How To, HDR Compact Camera

This tutorial will teach you how to make a HDR with your Compact Camera.


What you need:

– A camera which allows you to adjust the exposure settings, if it has AE bracketing even better !

– Tonemapping software: I recommend

Photomatix PRO – Is a MAC and PC HDR software for creating stunning HDR images. They have a free trial, but if you end up buying a copy of Photomatix you can get a 15% Discount with the coupon code LukeZemePhotography

– A Filter program to stylise your tonemapped image: I recommend Perfect Effects– From OnOne OR Clarity and Adjust from Topaz.


To create a HDR image you need to take 3 or more different exposures of the exact same shot. Photographers often do this by using a tripod so that the images are all lined up perfectly. If you don’t have a tripod you need to make sure you hold the camera very steady and in the same position ! you might like to place your camera on a table or flat surface if you don’t have a tripod on hand.

Taking your images:

Learn how to adjust the Exposure Value (EV) on your camera, most cameras simply allow you to press right or left on the navigation pad to adjust the EV. If you can only adjust it 2/3 or 1/3 EV that is fine but it is better to be able to go 1 or 2 EV.

First Picture at EV 0 (this is your normal exposure image)

EV 0

Next image EV -1 (underexposed)

EV -1

and finally EV +1 (overexposed)

EV +1

Doing it Manually:

This is only for people who’s compact cameras can’t adjust the EV

Take your normal exposure image and take notes of these values- Exposure time, Aperture, ISO. For example you might have these settings 1/15 second, f/2.8 and ISO 400.

Now switch to manual mode and put in Aperture f/2.8 and ISO 400. For 1EV steps you will Double the exposure time for 1EV (1/8 sec) and half the exposure time for -1EV (1/30 sec).

Software Editing also known as Post-Processing

We now need to take these 3 images onto your computer and tonemap them and the best software for doing this is called Photomatix which you can head to using this link (Photomatix link). Purchase the right copy for your computer- either Mac or PC. Photomatix PRO is the best option as it is the package.

Open Photomatix software and select > Load Bracketed Photos > Browse and locate your 3 photos and select them.

Photomatix Pro

Select OK after choosing the 3 images and this screen will load. If you used a tripod do not select align source images, but if you did the shots handheld then select align source images. If you had things moving in the images like people or cars then these are called ghosts and you can remove them yourself with the selective deghosting or have Photomatix do it for you automatically. If you need a tutorial on ghost removal in Photomatix I wrote a Video Tutorial here- Ghost removal in photomatix.

There are two other options which are used to improve the quality of your image- reduction of noise and chromatic aberrations which I will leave up to you to decide if you need them selected. Finally if you are using RAW images then you will be offered a white balance menu option and I suggest using the color primaries based on sRGB as this is what most printers use as their colour system.

Photomatix options

Click Preprocess and then you will be faced with a tonemapping screen and this is the fun part where you can to make all the adjustments you like to the image ! If you want to purchase a set of Photomatix presets I can highly recommend these ones from Trey Ratcliff-  Photomatix Presets. Your presets will show up in the right hand column.

Photomatix tonemapp

Now you can see how much the image has changed from our first 3 images ! It has depth and detail in all the shadows and looks amazing. With time you will become adept at using the software and it is done using a slider system on the left hand side. The sliders which will have the most impact on your image are Strength, Color Saturation as well as Gamma. But with time you will learn how all the sliders affect the image by playing around with them.

Once you are happy with the image hit Process and you will be offered some final options to make your image look nicer such as contrast, color and sharpening.

After you have made your choices you need to save the image by going to the top drop down menu > File > Save As. Or you can use the shortcut Command + W.

Finished !

Optional Processing- Filters:

To give your image artistic looks and make some really cool stylisations to it you need a Filter Program. The two best options are Perfect Effects– From OnOne OR Clarity and Adjust from Topaz. You simply take your tonemapped image and open it in the software and have some fun with it.

Below I am stylising the image in Perfect Effects where I combine multiple filters to this one image as you can see them layered on the right hand side. On the left side you can see just some of the categories available to which you can make adjustments to your image.


Stylize Finished ! Save your image and share it online ! and mostly Enjoy the world of HDR photography !


Cheers, Luke.

My final image, what do you think ?

Royal Entrance

Here are a list of Filters programs you might like to try !


Please leave any comments or questions below and I will do my best to answer them. 

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you did a great job at explaining this. thanks for that.
I wonder why the iphone has a good HDR in their camera/phone but is not in any point and shoot cameras?

Luke Zeme

Hi rachael, yeah I have an iphone5 and the HDR setting just within the camera works pretty well doesn’t it 🙂 I guess it comes down to cost etc. HDR is pretty popular though and I think Apple was one of the smart ones to see that. Thanks for the kind words, glad you found it helpful.

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