Raging Sloth Tech

Canon Powershot S95 HDR HowTo

auto HDR and auto bracketing for those new to the camera

You might also like the in-camera HDR feature review

So one of the things I like to do with my site is compulsively look at my google analytics account to see if anyone is actually reading it, and if so what things seem to interest them. It looks like a good deal of my traffic is currently people looking to find out how to do HDR pictures with their S95 or potentially to figure out if they want one based on how it actually happens. It seems that my
review of the in-camera HDR features of the camera is what is drawing the traffic in so I thought I'd throw together a quick article to show everyone exactly how it all gets done.

What to photograph

To put it simply, HDR is a way of compensating for lighting differences your camera can't handle on its own. If you have a nice bright scene with minimal shadows and no intensely lit areas you may see little to no actual difference by creating an HDR image. So keep that in mind if you go for HDR and see little difference in your photos.

HDR with the Powershot S95

The Powershot S95 is a very powerful compact camera and comes with a special HDR mode to simplify the process. You can however also do auto-bracketing (have the camera automatically take 3 images at 3 different exposure settings) with the S95 and then combine the taken images yourself. I'm going to start off with the automatic method then I'll go through the process of doing auto bracketing and finish off with some general points.

Automatic HDR

So while I bought my S95 for its pocketability and low light shooting abilities when I first got it I just had to see how the HDR feature of the camera worked. I played around a bit but just couldn't find the right settings (obviously I'm not one for manuals) but I finally found the setting nestled under the scene settings.

s95 top view

So take the top control wheel and turn it to "SCN". Now SCN mode has several submodes most of which I haven't played with yet. I think mine defaulted to HDR but maybe not. Anyway if it isn't already set to HDR press the "FUNC SET" button in the centre of the back control wheel and then turn the wheel until HDR is highlighted as per below, then press "FUNC SET" again to select the mode.

s95 rear view hdr setting

As hard to believe as it probably is we are pretty much done now. If you press the "DISP" button you can access some colour options like black and white, sepia, vivid colours and posterize however I would suggest using the regular mode and adding any such effects afterwards with an image editing program (you can always remove colour or screw with it but going in the other direction isn't all that easy...).

So now all you need to do is stabilize your camera with a tripod or a desk or something, and then press the shutter button. The camera will click 3 times as it takes each exposure and then give you a little busy progress bar while it combines the images. Once done you'll have an HDR image stored on your camera all ready for later use. Of course in this mode the camera discards the 3 source images and just saves the final one to your SD card.

Next I'm going to quickly go over how to do auto bracketing so if you aren't interested you should skip down to the general points section.

Auto Bracketing

So the in camera HDR feature of the S95 is very nice, but if you are really into HDR you're going to run into circumstances where it just doesn't meet your needs. That is where auto bracketing comes in. Auto bracketing gives you more control over your exposures and will allow you to do the actual HDR combining later using more advanced software. Combining on your computer will bring with it the potential benefits of better anti-ghosting measures in case there is movement in your scene and allow you to pursue surreal styles of HDR without resorting to blending a single image.

The first step is going to be to select "P" mode on your camera. I say this for simplicity but the truth is you can select any of the custom photo shooting modes, but not auto or manual (thanks to Steve for his comment below pointing this out). So if you'd like to use one of the priority modes, or custom mode go right ahead.

s95 top view

Once you're out of auto press the "FUNC SET" button and press down on the back click wheel (the button with the picture of the trash can and timer,) until bracketing is selected (it looks like three rectangles as per the image below).

s95 rear view exposure bracketing setting

Once bracketing is selected you can either click left and right with the back click wheel or turn it in the direction you want to move the selection. Select exposure bracketing (the middle selection as per the picture above) This will set your camera to take 3 photos after a single shutter button press at different exposure settings. As far as I know there isn't a way to auto bracket more than 3 exposure settings with this camera but usually 3 is enough to get you good results anyway. While you are in the "FUNC SET" menu and have exposure bracketing selected, you can press the "DISP." button to adjust how much of a change in exposure you want to have between each shot.

rear view of s95 with bracketing exposure adjustment shown

As you can see you have 3 dots representing the 3 shots to be taken. The arrow in the centre of the scale represents the camera's calculated exposure setting. Roll the rear click wheel left to lower the change between shots and right to increase it. Correct settings for this will depend on how much variation in scene brightness there is. If the scene is relatively uniformly lit you may not need HDR at all, while if there are areas of extreme light and or darkness you want detail for you'll need to increase this difference. I find a difference of 1 on either side is a reasonable default.

So now that you're all setup to do bracketing just aim the camera at what you want a photo of and press the shutter button. You'll have 3 image files (whether raw or jpeg) that you can later combine together with your favourite HDR program.

General Points

So as you can see HDR images are relatively easy to take using an S95. The big thing is taking good HDR images. The absolute key is to find interesting things to photograph but with HDR in particular, whether with bracketing or the S95 in-camera feature, stability is even more important than in other kinds of photography. The reason for this is that you need 3 images that perfectly (or very close to it) overlap one another or you'll end up with ghosting.


With regards to stability you're going to want a Tripod whenever possible. You can also use a table, chair, desk, or any other stable surface the camera can safely rest on but a tripod is nice as you won't have to worry about the surface getting in the way of your shot like can happen with a table.( I purchased my S95 from a place called Central Digital which came with a free nice little "table top" tripod. They were also the cheapest place to buy on froogle, though don't fall for their battery or "Error Free" memory card lines…)

Which is both pocketable like the S95 and prevents the inevitable problem of having half your photograph taken up by a table... Of course the S95 can also mount to a larger tripod but if I'm going to carry around a tripod I'll probably take my DSLR.

Shutter button shake

The most common reason I get ghosting in my images is due to a little shake induced in my camera when I press the shutter button. For my DSLR I've purchased a nice little remote so I can start the photo process without physically touching the camera but no such remote exists for the S95. What I wish I'd thought of earlier though is to simply set a delay in the camera. I'm sure a lot of people have at one time or another set a camera delay so they could run into a photo with their friends, well using the same setting you can setup your camera, press the shutter, remove your hand and let the camera settle before it takes its 3 exposures. Just setup your shot as you normally would, press the down on the rear click wheel (there is a blue trash can and a white timer on it) and you're in the timer settings. If delay is off you'll have to press down to select it. From there you'll see a screen like below.

If you press up and down on the rear click wheel you'll toggle delay on and off, left and right will change the number of shots to take and turning the front ring (the one around the lens) will change the number of seconds of delay you want. I like to set mine to 2 seconds just to make sure any residual bounce from pressing the shutter button is gone. I'll press the shutter and move my hand away from the camera and let it do its thing.

That's it

So there you go a quick intro into how to get your S95 or potential future S95 to take HDR photos. Hopefully the world of vibrant skies and detailed shadows is now open to you.