Experimenting with HDR photos on a $200 camera

I’ve been giddily experimenting with high-dynamic-range photography over the past few days. Unfortunately, I don’t own any professional photography equipment, and my best camera is a Canon PowerShot A570 IS for which I paid the equivalent of $200 last year. But thanks to the custom CHDK firmware for Canon cameras, I’ve been able to produce HDR photos without too much trouble.

The firmware lets you hijack the burst shooting mode to quickly shoot the same scene at different exposure levels. A little software trickery in your favorite image editing software, and you can produce impressive and sometimes surreal shots that transcend traditional exposure limitations. The only downside is that you have to keep the camera steady for a second or two (longer if you’re shooting at night), so you can generally rule out moving subjects.

Check out the image gallery below for some of my first attempts.

Comments closed
    • sigher
    • 11 years ago

    Brings out the purple fringing, lovely…

    • Madman
    • 11 years ago

    I am using Canon 350D and I have found that if you use RAW you can just use RAW + exposure adjustment for HDR as well.

    Basically you take one shot in RAW. Save one image with +1 exp and one with -1 exp, then mix them together. Not as god as exposure bracketing but works quite well actually.

    With tripod I can do the bracketing as well, but I’ve been quite happy with RAW approach so far.

    But I wonder how do you mix those images. So far I have used photoshop in a way that I paste 2 images with different exposures, make one transparent and delete everything with eraser that is too dark for example. But that’s slow and pretty hard.

    I have ton of RAW images I would like to fix but that takes a lot of time, I tried to adjust exposures for the RAWs and they can be easily bracketed to -1.5 to +1.5 if I need.

      • crazybus
      • 11 years ago

      If you expose for the highlights with a camera that’s reasonably noise free you can do something similar even with jpegs. If you’re lucky you might have an extra couple stops of exposure information in the RAW file but even then, that’s only increasing dynamic range by maybe 10-20%, not nearly enough to really call it HDR.

      If your version of Photoshop is at least CS2, it will contain a “Merge to HDR” function in the Automate section of the File menu. This creates a 32-bit image which can be tone-mapped when you convert it down to 16 or 8bpp.

        • Madman
        • 11 years ago

        RAW is like 12+ bits per channel, so that is not only 10-12% of additional data, it’s way more.

          • crazybus
          • 11 years ago

          Additional precision no doubt, but not necessarily a lot more exposure range. For example, DPReview tested the Canon Rebel XSi with it’s 14-bit processing and were only able to extract 1.5 stops more dynamic range out of the RAW file for a total DR of 10.2 EV.

            • Madman
            • 11 years ago

            Well, 1.5 stops is a friggin lot I think 🙂

            • crazybus
            • 11 years ago

            Like I said 10-20% (in this case 17%). Definitely worthwhile, but a scene like jobodaho’s bedroom example probably has a lot more than ~10 stops of dynamic range.

    • JdL
    • 11 years ago

    anyone know if something like that could work on a Nikon D60 or similar?

      • crazybus
      • 11 years ago

      Not so easily on the D60 or below. The Nikon D80 has the required exposure bracketing feature. You could accomplish the same thing with a solid tripod and a few shots taken at different shutter speeds to vary exposure. I know Photoshop has a feature that will attempt to align pictures if they are slightly off from each other. It’s a shame that this feature is missing from the low end DSLRs as it is present in a number of point and shoots.

      Another way of increasing apparent dynamic range, albeit not to the same degree, is simply to shoot RAW and extract the extra couple stops of shadow and highlight detail out of the single exposure.

      Both methods require some practice and individual effort for each photo to get good results. You can’t just create a macro and apply it to any image and expect it to look great.

    • Smurfer2
    • 11 years ago

    Wow, those are some nice pictures! Especially the street, considering you have exposures above 1 to 2 seconds! (mine would be quite blurry)

    • flip-mode
    • 11 years ago

    Europe architecture is badassss.

    • bhtooefr
    • 11 years ago

    Hrm. CHDK will run on my A560 (as I understand, the same as your A570 IS, just without the image stabilization hardware.)

    Although, I just use the thing for snapshots…

    • BobbinThreadbare
    • 11 years ago

    That last one with the green lights in the canal looks amazing.

    • Flying Fox
    • 11 years ago

    At first glance I thought picture 3 was from a scene in HL2 or something that uses HDR. 😮

      • fpsduck
      • 11 years ago

      Pic 1 & 3 look just like City 17.

    • Forge
    • 11 years ago

    Sunrise/set over the rooftops looks really great.

    Also, cute girl, she yours? I’ll trade you!

      • ssidbroadcast
      • 11 years ago

      Yeah, /[

    • Price0331
    • 11 years ago

    Very impressive. I had no idea you could pull things out like that on a $200 camera. Is that street scene in Paris?

      • Cyril
      • 11 years ago

      I live in Nantes; I took all of those shots here.

        • crazybus
        • 11 years ago

        Cool photos! Street level shots at night look good in HDR.

        I knew that castle looked familiar. I was in Nantes for a couple weeks a few summers ago and walked by there every day.

        What software are you using to tone map the images? Photomatix? Straight up Photoshop?

        My current camera lacks exposure bracketing so it’s a little difficult to get usable multi-exposure shots so I don’t experiment with “HDR” very much.

        HDR photography is one of those techniques that is very easily overdone. Just look at the thousands of examples on Flickr, the vast majority of which are noisy, blurry, and of subject matter not necessitating a higher dynamic range in the first place.

        When done well, tone-mapped HDR images can look great, otherwise they are classic kitsch.

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