Today’s Question: I heard someone make reference to shooting HDR images hand-held, which struck me as odd if not impossible. Can you actually get good results shooting multiple photos for an HDR without the use of a tripod?
Tim’s Quick Answer: While a tripod can be a valuable tool for capturing HDR images, it is possible to shoot hand-held. You can use automatic exposure bracketing combined with a two-second timer on your camera, holding very still as the images are captured. HDR software will then align the images, generally with excellent results.
More Detail: Given the choice, I would most certainly use a tripod when capturing the individual frames for an HDR photo. To begin with, using a tripod will ensure nearly perfect alignment of the individual frames (so that less work must be done by software after the capture). Perhaps more important, in many cases when capturing a sequence of photos for an HDR image, you will need to use a relatively long exposure for the image that maximizes shadow detail.
That said, I have captured many HDR image hand-held when the circumstances weren’t conducive to the use of a tripod (such as when I left my tripod in the hotel room when I headed out for some photography).
When shooting an HDR scene hand-held, I start with an initial test sequence to verify my exposure settings and determine how long the longest exposure time will need to be. I make sure I am comfortable hand-holding the camera for that longest exposure time, increasing the ISO setting as needed to achieve an adequately fast shutter speed.
I’ll then adjust the automatic exposure bracketing on my camera to cover an adequate range. In many cases, for example, you can produce good results with a camera that allows three exposures with the automatic exposure bracketing, using two stops between each exposure. If your camera allows more than three photos with automatic exposure bracketing you have even greater flexibility.
I then set the camera to the two-second timer, and frame up the scene. Once I have steadied myself, I trigger the shutter, and wait for the images to be captured. Because the automatic exposure bracketing mode captures the sequence of photos in rapid succession, there is generally minimal movement between frames, and just about any HDR software can properly align the resulting photos into the final HDR image.