Back at the PC
I used dedicated software to align and combine the 5 images into a single composite image. This is the point where I would found out if the images could be aligned correctly and if I had captured enough of the highlights and shadows.
Luckily the water was calm, the boats were still and my hands were steady. Also the composite, extended-range image had gained significantly more details in the dark spots and the sky. So after a few minutes of the processing and a quite few more adjusting the software sliders a new image was made. One that took the best from the 5 RAW images to create a image that I found more interesting than any of the originals.
The Nuts and Bolts
The shots were taken a Canon 1D2N + 17-40mm f4 at 25mm, AV set to f6.3 and using 100 ISO and RAW. The exposure bracket step was 1.3 EV so the sequence was 0, -2.6, -1.3, +1.3, +2.6. The shots were taken around 3pm on a calm, bright day in June 2008 at Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire, England.
The software used to align the shots, create the composite image (32-bit HDR) and then convert down to a JPG (tone map) for the web was Photomatix Pro (free trial here). Note that I did not first convert each RAW image to a 16-Bit TIF. Separate conversion, using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional in my case, should produce better results. But it does require extra editing time - and space if you keep the the TIFs.
Sadly I did not record the tone mapping settings that I used here - so cannot list them for you. Since then Photomatix has been improved so I should really repeat the process using the latest version. This, and using Canon’s RAW converter, may squeeze a little more out of the originals.
If your camera is limited to 3 shots and + / 2 EV then that should not be too much of a drawback. Most of the great “HDR” shots seem to use this combination. But why camera makers (mainly Canon) keep this artificial restriction from the old film camera days is hard to fathom.
From your requests and questions it seems that I should explain some more about the HDR image creation and digital darkroom techniques I use. So I have added some notes about other images published. The first of these covers the struggle to get an interesting result for the “Capital of the Ute” photo and the second covers making the best of a single image - see “Grand Canyon Walk”. The final one uses Photoshop filters to change the look of a standard JPG in the “Prizes to the Victor” image.