Hand-Held HDR?


Today’s Question: Is it really true that you can get good results if you capture a bracketed HDR [high dynamic range] exposure with the camera hand-held rather than on a tripod? I have a hard time believing there wouldn’t be at least a little movement between frames in the bracketing, leading to problems in the final HDR image.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can indeed capture a bracketed set of exposures hand-held to create an HDR image, provided you are otherwise careful with your camera settings and technique.

More Detail: It is indeed possible to capture bracketed exposures for an HDR without the use of a tripod. The software you use to assemble the exposures into an HDR image, such as the Aurora HDR software I use (https://timgrey.me/aurora2019), is able to align the individual exposures so all of the image details are blended properly without any ghosting. In other words, the slight movement between frames captured as part of a bracketed sequence can be compensated for.

For example, one of my favorite views in Rome is of Saint Peter’s Basilica viewed through the keyhole of a door, with the basilica framed between hedges. Because there are often other tourists wanting to see the view, and it would be challenging to get a tripod setup right against the door, it is easiest to capture the scene hand-held. With proper camera settings and technique, it is absolutely possible to create

Of course, you do need to be careful with your camera settings to avoid other problems with hand-held shooting. With a bracketed exposure sequence you might have a significant range of shutter speeds, so that the longest exposure in your sequence might be too long for you to be able to get a sharp image without using a tripod.

In other words, HDR software can most certainly compensate for a degree of movement between frames of a bracketed exposure sequence. But you still want to make sure that all of those photos are of high quality. That means you need to consider all of your camera settings carefully, and in the context of hand-held exposures also making sure that the shutter speed for each exposure will be fast enough considering the absence of a tripod.

You can see a sample HDR image that was captured hand-held (along with a visual demonstration of the lack of alignment in the original captures) in an article on the GreyLearning blog here: