Once you master HDR techniques, it won’t take you long to apply HDR effects to your images. As part of SLR Lounge’s HDR Workshop, we stopped in Page, Arizona to capture this shot of the Horseshoe Bend. In this article, we will explain how we captured the example of Horseshoe Bend HDR photography featured below.

Horseshoe Bend HDR Photography | How We Shot It

  1. In-Camera HDR Function
  2. Perfect HDR Sequence
  3. How We Shot It
  4. Scene Considerations

The In-Camera HDR Function

In the Horseshoe Bend catalog shown below, we have four images. Bracketed sequences typically include an odd number of images, such as three or five. However, we have four images in the catalog because we used the In-Camera HDR function in our Canon 5D Mark III. As a result, we have one Horseshoe Bend HDR processed file and three exposures in our bracketed sequence for a total of four images. Check your camera body to see if it includes an in-camera HDR function.


The In-Camera HDR function, available in newer cameras, allows you to control the bracketing in the camera and also generates the HDR file directly in-camera. In our “Understanding and Using the In-Camera HDR Function” video, we explained that we generally will not use the actual outputted Horseshoe Bend HDR file from the In-Camera HDR function because we want to process the HDR shots independently. So, if we don’t keep the In-Camera HDR processed image, why do we still use this feature? Well, there are two reasons why:

1. In-Camera HDR Simplifies the Process

The first reason we use the In-Camera HDR function is because it makes the overall HDR process very simple. For example, we can use 2-second delay or enable Mirror Lock-Up and the In-Camera HDR function will still automatically take the photos. This function will simplify the overall shooting of HDR bracketed sequences.

2. In-Camera HDR Provides a Preview

The second reason we use the In-Camera HDR function is because it provides an approximate preview of what the final HDR image will look like. Even though we will reject the in-camera Horseshoe Bend HDR jpeg once we get it on the computer, it helps us choose our exact exposure and bracketing increments while we’re on-location.

[Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to HDR Portraits + 3 Free Lightroom Presets!]

The Perfect HDR Sequence

In the In-Camera HDR processed image, we are looking for detail. The histogram needs to cover everything from the highlights to the shadows because that means that the bracketed sequence has been shot correctly. In the histogram below, we can see all of the shadow detail, and none of the highlight details have been blown out. This is a perfect HDR sequence because we have retained all of the detail while setting up this shot.


Below is the image of Horseshoe Bend that was processed in camera on our Canon 5D Mark III.


How We Shot It

Next, we will discuss how our bracketed sequence was shot for the median exposure, the darker exposure and the brighter exposure.

The Median Exposure for the Horseshoe Bend HDR Photo

In Lightroom, select the median exposure of your image and press “E” to view your image. Next, press “I” to toggle the information of the image. As you can see below, we shot this at one-second on F/16 at ISO 100 on a 17-40mm f/4L Canon lens. We used the Canon 5D Mark III body as well.


The main reason why we have our settings at F/16 is because that one-second shutter speed will potentially give us a glassier look in the water. We shot at ISO 100 to maximize the tonal range, detail and color. Since there are no moving objects that might require a faster shutter speed, and because we’re using a tripod, there is no reason to bring up the ISO.

Below is the median exposure of Horseshoe Bend.


The Darker Exposure for the Horseshoe Bend HDR Photo

Next, we have our darker exposure of Horseshoe Bend. Once again, press “I” to toggle the information of the darker exposure. As you can see below, we shot this at 1/4 of a second and therefore two stops darker than the median exposure. We left our ISO at 100 and aperture at f/16.


See the darker exposure of Horseshoe Bend below.  As you can see, the brightest highlights in this exposure are preserved quite nicely.


The Brighter Exposure for the Horseshoe Bend HDR Photo

Next, we have the brighter exposure of Horseshoe Bend. To toggle the information, press “I” again. Now, we shot this at 4 seconds to get an even glassier look to the water.


Below is the brighter exposure of Horseshoe Bend.  As you can see, all of the deep shadows from the previous, darker exposure are revealed quite well.


Scene Considerations

For this particular scene, there were not many scene considerations, actually. However, we did shoot on a tripod to get the best results.

A Quick Tip

If you go to a popular place to shoot, such as Horseshoe Bend, expect to see lots of other photographers there. Keep this in mind because you will need to show up early to get the best shots.

Additional Tips & Conclusion

We hope you have enjoyed this article on how we used HDR photography to capture Horseshoe Bend. Learn how to use auto exposure bracketing and other HDR functionality in your camera and put this technique to work to capture amazing HDR photographs! For tips on editing HDR photographs, see how we edited this photo using two different approaches, one with Photomatix Pro and the other with Photoshop & Lightroom. You can also try the “Blend-If” technique in Photoshop for often great results.

If you’d like to dive deeper into HDR photography techniques, check out our HDR Photography Workshop. This workshop includes over ten hours of video instruction, 25 RAW exercise files, and three presets specifically designed for HDR photography. While the content focuses mainly on landscape photography, you can use these techniques for other types of portraiture.