Shooting HDR with the Nikon D7000

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 Nikon D7000 offers automatic exposure bracketing (AEB) that allows you to take up to three images at a time with the camera adjusting the exposure by up to 2 stops in between each picture.  Note that the hardware of the D7000 is capable of bracketing more than 3 images at a time.  Nikon has just seen fit to limit the number to 3 with the firmware.  I have a hard time thinking of this as anything but a way for Nikon to influence us to buy more camera than we need just to have functionality we already would if they didn’t limit us.

Okay, enough of that mini-rant.  This is still an excellent camera for creating HDR images.

As with most things in life, there are multiple ways of doing this.  One method is to use exposure compensation to expand the range of your series of shots.  Basically you would have setup your camera to shoot 3 AEB pictures with 1-stop increments.  When it comes time to shoot the series, do the following:

  1. Turn on AEB
  2. Set exposure compensation to -3
  3. Fire off the first 3 shots, giving you -4, -3, -2 EV images
  4. Set exposure compensation to 0 (zero)
  5. Fire off 3 shots, giving you -1, 0, +1 EV images
  6. Set exposure compensation to +3
  7. Fire off 3 shots, giving you +2, +3, +4 EV images

The above process will give you a 9 exposure series at 1-stop increments that would make a very nice set of pictures with which to work.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you right now that I NEVER follow the above process.  The reasons are these:

  • You have to touch the camera in between some of your shots, introducing the possibility of movement that could ruin the final result
  • The process eliminates the possibility of ever shooting an HDR series while hand-holding the camera
  • It’s unnecessarily complicated

Remember, a 3-image series (-2 EV, 0 EV and +2 EV) set is acceptable (works) for about 90% of the scenes you wish to capture in HDR.  The Nikon D7000 can do this for you automatically if you have things setup correctly ahead of time.  The rest of this post outlines the process I actually follow.

Setting Up the Camera

In the Custom Setting Menu, access e Bracketing/flash –> e5 Auto bracketing set.  Make sure this is set to AE only.  You see, you can bracket exposures based on other things like flash and white balance, but that’s a totally different discussion.  For HDR, we only want to bracket our exposure.

Access the next option, e6 Bracketing order.  I set this to Under > MTR > over.  This makes your series come out from under- to over-exposed, in that order.  I’m not sure why the default setting is to have the middle exposure (MTR for metered) first, but it is silly*.

*NOTE:  It is not silly.  There are valid reasons for firing off a metered, underexposed, overexposed series in that order.  It’s not HDR-related, but I hope to have that discussion with you someday.  Also, when was the last time you read an asterisk-attached thing and the asterisk-related explanation was directly below?

Okay, you’re done in the menus, but you’re not done with the setup.  Tilt your camera up a little so you can see the control panel (the LCD display on the top).  Press and hold the BKT button that is on the left side of the body.  Rotate the sub-command wheel (the one on the front) until the number is 2.0.  This number represents the number of EV stops in between each picture within a bracketed set.

At this point your camera setup is complete.  I can’t think of a reason why you would ever change the above settings, so you can leave them like this all the time and take whatever kind of pictures (read “non-HDR”) you want.  When it comes time to take an HDR series, here are the steps:

  1. Make sure you are in Aperture Priority (A) mode.  You can do this in Manual (M) mode, but I rarely do.
  2. Hold down the BKT button on the left side of the body and rotate the command wheel 1 click to the right so the top LCD screen reads “3F’ and the BKT indicator is on.  By the way, it is always a good idea to look for that BKT indicator before you go out shooting anything to ensure it is not on when you don’t want it to be on.  No matter how hard I try, there are still times when I find myself inside a bracketed set of images when I don’t mean to be.
  3. Compose and focus your shot
  4. Switch the focus mode on your lens from M/A to M so the camera doesn’t try to refocus your shot in between captures.
  5. Fire off the set of 3 pictures and wait until they are all complete (see below)

Firing the Three Images in a Bracketed Set

You have a few options here, and some are better than others depending on the situation.  The following choices are listed in order from least to most desirable:

