HDR is a way you can create the illusion of a shot that's perfectly exposed by layering several shots that have been taken at different exposures together. Basically, you capture a series of shots focusing on the dark, middle and light parts of the image separately in each exposure then combine them to create one balanced shot.
To HDR or to not HDR?
HDR doesn't need to be used for every landscape shot you take. It's only needed when you have a scene where the camera can't handle all of the different exposure levels present. If you have a scene that's evenly exposed and well-lit you won't need to use HDR. Before you try HDR, see if using a longer exposure will give you the sharpness and detail you're looking for. Then, if you're unsure whether the location you're at will work better with HDR, take a few sample shots and have a look at the areas that are in shadow. If you think there's detail that's lost in these darker areas that will improve your photograph then have a try at HDR.
Keep it still
A tripod is vital for HDR work as you need to lock your camera's position as the smallest of movements can adjust your framing. If this happens, your shots won't line up when it comes to merging them together. Once you've framed up screw the bolts tightly to keep the head up-right and legs in place.
When you have your point of focus and are happy with your shot, switch to manual focus so the camera doesn't refocus after you've taken one shot. Try to not touch the lens barrel once you've set the focus and use a remote release (if you have one) to fire the shutter to stop you touching the lens by accident and moving the camera's position. It's also a good idea to lock focus and switch to manual exposure to ensure everything is consistent between exposures.
The bigger the difference between the lightest and darkest area of the shot the more exposures you'll need. You can adjust the exposure manually but make sure you only adjust the shutter speed as if the aperture changes, the depth-of-field of each shot will change, making it almost impossible to get a sharp final image. If you're working in aperture priority mode, make sure you use exposure compensation to get the series of shots you need. Take exposures one to two stops apart with enough shots to cover the complete dynamic range. Ideally, the less exposures you can take the better as this reduces the chance of the shots not lining up at the end. Most of the time three shots will be enough to capture all the detail from the darkest to the lightest part of the scene.
Creating the HDR shot
There are various pieces of software which you can use to combine your HDR shots. Take a look at our Photoshop HDR tutorial for one way you can combine your images: HDR Photoshop
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