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high dynamic range (HDR) photography with Olympus OM-D cameras


  • all cameras have an ability to capture subject brightness ONLY within a certain range of values - this is camera's dynamic range
    • fortunately Olympus OM-D cameras have a very wide dynamic range - often wider than even some Canon full frame dSLRs!
  • however, as good as these cameras are, most scenes have an even wider dynamic range than can be captured, and as photographers we can address this in several ways:
    • expose for the brighter areas and allow the darker areas to become black with no detail
    • expose for the darker areas and allow the brighter areas to become white with no detail (“blown highlights”)
    • use ND gradient filters in front of the lens to darken the brighter areas of the scene (eg. the sky)
    • resort to HDR methods whereby several different exposures are taken sequentially, then combined into one image - either in camera automatically (as in HDR modes 1 or 2) or manually in post-processing on a computer (manual HDR bracketing modes)
      • for good quality, these HDR methods generally rely on use of a tripod and a subject that is not moving
  • as a rule of thumb, no matter what camera you use, you can NEVER capture detail in a light source AND in the subject it is lighting in the one exposure
  • for maximum dynamic range shoot at the base ISO (ISO 200), if shooting jpegs only, use i-Enhance Picture mode
    • dynamic range reduces as ISO increases

auto HDR modes on Olympus cameras

  • as of the E-M10 and E-M1, Olympus introduced auto HDR modes to help simplify the otherwise daunting process
  • this is not available in earlier models such as the E-M5
  • activating HDR modes:
    • on the E-M1 it is readily accessible:
      • pressing the front part of the top left button with 2×2 switch = 1 will activate the menu
      • use the right front dial to select a HDR setting
    • on other cameras, you must access the menu system to select a HDR mode
  • this will automatically set the drive mode to fast burst to ensure minimal time elapses between each bracketed image
  • two auto HDR modes:
    • HDR mode 1 is less extreme than HDR mode 2 in its capture of dynamic range
  • to shoot, just press shutter release and 3 sequential shots of varying exposures will be taken and then automatically combined into one image - the initial images are NOT saved separately!

manual HDR on Olympus cameras with HDR modes

  • as of the E-M10 and E-M1, Olympus introduced manual HDR modes which really are just an extension of the AE bracketing modes:
    • +/- 2EV for 3,5 or 7 frames
    • +/- 3EV for 3 or 5 frames
  • this will automatically set the drive mode to fast burst to ensure minimal time elapses between each bracketed image
  • these HDR modes are not available in earlier models such as the E-M5, and on these you must use more limited AE bracketing modes instead, or shoot in fully manual mode

capturing higher dynamic range without resorting to HDR bracketing

  • capture in RAW mode
    • a RAW file will always have more dynamic range available than a jpeg as the jpeg is derived from the RAW file
  • compose the scene to reduce dynamic range
    • consider cropping out a cloudy sky if the subject is being lit by the sky as the clouds will generally become blown out unless one resorts to a gradient filter
    • wait until the bright sun is at or below the horizon, or behind clouds, to avoid extremely bright areas in the image
  • add a fill light
    • expose for the highlights and provide shadow detail by adding a fill light which could be a reflector or a flash
  • use a gradient filter
    • this is usually critical for good landscape shots with large areas of the sky
    • generally a 0.6 ND filter is most useful for landscapes to bring drama to the clouds and avoid blown highlights
    • you may wish to use a reverse ND filter for sun on the horizon as this darkens the horizon, and gradually less darkens the sky without affecting the foreground.
  • if shooting jpeg, consider using auto gradation mode
    • personally I do NOT use this as I shoot RAW, but it maybe useful to explore
    • if you MUST shoot jpeg and need maximal dynamic range, Olympus OM-D cameras have a AUTO gradation mode which provides excellent dynamic range
      • make sure in Picture Mode contrast = 0 or a negative value (contrast +1 will lose the 2/3rd EV of highlight detail you would have gained by setting gradation to Auto)
      • in Picture Mode, drill down to the next level after you have selected a picture mode and go to Gradation where you can set it to AUTO - the various options are:
        • Auto
          • similar to i.Dynamic, HTP, Active D Lighting, DRO, etc on other manufacturer cameras
          • gives about 2/3rds EV more highlight detail and about 1EV more shadow detail
          • “divides the image into detailed regions and adjusts the brightness separately for each region. This is effective for images with areas of large contrast in which the whites appear too bright or the blacks appear too dark. It is a form of Shadow Adjustment Technology.”1)
          • underexposes slightly to preserve highlights and then raises shadows it works best on a camera with a sensor with inherently less noise such as the OM-D cameras, on older non-OM-D Olympus cameras, this setting caused noisy shadows at ISO over 400 which restricted its utility
          • may cause shadow areas to look murky grey instead of black, if you don't like the extra shadow detail on certain images then a quick tone curve adjustment will fade them to a noise free black shadow like on a normal jpeg.
          • it WILL affect your RAW image as your RAW file will be slightly under-exposed by ~1/3rd EV to preserve highlights!
        • Normal - usual setting, equates to OFF
        • LOW
          • appears to cause excessive blocking in the shadows
          • “Gradation is applied that best suits a dark subject that NORMAL gradation would process to be lighter. It can be used to make images that have a somewhat somber mood.”
        • HIGH
          • “Gradation is applied that best suits a bright subject, such as silhouettes on a foggy day. It processes images so they are bright with slightly higher contrast in the brightest areas.”
  • in addition, you may wish to adjust the shadow-highlight tone curve to make the shadows less murky:
    • set Fn2 to Multi Function
    • press Fn2 button
      • if shadow-highlight is not the current selection, hold the Fn2 button down and rotate a dial one step - either of the two dials, in either direction. Now you're selecting which of the 4 functions the button will be quick-accessing - choose shadow/highlight
      • once shadow-highlight chart is on view, use the two dials to adjust either part of the tone curve


Comparison jpeg results of dynamic range from

omd/hdr.txt · Last modified: 2017/02/05 11:44 by gary1

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