Shooting HDR with the Nikon D40x

Please note that this page describes the steps to capture multiple exposures with your camera with the intent of merging them into a single HDR image.  It does not describe the merging or post-processing steps  I’ll say that I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Photomatix Pro.  A tutorial is available here:  Sumptuous HDR.

The following steps are based on what I use to shoot HDR series with the Nikon D40x.  They should be the same for the D40.  And, of course, there are other ways of doing things; this is just my process.

The Nikon D40x does not have an option to shoot with automated exposure bracketing (AEB).  This means you’ll have to adjust the exposure manually in between each shot, and this means you absolutely MUST use a tripod.  There is no grey area on that point with this camera.  Also, every time you touch the camera, which you will do several times throughout this process, you run the risk of moving enough to throw off the series of pictures you will later blend together, so be very gentle and careful.

  1. Select the Aperture Priority (A) mode.  You can use the Manual (M) mode, but I think A works better (easier).
  2. Select your desired aperture setting, compose your shot and focus.  As long as you haven’t dialed in any exposure compensation, this should be your 0EV setting.  It will be the middle, balanced (according to the camera) exposure.
  3. Switch the focus mode on your lens from A (auto) to M (manual).  This will prevent the camera from trying to refocus in between shots.  You did focus already in the previous step, correct?
  4. Rotate the command wheel 9 clicks to the left.  We’re slowing down the shutter speed here in order to get our overexposed (lighter) images.  Every three clicks represents one full exposure stop, so if you want to only do a -2 EV to +2 EV series just use 6 clicks.
  5. Press the shutter button to take the first picture.  This is your +3 EV exposure.
  6. Rotate the command wheel 3 clicks to the right and take another picture.  This is your +2 EV exposure.
  7. Continue rotating the command wheel 3 clicks to the right and taking a shot until you are finished with the series.  When done, you should have taken 7 pictures total for a series of exposures from +3 EV to -3 EV with 1-stop increments.

Bonus tips:

  • I always shoot in RAW mode
  • If you plan on taking several HDR series before offloading to your computer, try this:  Before and after each series, take a picture with your fingers in front of the camera (1 finger before the series, 2 fingers after).  This way you don’t have to guess which images make up each series.
  • Notice how the series, as outlined above, starts with the brightest exposure and then gets darker.  This is the best way to do it with this camera.  You’re going to be turning the command wheel in the same direction every time, and it’s the easiest direction to turn it based on the design of the camera (your right thumb moving in the right direction).  That means less vibration and movement than if you do your exposures in any other order.
  • Remember that the workhorse of HDR series captures is simply three exposures (-2 EV, 0 EV and +2 EV).  To do that would greatly reduce the number of steps above.  From the 0 EV starting position, rotate the command wheel 6 clicks to the left and take a picture, 6 clicks to the right and take a picture and then 6 clicks to the right again and take a picture.

It’s a lot of steps with a lot of opportunities to move the camera enough to ruin the final result, but I was able to get the following image using this camera and the above process:

High dynamic range (HDR) photograph underneath a dock at low tide

Under the Dock


This is a quick note to let you know that I import all of my images into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  The first thing I always do is group each series into its own stack.  Once I decide which exposures to use for the merged image (because I don’t always need to use all of the exposures captures), I export the files to Photomatix Pro.  After trying other HDR applications, I almost never use anything but Photomatix at this point.  After merging and creating a new image file (it comes back as a TIFF), I process the image in Lightroom.  Once in awhile I feel the need to move into Photoshop-proper for some final touches.

A full description of my HDR post-processing techniques can be found here:

Sumptuous HDR – How to Post-Process HDR Images

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