Compare Camera Controls for HDR Photography - dummies

Compare Camera Controls for HDR Photography

Choosing your camera is the best place to begin when you’re buying equipment for high dynamic range photography. Here are the camera control options and what they bring to the table.

HDR photography is about controlling and manipulating exposure. You must control exposure to shoot bracketed photos of a scene, as shown in the figure. To complicate things, there are a number of different ways to control exposure. Some are obvious, and others are less so.


Different cameras tend to have different methods and modes of exposure control. You need to investigate whether the camera you want to buy (or the camera you have) has at least one of the following exposure controls:

  • Manual exposure mode: You won’t necessarily be looking for a new camera with manual mode for HDR (look for a good AEB feature instead). If you’re dusting off a camera you already have, manual mode makes it HDR-compatible. The only drawback is shooting speed.

  • Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB): Using AEB frees you from turning dials and changing the exposure in the middle of a bracketed set. The camera does all the work for you.

    This is what you want to look for in a camera to shoot HDR. AEB is the fastest way to shoot brackets. Not all AEB is created equal, however. Cameras with AEB that shoot a total range of at least +/– 5.0 EV for the bracketed set give you good exposure coverage. Some take more photos with a larger exposure difference between them and some take less.

    Bottom line: If you have AEB, you’re in for faster, accurate, less stressful HDR photography than any other method.

  • Exposure compensation: This method of shooting HDR turns virtually any camera into an HDR machine. In other words, you can take the inexpensive compact digital you already have and start shooting HDR with it right now — you don’t have to run out and buy a new camera until you’re ready.

You need only one of the features in the preceding list to shoot bracketed HDR. Some cameras have all three, and some have one or two. Others poorly implement some combination or another.

Notice something missing from the preceding list? How about the Raw file format? It’s not the least you need to have, although it helps. Raw photos give you greater control, more dynamic range, and more upside. However, you can use plain old JPEGs for HDR. The only time you must have Raw photos is when you want to shoot single-shot HDR.