HDR and the E-M5

We all have seen “HDR” photographs, they are usually overdone and look surreal. The colors are overstated, and sometimes artificial looking. But, “HDR” or “High Dynamic Range” photographed can also be very useful in high contrast situations, where, typically the Highlights are blown, or too bright. And using “highlight” recovery tools may leave the photos white areas a little muddy.

Standard Edited JPG

This is where “HDR” editing can overcome this situation, and render the scene with a better balance from Shadow to Highlight, than the original may actually have. It is a fairly simple technique, where you take 5 (or more) images in a fast sequence, at different exposure values. Typically -2 to +2 in 1EV steps. Your camera is set on Continuous Drive, and your “Bracketing” option is ON, and set for 5 images at a 1ev change starting at -2 through +2 (for example). You then, find a suitable subject that is high contrast, and take the 5 photos. Most cameras will stop at the 5th photo. so, you won’t overshoot.

HDR Merged Images

Then you need software that can “Merge” and “Aline” those photos. It will also have a tool called “Tone Mapping”, this is the amount of “HDR” effect you want in the final image.

I use Paintshop Pro X3 for this, it is included in the software under the “File” tab, and is called, “HDR Merge”

Look at the 2 images….(Click on the images for a larger sample) The Highlights are preserved in the “HDR” image, as well as the the shadows are opened up a bit. Without going overboard in the “HDR” effect. Here is another set, 1st, the Edited JPG, then a 5 image merge from -2 to +2 in exposure. Both have the same editing settings used for various tools.

Standard Edited JPG
HDR Merged Images

One thing to remember, is when you are taking your 5 photos, keep your camera as still as possible, so your final merged image will be the framing you want. There is specialized “HDR” software out there, if your current software can’t do “HDR”.  “HDR” is more than just “Merging” images. It is also “Tone Mapping”, which may be a separate tool in some software. Paintshop PRO X3 has a “Tone Mapping” slider as part of the “HDR” tool.

To set up the Olympus OMD E-M5 for bracketed shooting, do the following:

  1. Menu
  2. Camera 2
  3. Bracketing
  4. OK
  5. AE Bracket
  6. >
  7.  Up/Down arrows to pick your number of exposures and AE change per exposure (I suggest 5 or 7  exposures at a 1-ev difference)
  8. OK
  9. 1/2 press on the shutter button to change to the LCD live-View

Changing to 9fps (High Continuous Drive)

  1. OK – [4way],(if you set up the SCP to be touch active), or, the RIGHT Prism button to activate it.
  2. SCP
  3. Drive Options
  4. High Speed drive mode 9fps.  (by turning the back dial)
  5. 1/2 press on the shutter button to change to the LCD live-View

Turning off Live-Boost

  1. Menu
  2. Gears
  3. D
  4. Live Boost  (page 2 on the subset D)
  5. OK
  6. Up/Down arrows to choose /off/
  7. OK
  8. 1/2 press on the shutter button to change to the LCD live-View

The E-M5 will take 2/3/5/7 exposures at whatever bracketing setting you are using, and stop. You will see the Real Time exposures if you have the E-M5 set up for Live-View  “BOOST” set to “OFF”

Two more samples.

Standard Edit JPG
HDR Merged Images

27 thoughts on “HDR and the E-M5”

  1. Was looking for just this kind of info. Got an D700 and a Panasonic Gx1 and a I take a lot of HDR. On a upcoming trip I´ll leave the big D700 at home and just rely on the micro 4 third. Was curious on how the Om-d handed bracketing as I´m thinking of perhaps buying that one. Thanks.

  2. An interesting and informative write up, well explained and well shown.

    In what way, if you have tried it, do this way of improving the rendition of high contrast subjects, differ from if they were shot with “Shadow Adjustment” set to “auto”, by that letting the camera itself do the ‘upping’ of shadows and ‘toning down’ of highlights?

    I think, for my part, that Shadow Adjustment might not affect midtones, but there may be other ways in which it (S A) would look different vs HDR(?).