  • Use the Single Frame (S) Release Mode to take each picture one at a time.  You press the shutter release button for each shot.  Don’t ever do it this way.  Just don’t.
  • Use the Continuous High (CH) Release Mode.  On this setting, you simply hold down the shutter release button until all the pictures in the series are taken.  This is better because you don’t have to press the button multiple times.  Just make sure you hear 3 sets of 2 clicks before you move anything to ensure the entire series has been taken.  If you set things up as described above, the last exposure will be the longest and there may be some delay between the first click (the shutter opening) and the second click (the shutter closing).  This is the only method to use when shooting HDR hand-held.  Hopefully it goes without saying, but you need to remain as steady as you possibly can throughout the entire set.  You’d pretty much only want to attempt this when there is lots of light, like outside on a sunny day, so all 3 exposures are fairly quick.  Of course, brightly lit scenes are not typically the best candidates for HDR shooting.
  • Use the Self-Timer Release Mode (the symbol kind of looks like a stopwatch, to the right of the Q).  In my opinion, this is by far the best approach if you are using a tripod (which you almost always should be).  Go into the Custom Setting Menu and access c Timers/AE Lock and then c3 Self-timer.  Set this to 2 seconds (2s).  Right before you take your bracketed series, switch the Release Mode dial to Self-timer.  Shoot the series by pressing the shutter release button once.  Wait for 2 seconds and the entire series will fire off without any further intervention on your part.  This means you don’t have to touch the camera AT ALL to take all the pictures.  Just make sure you wait until you hear all 3 sets of 2 clicks before you start doing anything else.

Post-Processing

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 captured), 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

Some Examples:

Nikon D7000 HDR - Seattle Underground

The Seattle Underground Gallery

Nikon D7000 HDR - Oberod Library

The Oberod Gallery

Nikon D7000 HDR - Knodt Farm

The Knodt Farm Gallery


Buy the Nikon D7000 with 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR II ED Nikkor Lens

Or, better yet . . .

Buy the Nikon D7100 24.1 MP (Body Only) and the 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX Lens


The Promote Control

This handy, if cumbersome, device allows you to greatly expand the AEB capabilities of the D7000.  In fact, you won’t even be using the camera’s AEB feature at all.  Just set up your shot to a balanced exposure.  With the Promote Control hooked into the camera (and turned on), you input the exposure settings and the number of images you want to take.  Once you press the button to initiate the sequence, the device takes care or the rest – all the exposures will fire off in sequence.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • The Promote Control will leave your camera set to the last exposure fired.  Depending on your settings, this may mean that the camera is set to be way over- or underexposed.  You’ll have to dial back in a balanced exposure for the next shot or sequence of shots.
  • When viewing the images in Adobe Lightroom, you will no longer see the Exposure Compensation indicators.  When using the AEB feature of the camera, you will see each of the images in Lightroom with the relative exposure value (-3, -2, -1, etc.).  Since the Promote Control isn’t using AEB (it simply adjusts the camera settings), as far as Lightroom knows, all of the images are 0 EV.  This may not be a big deal for some people, but it can be a little challenging to keep track of each set of exposures.
  • There is some setup involved.  There are several things on the camera that need to be set in a certain way for the Promote Control to work.  Fortunately, though, once you have the settings in place, there’s really no reason to change them again – it’s a one-time setup.  At least, as far as I’ve experienced.

Here is a Flickr post that describes some of the challenges people have had.  The full set of instructions are listed within this thread.

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13 Responses to Shooting HDR with the Nikon D7000

  1. Bryan Johnson says:

    Hi Steve…

    I am a big fan ofHDR Photography and I enjoy the subtle to extreme depending on the shot. I started with the D300 then moved to the D300s, I use this as a back up now to my D7000. I really liked your suggestions on setting up the D7000 for HDR and will stay away from the Promote Control, you ddn’t sound that excited about it. I was just getting ready to order one.
    Have you experimented with the D800 and 800E ? I am thinking seriously about getting this camera. I would appreciate your advice…

    Warm Regards,
    Bryan Johnson
    bjoutdoors@mac.com
    425-501-4151

  2. Steve says:

    Bryan, the Promote Control works great with the D7000 when you need to shoot more than three images in a set. But with the camera’s ability to have up to a 2 EV jump between exposures, the need for more than three shots is somewhat limited.

