1-A camera with exposure compensation or bracketing function (absolutely required :))
2-A tripod (not required but essential for optimum alignment of bracketed images)
3-A remote cable release (not required but will definitely bring a lot)
4- An HDR software such as Photoshop (not recommended for HDR but for tweaking HDR as pointed out below) or Photomatix (strongly recommended, you can download a free trial, also search for a coupon before buying, many sites give you about 20-30% discount codes for photomatix)
5- Photoshop and Lightroom (not required but in my workflow, they contribute significantly; they can be downloaded from the Adobe page for 30 days full free trial)
First of all, the beauty of the HDR photography is that you do not need an expensive equipment to do it. If you have a point-and-shoot consumer camera, which is the regular digital camera that almost everyone has, this will most probably be enough for you to start your HDR adventure. Having a Digital SLR (DSLR) camera will definitely be advantageous since they all come with Automatic Exposure Bracketing and a continuous shooting mode. To make an HDR image, you need to capture the same scene at different exposures, preferably in a short time and without touching the camera by changing the shutter speed at a fixed aperture.
If you have a DSLR: To capture HDR images, you should adjust your camera to change exposure values by itself (Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB)), in short “bracketing”. Almost all of the Digital SLR cameras have a bracketing function. For instance, Nikon D80 has a dedicated button on the left front part (shown below) and many of the Canons have it in the menu as an option (shown below). For AEB, you need to define two settings: 1) How many images should be taken in a row, 2) What should be the exposure difference from image to image. In most of the cameras including Nikon D80, the maximum number of images that can be achieved with bracketing is 3. You can define different exposure spacings such as 1 EV or 2 EV. Of course, to cover the broadest dynamic range, it is best to use 2 EV to make 3 images at – 2 EV, 0 EV, +2 EV. You can easily find how to set bracketing with your camera model in its manual or by googling. High-end pro cameras including Nikon D300 and D3 can make only 1 EV stops (???) which is a clear disadvantage and fault of the company. That means you have to make at least 5 shoots to cover the same range which is completely unnecessary. Therefore, still for HDR photography, I use my D80 rather than D300.
If you have a point-and-shoot camera: First of all, check if your camera has a bracketing function. If this does not exist on your camera, check if you can manually set the shutter speed (A or M mode dials). If you can change the shutter speed at a fixed aperture for example f11, you can achieve HDR shooting!
In short, the first thing required is that you need to figure out have to take a series of photos at different exposures.
Using a tripod will help to stabilize the camera and ensure that the serial images that are taken consist of the same scene. Ideally, you would not like to have a shift between the images that are differently exposed. A tripod will be necessary if you are using a point-and-shoot camera that needs dialing to set the different exposure values. One may also try to find a surface to place the camera on such as a table or fence but of course it will not be easy to find such a surface everywhere. Additionally, to capture a creative photo, it is always a good idea to change the angle by going around the scene, upwards and downwards etc. Therefore, it would be great to have a tripod which would give you the flexibility. There are various tripods in the market ranging from very cheap (15-20 to several hundred $ or Euros). Indeed, if you are a beginner, you do not need a very expensive one. I used Alpha 1500 which costed about 25 Euros to take many photos in my portfolio including all the photos that I exhibited in Munich. Now, I use a Manfrotto tripod with a ball head control. See about part to have the details of my gear.
A cable release (one sample below) is a cable connection to your camera that will fire the shutter when you press the button on it. Thereby, you will avoid touching the camera. Having a cable release is not a must but definitely will help you to keep the camera in the most stable position. If you have a DSLR, just order the proper one from ebay, which costs about 10 $ / Euros (do not hesitate to order the cheap ones coming from Hong Kong, so far I have not had any problem with the delivery and products).
Nowadays, there is at least half a dozen of HDR softwares but no question the most famous and indeed the best one is Photomatix. It costs about 100 $ / Euros. Before buying it, search the internet for photomatix discount / coupon etc. since there are many sites offering at least 20% discount when you use the code that they provide. If you have photoshop, it can also make HDR images but the “tone-mapping” part (will be explained in the next section) is pretty user unfriendly and does not give results as good as photomatix. I must on the other hand say that HDR in photoshop CS5 has a very powerful way of eliminating ghosts in moving objects which is big problem if you have moving objects in your series of HDR images like people and cars. What CS5 does is to detect the moving objects and allows you to chose from only one photo. So far, this is the best to deal with the moving objects. This way of ghost moving is also recently adopted in the 4.0 version of Photomatix.
I will discuss the details of the how to use the software in the next part.
These softwares are not required for HDR photography. However, if you would like to be a serious digital photographer, learning Lightroom will bring you a lot. It is a very user friendly software that allows easy manipulation of photos. Synchronization function allows you to transmit the setting from one photo to others with one click. Lightroom has a very straightforward workflow listed in the develop module from top to bottom. You just need to go to the section that you want to manipulate and move the slider left or right and observe live how it effects your photo.
Photoshop is not a big part of my workflow but it is pretty useful if you want to make local changes.
If you are ready for the next part, lets move on!!! ——————————>How to shoot HDR?