HDR Photography Sans Tripod | When It’s Not Practical

When I first started with HDR photography, back in 2007, using a tripod for the required multiple exposures was a must, particularly in the low-light settings that I prefer for the types of subjects that work best for this particular tool. I use two tripods, a Bogen and a Giottos, along with a Kirk BH-1 ball head and L-brackets. A cable release is required as well. Anything to keep hands away from the camera during exposure while providing a stable and secure platform.

But what about those situations and settings when carrying and setting-up a tripod is not practical and/or appropriate while at the same time coming across a subject that is tailored-made for HDR (High Dynamic Range) ? Just yesterday I was touring the streets of Savannah with my daughter Emma, capturing scenes of beautiful southern-style architecture, hidden courtyards and fine details that make this picturesque city a favorite for street photography. Keep in mind that Savannah in mid-July can be like working in a sauna with heat and humidity rolling off the pavement and cobblestones. Just carrying a pro-grade DSLR and a few lenses – which I do using a Lowepro fastback 250 – can be cumbersome enough. Add the bulk and weight of a full-length tripod and ball head and getting around the city while navigating through gaggles of tourists can be a daunting and hot task. But there was so much that caught my eye. I knew to fully capture detail from darkest shadow to brightest highlight I would need to shoot multiple exposures of the same scene for merging and use of tonal adjustments for optimal results in my digital workflow.

Enter the compromise. With the auto bracketing feature of  the Canon 1D Mark III I can usually capture my three exposures needed for most HDR (actually I prefer five to six for interiors) while going “handheld” and still retain sharpness. The key is the burst rate on the 1D Mark III – the fastest available on a DSLR at 10 frames per second. I boost the ISO up to the 1600 mark and sacrifice some sharpness by using a wider aperture (4.0 or 5.6), but the auto bracketing and the high speed drive fire-off the three exposures with ease and without any noticeable shake from the camera being handheld. Granted it’s not the ideal way to capture multiple exposures for HDR work but it works in a pinch. Where this technique is very helpful is when shooting outdoor portraits that have that little bit of something extra in the foreground and background. Another important tip is to always shoot in aperture priority mode and bracket with differing shutter speeds. As soon as the aperture is changed from exposure to exposure the photographer alters the depth of field between shots and that’s not going to match to well when merging the files.

Below is one of the results I obtained after merging three, handheld  exposures using the Canon 1D Mark III and a Canon 17-35mm f2.8 lens. The subject is the interior of the St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Savannah. Setting-up a tripod in such a location is  . . . well . . . for lack of a better term, “not cool.” Besides my daughter Emma had her hands just holding onto the Canon 1D while I changed lenses. Fumbling with anything more would have been too much, taking away from the ability to move fast and easy and just having fun.

Cathedral Alter by Jim Crotty

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