    The D800 works similarly to the D700 when it comes to shooting automatically bracketed images. You can either hold the shutter release button down in burst mode to fire all the shots or use the interval timer. You can use the self-timer as well, but Nikon through a kink into the process. You have to set the number of shots in the self-timer greater than or equal to the number of shots you plan to take in your bracketed set. If you leave it set to 1 (like you can do with the D7000), the D800 will only take one shot per press of the shutter release even when you are in multi-shot bracketing mode.

  3. Thanks Steve, I just received my D7000 and lens last night and found this post to figure out how to make the camera take all 3 shots without having to touch the camera. My test shots last night definitely showed the effects of pressing the shutter release each time.

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  5. Ted McGee says:

    Steve, thanks for the tip on the three exposures. I am finding out for most scenics I take three is enough. I have been shooting 9 shots but find I grab only three to process. I believe the 9 shots would be better in low light such as night scenes. There is a nother trick for doing 9 exposures with the D7000. It does require touching the camera but it is a quick change.

    I have outlined my 9 shot settings below. Looking at your settings and mine, I think they can coexist and I can use the three shot settings for most HDR photos and the 9 shot settings when required. Thanks again, great web site.

    This is done using U1 and U2.

    To set up U1 and U2 for a 9-frame bracket spaced 1 EV apart:

    Set mode dial to A (Aperture priority)
    Custom setting e6 -> Bracketing order = Under, Meter, Over
    Bracketing = 3F in 1.0 EV increments
    Turn the Exposure comp dial to -3EV Setup Menu -> Save user settings -> U1
    Turn the Exposure comp dial to +3EV Setup Menu -> Save user settings -> U2

    You are done setting up U1 and U2. Set Exposure comp dial back to 0 EV, set bracketing to 0F,

    If you come upon a scene that needs a 9 shot HDR:
    (1) Set the Mode to A
    (2) set Bracketing to 3F in 1.0 EV increments

    Take three sets of pictures, each with three shots.
    (1) once with Mode dial set to U1
    (2) once with Mode dial set to A
    (3) once with Mode dial set to U2
    This creates nine exposures in the following order (relative to normal exposure): -4EV -3EV -2EV -1EV 0EV +1EV +2EV +3EV +4EV

  6. Excellent description – I use the self timer method for the bracketed photos along with a tripod (a must imho). Works great.

  7. Gary Hill says:

    Thank you for the info, Steve and Ted, I just got my D7K and love HDR. Can’t afford the Promote so this tutorial was just the thing to get me where I need to be……thanks again!

  8. Rex Christopher says:

    I am as amateur as one can get. I take several motor cycle road trips a year to do my research and take lots of pictures and video. Currently I have a Cannon Rebel, GoPro2, and iPhone4. I have to travel light and would prefer a single camera to do everything but know that is asking too much. I am continually frustrated because my iPhone takes easy and good HDR shots and the Cannon is impossible. I’ve read your D7000 review and may purchase one with a 18-200 mm lens. I do not use a tripod. Using your handheld approach will I be able to take better HDR then my iPhone? I know have the iPhone5 and assume its HDR is as good or better then the iPhone4.

    Thanks for your article and thanks for any help you can give me.

  9. b says:

    I tried the methods you posted, I was looking for an easier way to do it, I shoot with the d7000 however on the aperture and manual settings my f only goes down as far as 5.3 maybe I am hitting a button I shouldn’t but how would I get this lower . it seems to only go that low and nothing happens… I almost always get the shot I aim for first try but I’ve sat down bow for 2 days with this and no luck….

  10. Steve says:

    b – The size of your maximum aperture is dictated by your lens, not the camera. You can only go as wide (lower f-number) as your lens allows.

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