    I have set up my EM-5 to have Shadow Adjustment set to “auto” (= on) in the “custom” picture mode, thus making it a bit quicker to set it if I feel I need it. Have yet not tried Shadow Adjustment at all since I got the EM-5, but will do next time I have a high contrast subject in front of me. I think the resulting image(s) may look different than it (they) would look if I used the described method, but I am interested to know if you (or someone else reading this) possibly have made the comparision

    1. I have not made a comparison using the Shadow Bias function. That will open up the shadows more, but is meant for an overall dark image. That is. photographing a scene at night, or dark shadow is the 80& of the image. Just the opposite of a High Key subject. With taking multiple exposures that have a 2 or 3 over/under exposure stop range, the end exposures will only have the extreme ends of the exposure scale contenting plenty of deep shadow and highlight detail. What the Shadow Bias does is shift the whole scale to the left. So, you wind up with under exposed Highlights and over exposed Shadows. With HDR, you will have detailed shadow areas + detailed highlight areas that are muddied up by under exposure. (from 0-255 on the levels scale). HDR will, by combining images that only have exposures in a certain tonal range (light range, not color), warranty the full range from “0-255” is properly exposed (on the light range from “0-255”) Actually HDR would be fantastic with B&W shooting!

  3. Thanks , I have just been searching for info approximately this subject for ages
    and yours is the best I have found out so far.
    However, what in regards to the bottom line? Are you certain in regards to the supply?

    1. Do you mean turning the Live Boost off?
      That will allow to “see” the effect of the different exposures on the LCD or EVF.

  4. Thanks for this!
    Very clear, very informative. I have an OMD and this is the most useful and practical guide I have found.

  5. Great article and clear instructions. Just wish Olympus made the bracketing feature cancel after taking a round of images instead of having to go back in and turn it off. Would also be great if it could just be set up as a custom function and invoked at will. Oh well, maybe in the future. Thank you again for a great and clear article.

  6. Sorry but I can’t find the steps after bracketing. I had 1.6 firmware. I didn’t find exposure/option. I found AE BKT, WB BKT etc. Can you help me?

  7. I love HDR on my OMD and use Photomatix to process the pictures. Have you tried to assign these settings to a “Myset” button? I did, because I thought it would be convenient to not always have to dive into the menus… However, I use the camera in Aperture mode for HDR bracketing and when you use the Myset preset button (I assigned the Fn 1 button to the HDR) the f-stop always goes back to what it was when you assigned the Myset. Isn’t that strange? Any ideas about using the Myset preset buttons and the aperture priority setting?

    1. So you setup the camera as the above instructions layout. and assigned Fn1 as that preset?

      The camera mode P/A/S/M has no part in any “Myset”… that is user controlled.
      In A mode, the camera changes the shutter speed to make each exposure.
      What ever f/stop you had in A mode when you “Set” the “Myset” will be set also…BUT, You can always change it before you take a set of photos., the other settings will remain the same.

      1. thanks, I’ll try that tomorrow. Should the aperture remain the same for all 3 or 5 bracketed photos? In order to merge the photos well, the aperture should stay the same, correct? I put the camera in A-mode, so the bracketing is achieved by different shutter speeds, right?

        Yes, in “A” mode, the f/stop remains the same for all the exposures…
        The Shutter Speed is changed for each exposure.

  8. sounds great…my OM-D didn’t start bracketing, all known settings, like EV steps e.c. set in diff. menues, but result is always 1 perfect .jpeg shot, not 3 or more…
    I’ĺl try your hinds… think there’s no real camera book on the market, to find some more about HDR processing and E-M5…

    THX, so far…

    1. You won’t get 3/5/7 “perfect” exposures… you’ll get 3/5/7 varied exposures from Blown Shadows to Blown Highlights… That IS what you want!!!!

      When you “Merge” them in your HDR capable software, it will all balance out.

  9. Hi Peter
    Perhaps a stupid questions but what does SCP stand for and which button do you mean mentioning the “right prism” button?

    Unfortunately I don’t find the options you mention in your second paragraph concerning the drive options. Did they change again something in the firmware update to 1.7?


    1. SCP = Super Control Panel, if you have the EVF auto-eye switch OFF, you can push the small button on the right side of the back of prism housing.
      If you have the auto-eye switch ON, the center button of the 4way can be used to bring it up..
      the SCP has 90% of most adjustments used by most.
      The Drive options are about Center Left in the SCP display, next to the light meter selection button.

  10. Hi
    i want to bracket with self timer in OMD E-5 please
    like other cameras setting it on a tripod with self timer and auto bracketing for 3 , 5, or 7 shots

    please let me know this

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