I’ve been trying too hard – 3 is enough – Editorial

So, I am the author of a blog on HDR so my images should be the best possible example of how to do HDR and be great images and I thought I was doing a fairly good job of that. But then for research on what people might be interested in learning I went on to  a lot of forums to see what people were talking about and how they were doing things.

I knew my methods and I thought they worked. But people were talking so differently and in large numbers of people were doing it differently than I. Heck even when I visited a major HDR software company, THEY were doing it differently.

They Say

Everyone was talking about 7 and 9 images shot. 1EV or smaller increments. making adjustments on the raw images before processing into an HDR ( I will only do White balance adjustments pre conversion). All kinds of thins to get the perfect image. And I thought to myself, my old adage that in most cases to shoot just 3 frames 2EV apart, surely must be wrong. I must just be lazy and I wasn’t putting enough effort into getting the best image possible.

So lately I was shooting 7 frames, 9 frames 10 frames! Standing on my head, wearing copper bracelets, eating vegan…anything to get that ultimate HDR Image…and they weren’t

It smacked me in the face the other evening after I shot the Hotel Del Coronado, I wasn’t even excited about shooting it because. I had to get it perfect because it was for a tutorial so the pressure was on and surely I needed to shoot 20 frames and lock my mirror up and…ugh. When I got home and processed the images. I first did the 6 frames 1EV spacing I had shot, then I went back and just did 3 frames 2EV apart. There was NO difference in fact the 3 frames were slightly better on white areas and only then when zooming into 100%. Visibly there was no difference and shooting more than 3 frames with closer spacing was in fact just a huge waste of time.

Whih is which?



It was at that point I thought back to my most successful HDR images almost all of them were shot with just 3 exposures . The reason the software company wanted to talk to me was because I was getting results they weren’t (Lots of exposures) This image, my most successful selling image…3 exposures.

My magazine cover… 3 exposures






We need to remember that when we take an exposure it doesn’t just span that 1EV or 2EV spacing,most of the exposures are easily covering a dynamic range of 6 – 7 stops. As we move to the  extreme ends of exposure our dynamic range will decrease because we fall into  the noise floor or blowout region. But we still have a wide enough dynamic range in each shot that 2EV spacing is enough. Are there times that we need to do more than 3 exposures? Of course there is and we saw in the Shooting the Sun  or Shooting Architectural Interiorspost, you may need to shoot beyond 3 because there is just that much Dynamic range that needs to be covered. But still 2EV pacing is fine, cover the range you have measured and stop. The worst sin of all is overshooting the range. Totally Blown out or most black exposures do nothing and in fact detract and take away detail  from the image.

So I will go back to my original statement. In most situations 3 Exposures  2 stops apart is sufficient and beneficial and will save you time in shooting and especially in processing time. You don’t need that agony of 10 exposures waiting for them to merge.

And my last bit of advice is; If the scene does not call for HDR, don’t use HDR. I think I was reminded of that when I was shooting the sun for that series. Later in the day in a pasture during the golden hour when the sun was low and soft and the dynamic ranges decrease and are able to be captured. I shot this image which turns out to be one of my favorite images of this year. Single exposure – no HDR. Is it a big and bold image like a lot of HDRs? Absolutely not. It’s a simple scene of a simple subject but with the essence of great photography…amazing and beautiful light


This all of course is just my opinion and I expect you to experiment and try and do what you find best. But this is my opinon for the day…and longer

Hope that helps,



  1. Ann December 15, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Yay! Thank you for posting this. I figured I was being lazy by only shooting 3 pictures. I’ve been pretty happy with the results I get, but thought I should do more.

  2. Duane December 16, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    Great article and great examples!

    If I was to guess, i would say the second one was the 3 exposure, based on what I have seen and what you described with how the Whites are handled. The bench and the back porch is a little brighter whites.

    • Peter December 16, 2011 at 9:13 am #

      And you would be correct Duane, cuz you’re smart

      • Duane December 16, 2011 at 11:36 am #

        It’s beacuse of the wealth of information that you have freely provided and have taught me to …See in each image before and after it is taken. 🙂

  3. Stephen P. December 16, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    Great post, and I agree entirely. I have been shooting 3 exposures a majority of the time, mainly because that is what my D80 and now D7000 will automatically bracket.

    I was initially jealous of people with cameras that can automatically bracket 7 or 9 exposures. I performed some experiments of my own and found that 3 images that capture the dynamic ranger are sufficient and sometimes superior to more frames. Some of my results can be found in this blog post:

  4. Joerg January 24, 2012 at 5:36 am #


    thanks for sharing! Ok, 3 exposures, what about the EV pacing? My 7D offers up to 3EV, still staying on 2EV?


    • Peter January 24, 2012 at 7:49 am #

      Hi Joerg, Yes 2EV is a good range to cover. But it’s fun to expertiment too. But in general 2EV works great.
      Thanks for visiting!