Tutorial – HDR timelapse from single exposure RAW images

Please watch Tutorial 2 to see how to take this technique and easily apply it to hundreds of images in your sequence.

Create a rich timelapse with a deep dynamic range using a sequence of single exposure RAW images.

I created this little tutorial as a way to answer a question posed by a member of the timelapse.org/forums on how people are achieving such rich and deep dynamic range on their timelapse sequences. Like a lot of people, I played with shooting bracketed images in sequence to create an HDR timelapse. The challenge with doing it this way arises when you try to shoot a timelapse with a fairly short interval.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, shooting with a wide angle lens (the preferred lens for many people shooting timelapse) at low ISO usually means a fairly long shutter speed (since wide angles tend to be slower – a high f-stop). Second, RAW files (again, the preferred format for most people shooting timelapse) are much larger than jpgs, so they take a lot longer to write to memory. Fast memory cards can help, but there are also limits to the write speed from the camera itself. Cameras include memory buffers to help with the writing speed problem, but even cameras with large buffers can end up with full buffers if too many photos are shot in too short a time.

With timelapse, we shoot of hundreds or thousands of stills in short succession so watching the camera’s buffer is critical. In fact, when setting up a camera for a timelapse shot, you always want to make sure that your buffer clears before you take your next shot (or set of bracketed shots).

So shooting 3 or 5 bracketed RAW shots for an HDR can easily take 6 – 10 seconds (could be more or less depending on the aperture of your lens, camera write speed, and memory speed) from the time you shoot your first image of the bracket to the time the last image shot clears the camera buffer.

If you want to shoot a high dynamic range timelapse with a shorter interval than say 6 seconds, there are really only two options – either shoot bracketed jpgs, or shoot a sequence of single RAW images and create a pseudo 3 image bracket out of each RAW to create pseudo-HDR images that you then combine into your squence.

In my opinion, this pseudo-HDR technique actually creates more realistic looking HDR timelapse sequences than genuine HDR timelapse sequences. When used correctly, HDR for stills can create super deep rich images that convey a lot of power. But turning those same images animated into timelapse almost always look surreal and over-saturated – causing a bit of sensory overload. The pseudo-HDR technique will keep your timelpase within the realm of possible and plausible, and the movement in your shots combined with the deeper dynamic range, will result in some great looking footage.

I’ve shot both real and pseudo HDRs, and I’ve found I can achieve the best control and results by shooting non-bracketed RAW and creating pseudo HDRs.

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6 Comments

  • Jody
    Reply

    Hi

    great idea but did i miss something in the video is there a batch process to make the pseudo 3 images in lightroom ?

    having to do it manually for 300 images would be a nightmare…

  • Robert
    Reply

    Note: I’ve edited this reply to clarify a bit more.

    In the video example I was working with just a single photo, but you’re right – in timelapse we deal with hundreds. I probably should have explained how to handle this mass of images, so it’s a very good question you ask. I’ll probably go back and append the first video to include the solution I use, using an actual sequence of images.

    But let me explain it quickly here. Basically, select an image from your sequence (could be any image, but let’s choose the first). Go into the Develop module and make all of your adjustments to the image so it’s ready to export as an EV-. Go ahead and create 2 additional virtual copies for EV0 (a.k.a. EV neutral) and EV+ and make your adjustments on those. Then select your first virtual copy for EV- and hit Ctrl-Shift-C to open the copy develop settings box and select the develop settings you want to copy (I normally click Select All). Next, go into the Library module, select all the images in your sequence, and Ctrl-Shift-V. That will paste those develop settings to all the images in your sequence. Then export all them with this set for the name: “{Custom Text}-{Sequence # (1)»}-1”.

    You’ll then have a new sequence of images named something like:

    Lake Crescent-1-1
    Lake Crescent-2-1
    Lake Crescent-3-1
    Lake Crescent-4-1

    Then select your EV0 virtual copy and again Ctrl-Shift-C the settings and Ctrl-Shift-V to all of the other images. then export again with this: “{Custom Text}-{Sequence # (1)»}-2” and you’ll get a second set of files that look like:

    Lake Crescent-1-2
    Lake Crescent-2-2
    Lake Crescent-3-2
    Lake Crescent-4-2

    Do it again for EV+ and you’ll have a third set like this:

    Lake Crescent-1-3
    Lake Crescent-2-3
    Lake Crescent-3-3
    Lake Crescent-4-3

    You’ll probably choose to export all the images after each set of adjustments to the same folder, so in the end that folder will look like this:

    Lake Crescent-1-1
    Lake Crescent-1-2
    Lake Crescent-1-3
    Lake Crescent-2-1
    Lake Crescent-2-2
    Lake Crescent-2-3
    Lake Crescent-3-1
    Lake Crescent-3-2
    Lake Crescent-4-3
    Lake Crescent-4-1
    Lake Crescent-4-2
    Lake Crescent-4-3

    That’s it. Using the Photomatix Pro batch import will let you automatically grab the first 3 images in the sequence and merge them into an HDR image. It’ll then grab the next three and do the same.

    I would suggest that after creating your 3 virtual copies (and before doing all the batch work above), export those 3 virutal copies directly to Photomatix and get them looking the way you want and save those Photomatix settings for use in the Photomatix batch processing. Do this first because you may end playing with changes to the settings of the 3 virtual copies and the settings in Photomatix to get the best looking HDR image. Once you’ve got it dialed in, you can then so all the Ctrl-Shift-C and Ctrl-Shift-V as described above. (By the way, the virtual copies also give you a handy place to store your settings without needing virtual copies for each image).

    Alternatively, you could create 3 virtual copies for every image in your sequence (you can do this all at once with just a few clicks) and apply your changes to the virtual copies, but then you’ll end up with a ton of virual copies that you don’t really need. Much cleaner to just use a single set of virtual copies to store your changes and then apply and export as described above.

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