk and work your magic on it.

If you want some other HDR tips you can read 10 Tips on how to do HDR photos without a tripod, for those times when you don’t have one with you, or you aren’t allowed to use it.

Have you got other little secrets or tips for creating HDR sunsets?   I’d love it if you shared with in the comments below and as always if you have a question please ask as I read and answer ALL the comments.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Tips for Great HDR Sunsets

Focus on Scott Frederick – Urban Explorer

Scott Frederick

HDR… High Dynamic Range. A bit of a controversial subject in the community these days.  I really think that, when done well, HDR is awesome! Philadelphia-based photographer, Scott Frederick, is one example of someone who does it well in his ‘urban decay’ photography. I’ve recently discovered another aspect of Scott’s work in his stunning long exposure B&W photography and minimalist imagery. Scott answered a few questions for the dPS readers and I am thrilled to share this interview with you as well as some of his images.

Scott, when we met through social media a couple of years ago, it was your distinctive style of urban decay HDR photography that stood out. How long have you been shooting this type of images?

I started shooting urban decay about 2 years ago.

What interests you most, the hunt for the right location or the resulting image?

I believe the resulting image is what excites me most.  Searching for locations used to excite me until I realized I’ve been to most of the decayed locations around Philadelphia.

How do you get access to all those abandoned places? Do you always ask permission?

Permission is always the first step.  I’ve been fortunate to obtain permission for a few amazing locations.  Other locations have been accessed at my own risk.

Have you had any close-calls?

We decided to visit an abandoned factory in North Philadelphia that also used to be a school.  It turns out that the building was used by many in the neighborhood for illegal activity.  We were approached by a gang of 5 people while inside and since we crawled through a small opening to get in, we weren’t able to leave quickly.  Instead, we were detained inside the building by these individuals.  Once they realized we weren’t in the building to tread on their territory and only to take photographs they were kind enough to let us go!  After that day I had a long talk with myself about my location decisions!

What is your workflow when shooting High Dynamic Range images?

Generally while shooting for HDR I bracket up to 9 exposures at 1EV steps.  This gives me plenty of dynamic range to take home to the digital darkroom. I use Photomatix Pro 4 by HDRSoft to tone-map my images before going into Photoshop CS5 where I utilize plugin-ins by onOne and Nik Software to selectively brush in detail and contrast.

What gear do you use?

Currently I using Nikon Gear. D7000, 10-24mm, 17-55 f/2.8, 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, 40mm Micro f/1.8.  This is supported on an Induro carbon fiber tripod and ballhead.

What tips would you give someone who wants to explore abandoned buildings to start shooting urban decay imagery?

Research, research, research.  Also, you’ll want find a small group to shoot with because you’ll never want to explore alone.  When you find images of a location by another photographer try not to message them about how they accessed the location.  Urban Explorers usually don’t like to share that kind of information with people they don’t know. Other than that be extremely careful and understand the dangers of urban exploring.  Weak flooring, Asbestos, Mold, etc..  I always bring a respirator that will protect me from harmful airborne particles.

What other genres of photography do you shoot?

I love fine art black and white long exposures.  I’m into studio portraiture, minimalism and abstract imagery as well.

Which photographer(s) inspired you to become one yourself?

I’m not entirely sure who or what inspired me to become a photographer.  I never really gave photography much attention before 2 1/2 years ago.  It was a family trip to Disney World that prompted me to purchase my first DSLR but after I took it out of the box the obsession began!  I played around with iPhone photography before the purchase of my DSLR but at that point the bug didn’t bite me yet!  Today I’m inspired by so many photographers that it’s impossible to pick one!  When it comes to HDR, Brian Matiash is incredible.  Fine Art B&W Photographer Joel Tjintjelaar is a huge inspiration to me.  Both of these photographers are generous to share their knowledge and have helped me develop into the photographer I am today!

Find out more about Scott Frederick and connect with him on social media by visiting his blog.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Focus on Scott Frederick – Urban Explorer

The Conspiracy

English: Yes I have a plan: I like the mystic angels but not the old man calling Santa. Thats why I'm going *kick* this guy.

German: Ja ich habe einen Plan: Zwar mag ich die sagenumwobenen Engel, aber der alte Knacker (Weihnachtsmann nennt ihn der Volksmund) geht mir ja sowas von auf die Nerven. Ich hau ihn um - ja genau, ich komm um diesen Gedanken nicht mehr herum.

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: EF 17-40L F/4
Focal: 17 mm
Aperture: F/4
Exposure: 5s
ExposureBias: 0.0 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 100
Cropped: neglible
Special: Tripod and IR Remote

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English: I wished that I would have used a smaller aperture to show the mirrored chair more sharper. But anyway, I like the perspective to this "dirty" scene.

German: Vielleicht wäre eine kleinere Blende besser gewesen um den gespiegelten Stuhl zu zeigen. Wie auch immer, ich mag die Perspective.

Focal: 12 mm
Aperture: F/4
Sensitivity: Iso 200
Cropped: minor to 3x4

If you like my pictures, please take a moment to vote for me, your support is much appreciated:
Photoblogawards, Photoblogs, Join me on Facebook, Follow me on Twitter ...
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