Tuesday, March 03, 2009

HDR with Nikon D90

If you enjoy taking HDR images, then you know that the more exposure reference you have, the better HDR image result will be as transition is smoother and more realistic looking.

So how many exposure reference is needed? Between 3 and 9 is optimal depending on image scenario.

With Nikon D90 (or D80), bracketing has 3 options: 3F, +2F, and -2F. For better HDR work, always set +/-2EV for F.

So by default, D90 can achieve 0EV, -2EV, and +2EV in one setting (3F). This is my default option when doing casual HDR images. But for serious or really extreme scenario, I usually employ 9 exposures. Here's my step:

1) Use a tripod to minimize post-processing alignment.
2) Turn OFF Auto ISO and set a fix White Balance value (or shoot in RAW to fix WB later).
3) Use aperture-priority mode. For landscape work, f8 and above (smaller aperture opening) is recommended.
4) Make sure exposure compensation is set at 0EV. See page 90 of Nikon D90 manual.
5) Make your composition. Focus and then disable autofocus, if necessary.
6) Set bracketing to 3F 2.0. Or 3F 1.0, it's all up to you. See page 92 of Nikon manual.
7) Press shutter button 3 times to take your 1st 0EV, -2EV, and +2EV images. To minimize camera vibration, use ML-L3 remote control or use burst-mode to take 3 shots with one continued button press. See page 64 of Nikon D90 manual on release mode.
8) Change exposure compensation to -5EV (or -3EV for 3F 1.0 bracket mode). See page 90 of Nikon D90 manual.
9) Repeat step 7. This results to -5EV, -3EV, and -7EV images. Tripod is generally needed on this low-shutter speed region.
10) Change exposure compensation to +5EV (or +3EV for 3F 1.0 bracket mode). See page 90 of Nikon D90 manual.
11) Repeat step 7. This results to +5EV, +3EV, and +7EV images.
12) Merge images in your favorite HDR software (e.g. Photoshop, Photomatix, Picturenaut, etc.)


1) It's best to work fast from steps 7 to 11 to minimize movements in the image like clouds, shadows, changing ambient light levels, etc.

2) Nikon D200, D300 and other high-end models can do 2-9 frames with just one setting but maximum EV is 1.0 only. So for D300 to take 4-stop range (-2EV, 0EV, +2EV), it has to take 5 exposures.

For any comments or suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

can you use self timer when bracketing so you don't have to press the shutter? It may help from moving the3 camera.

Nald said...

Sure, you can use a remote control (ML-L3) also. Self-timer? Hmmm, too long between shutter release.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to post this!

I do use the self timer on single shots (and a support like a rock or fencepost, etc. to minimize camera shake, but you are right about hdr.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot, I have one question though:
>>> "5) ... Focus and then disable autofocus ..."
How can I disable autofocus between shots, other than holding pressed AE-L/AF-L ?

Nald said...

after making the focus, please don't make a shot yet. disable AF first.

AE-L/AF-L also works perfectly!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Nald for responding :)
When you say: "disable AF first", do you mean:
- the camera focus-mode selector (AF / M) on M ?
- and the lens focus-mode switch ('A / M) on M ?
Your tutorial is really great, it is really helpfull, Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

ok i have a question.
how many pictures should i merge?

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Loybuckz said...

Can I also add that if you do not have a remote shutter, you can use the timer setting on the D90 and set it to 3 exposures. what you should do is set your bracketing option on, then put it on whatever exposure mode you want then go to the menu of the D90, go to the auto timer settings then there should be an option to set how many photos to be taken (below the adjustment of time delay, i think).


Anonymous said...

Mahalo nui loa, (Thank you very much) for posting the page numbers for the D90 manual. It's overwhelming when you're learning a new camera and I'm finding the "Index" of the D90 instruction manual somewhat lacking for my taste. Thanks again. Mitzi

Micki said...

These are the steps to set up your Nikon D90 (per Nikon) for HDR photography. This procedure, if set up correctly will allow you to take a photo (only 1 click on the shutter release) and receive 3 images on your memory card...

1. select Menu...
2. select the pencil
3. select bracketing/flash
4. select auto bracketing set
5. select WB bracketing
When finished, hold bracket button down (left side of camera) and use both command dials to select 3F and how much + and - you desire.

If you can not see bracketing setting with the button held down while in WB bracketing (this happened to me)
then push the +/- and the AF button down at the same time for 3 seconds (these buttons are located at the top of your camera) After that you should be able to see it.

Oh and while in WB bracketing, continuous mode does not work. However, you only have to click once and you get your 3 exposures.

If you want to shoot raw, then you can not do it this way. Instead select AE bracket, Raw and continuous.

Per Nikon, something to consider is you don't get the best quality when shooting continuous.

Biswamber Pal(BP) said...

wonderful post, this is exactly i was looking for getting more shots from D90 for HDR, thanks for posting the reference page numbers too

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tomasz said...

You can use timer to shoot 3 shots at a time, you can change it in the settings. Then you can set timer to 5s, and after that time camera will capture 3 photos with a burst shooting (L speed)

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DNos said...

You can do this also withe the multiple exposure? right?

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Hi Nald,
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Anonymous said...

Just starting off learning about HDR using my "antique" D-90.

Really appreciate this post, extremely helpful and easy to comprehend.


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