Handholding bracket and HDR shots

In-body stabilization (IBIS) is one of the big reasons I continue to use the micro fourthirds system. While it makes it possible to shoot longer shutter speeds to gather more light, another technique I’ve been trying more often is to handhold bracketed shots. With the Pen F and Lumix G9, it’s nice that you can shoot a an HDR jpeg straight-out-of-camera. When you want to keep the raw files for post-processing, this is when things get a little more tricky.

When I first starting using the Olympus O-MD E-MH Mk. II, it was a huge leap forward in terms of features and functionality. Prior, I was using the Olympus E-PL5 and the Panasonic GF3. These cameras had basic functionality and didn’t really offer things such as live composition or in-camera bracketing. With the E-M5 II, I started to play around with bracketing. Unfortunately, the limitation wasn’t the camera but my skills. I didn’t know very much about photography techniques, including stacking these bracketed shots. In addition, I never really processed files using Lightroom CC Classic. I only really got into processing photos in the last two or three years and started off with the newer version of Lightroom CC. Lightroom CC as it was back then didn’t really come with so many of the features that photographers enjoy in Classic.

Now in February 2019, Adobe release an update to include the ability to photo merge. I had installed and opened Classic last year purely to use the photo merge in some of my photos in Colorado. However, when I returned from Vietnam, I was merging photos right in Lightroom CC.

Quickly Googling for “handheld bracket” or “handheld HDR” doesn’t come back with many results – which is why I decided to write this. I think the most influential search result I found was on DP Review. This is what kind of sparked me into trying this out. I don’t have much experience outside of micro four thirds, but I can say I have been satisfied with my handheld shots for bracketing. Note, I’m not arguing it’s better than using a tripod. I also shoot bracketed shots using my tripod when it’s convenient. The thing is – I don’t normally travel or shoot in a way where a tripod is particularly useful.

Photo samples

Bracketing on a tripod

To set a baseline, below is an HDR image I stacked from a tripod shot. The benefits of using the tripod mean the only ghosting that I dealt with in the photo-merge came from the window blowing the plants and the subjects (my friends and I) jumping. Everything else seems pretty sharp and I could recover a lot of information from the resulting stacked image. It’ll be a good baseline for us to review just how much we lose if we handhold.

Jumping at the Window Arch
Jumping at the Window Arch | Taken on October 27, 2018 using my Lumix G9 & Olympus 9-18 mm

Handheld bracketing

The shot below was taken handheld. It was at a park that bordered a lake with suburban development across from the lake. It’s not the most interesting composition but I liked how the stacking allowed me to try out some processing with HDR images.

20180104 - Woodbridge Park
Woodbridge Park | Taken on January 4, 2019 using my Lumix G9 & PL 8-18

Experimenting

Let’s take a set of photos and try this out. I use Lightroom CC (not classic edition). It was release earlier this year by Adobe. Prior, I’d open up CC Classic just for their photo merge feature.

If you want to try this out yourself with the raw files, you can download them here. These photographs were shot during the mid-afternoon, which means the lighting isn’t the greatest. One of them is pretty much a white photograph due to the exposure. Below is a embedded Flickr album with the photos.

Bracket Sample 2
Album with sample bracket shots

So let’s take them over to Lightroom CC. One of the strengths of the processing technique is the better dynamic range to save the darker shadows and brighter highlights. Below is an album showing us the amount of deghosting you can get. As I mentioned earlier, wind can result in minor movements. Even with low deghosting, almost all of the plants in the top-right are highlighted red. For the much more static parts of the home, we barely run into any red highlighting until we hit the medium option, but most of it is around the edges of the house.

Exposure Photo Merge: Low
Lightroom CC screenshots of the deghost options

I chose low and ended up with this photo.

Final stacked HDR Sample
Final Sample – Stacked and Processed

At the end of this little experiment, we have a photo with a lot of room for post processing. While there are some folks that look at HDR images and think overexposed I enjoy the extra flexibility we get after stacking exposures.

I’m not professional so there could be a lot wrong with this guide. I hope that by writing out my thought process, I can learn and collect feedback. If you have any comments, definitely comment below or message me on Instagram, @boni_photos.