Minimum Requirements for Single-Shot HDR Photography

Single-exposure high dynamic range photography is a viable way to wring as much dynamic range from a single Raw photo as possible. The technology simply doesn’t exist to enable you to go out and shoot bracketed high dynamic range photography in every possible circumstance. When the conditions conspire against you, use your RAW image and tone map it like traditional, bracketed HDR.

But, you have to be ready and willing (and have a camera that supports the Raw photo format). If you’re interested in HDR but don’t want to go to the trouble of setting up a tripod and shooting brackets, single-exposure HDR is a great way to get into HDR, experiment with it, and learn how to use the software.

Single-exposure HDR is also known as single-shot HDR, pseudo-HDR, or a tone mapped Raw exposure.

The requirements for single-exposure HDR are somewhat different than bracketed HDR. The least you need to have, in addition to other helpful suggestions, comprises

  • File format: You must shoot in Raw. It’s that simple. JPEGs need not apply.

  • Gear:

    • Camera: The camera must support Raw, of course. Any camera will do, but you’ll be most satisfied with a dSLR. Premium compacts and super-zooms that support the Raw file format will work but have much more noise, especially at higher ISOs. Not many (if any) budget compact cameras support Raw.

    • Tripod: You don’t need a tripod for single-exposure HDR unless you’re a real stickler for stability and the conditions allow it. (You can try a monopod if you want to steady your camera without the hassle of a tripod. You’ll look like a sideline photographer at the Super Bowl.)

  • Software: Single-exposure HDR uses the same complement of software that bracketed HDR uses. Depending on the workflow you choose (Raw or brackets), you might need a Raw editor.

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