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HDR Photography: How to Dial in Auto Bracketing

Auto exposure bracketing (AEB) is a fantastic time-saver for high dynamic range photography. You don’t have to fiddle with exposure controls in the middle of the shot, as with manual bracketing. All you have to do is make sure your camera is configured correctly, set up the initial shot, and then press the button.

Most dSLRs have auto bracketing, although you will find that each manufacturer implements it somewhat differently. Canon limits you to three shots but allows you to alter the AEB amount up to +/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 EV increments. Nikon, on the other hand, limits you to a maximum exposure increment of +/- 1.0 EV but allows you to take up to 9 shots in many cameras.

Some cameras require pre-configuring underlying AEB settings. Sony and Canon cameras do not, but some Nikon and others do, which must be done before the first step here.

1

Turn on your camera.

Make sure you are in shooting and not playback mode. Always check to make sure that you have enough battery power to last.

2

If desired, mount your camera on a tripod.

If you have a fast enough frame rate and AEB, you can get by with shooting hand-held brackets. The caveat is your shutter speed has to be fast enough to avoid blurring.

For example, taking exterior shots in good light allows a fast shutter speed, even at an aperture like f/8. Inside is another story. It’s not unheard of for the bright end of a bracketed set to take a few seconds inside. If you can’t get shutter speed fast enough to avoid blurring, grab the tripod.

3

If you’re using a tripod, attach any additional gear.

If you are shooting hand-held AEB, you won’t need a remote shutter release or level. Otherwise, attach them to the camera now.

4

Choose a shooting mode.

Depending on you and your camera, you may want to be in fully manual mode, but you can also decide on something a little more automatic.

Double-check with your camera’s manual to make sure your shooting mode and AEB are simpatico.

Remember, all of these modes except manual only work for HDR when you use auto bracketing. Otherwise, the exposure is set and you will not be able to change it except by using the Exposure Control.

5

Confirm file format, picture quality, and other photo settings.

Use the largest and best file format and picture quality possible.

6

Enable auto exposure bracketing.

You have to turn AEB on. For some cameras (such as Sony cameras), it may be accessed through the Drive button. Some cameras may have a button (Bracket or Fn) while others require you to access and enable bracketing from the menu system.

7

If possible, select the number of brackets, as in the figure.

Many cameras default to 3 exposures and 3 exposures. If you can choose more, your bracketed set will have a greater overall dynamic range.

8

Choose a bracketing range/increment.

A good choice for 3 brackets is +/- 2.0 EV. This gives you a total range from the underexposed to the overexposed photo of 4.0 EV. You may be limited to +/- 0.3 or 0.7 EV. If this is the case, consider going to manual bracketing or take more than one AEB set starting at different points.

Use +/- 1.0 EV if you have no choice. You’ll get good overall dynamic range if you shoot 5 or more brackets.

9

Set Release (Drive) mode.

For AEB, set the release mode to high speed, continuous, or high speed continuous to take the bracketed shots with one press of the shutter release button and in the shortest amount of time.

10

Turn off the flash if not needed.

You don’t want the flash to fire, thinking it is making up for a bad exposure. You want the dark exposure to be dark.

11

Set ISO to minimum to control noise.

This helps fight the noise battle.

12

Turn noise reduction off.

This ensures a good frame rate.

13

Turn off anti-shake or vibration reduction.

It’s not going to matter that much, but, if you want to go all-out, camera manuals tell you to turn vibration reduction/anti-shake features off if you use a tripod.

14

Choose a metering mode for the best center exposure (the one at 0.0 EV).

If the central subject is too bright or in too much shadow, consider changing to spot or center-weighted mode.

15

Choose a focus mode that works best for the given situation.

That’s it. You’re ready to compose the shot and start shooting.

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