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HDR Photography: Prepare to Manually Bracket a Scene

Some digital cameras do not have Auto Exposure Bracketing, which is used for making high dynamic range images. Some, for example, the Sony Alpha 300 — a great entry-level dSLR that has auto bracketing — limit the exposure difference between brackets to +/- 0.3 or +/- 0.7 EV.

That’s too little for HDR photography given the fact that this camera limits you to 3 shots. You want a wider range of light than this camera offers. So, you want to use manual bracketing, which the Sony excels at.

Follow these steps (using the Sony Alpha 300 to illustrate) to set up your camera to manually bracket a scene:

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. You can change batteries in between bracketed sets, but it will ruin your composition to have to do this between brackets. Also confirm that you have enough memory card space to store the photos.

2

Mount your camera on a tripod.

Manual bracketing requires you to use a tripod even if you are shooting Raw exposures because it takes time to change the settings between brackets. Hand-held bracketing requires a fast frame rate (fps) and AEB pdq for the fyi of the omg of the HDR.

3

Attach any additional gear.

If you use a remote shutter release or level, attach them to the camera now. Try not to trip over the remote shutter release cable or bonk your head on the level.

4

Enter manual shooting mode, as in the figure.

Manual mode is a must for manual bracketing unless you are using exposure compensation. If that’s the case, you’re in the wrong section.

Notice that this camera (a Sony Alpha 300) has a nice big burly mode knob on top — not all do. Even though this is a dSLR, it still has an auto mode as well as scenes. These are irrelevant for manual bracketing, however.

5

Choose a file format, picture quality, and other photo settings.

This determines what file format you’ll be using in software, whether JPEG or Raw. Raw photos, of course, can be edited when converting. Pay special attention to JPEG options, as they are much less forgiving. Once you take a JPEG, that’s pretty much it.

6

Turn off the flash.

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

7

Set ISO to minimum.

Strive to shoot at ISO 100. This results in the lowest noise per photo, which can add up over three or more brackets. If you have to raise it, do so no more than necessary.

8

Set the drive/release mode for a single shot.

Since you’re shooting manual brackets, you don’t want to accidentally fire off five shots. There’s no real harm in that, but it will make sorting through the photos on your computer harder.

9

Turn noise reduction off.

You don’t want noise reduction slowing you down. Do what you can (low ISO) to reduce noise beforehand. Remove the rest in software.

10

Turn off anti-shake or vibration reduction features, as in the figure.

These features can cause alignment problems and aren’t necessary when you mount your camera on a tripod.

11

Confirm metering mode.

Although matrix-type metering (the default on most cameras) should be sufficient in most cases, you may need to experiment with other modes if you aren’t getting the brackets you want.

If in doubt, look to see if the center bracket (0.0 EV) is a good photo. If it is, the metering is probably fine, even if it is not scientifically calibrated and fully verified by the Department of Weights, Measures, and Meters. If the central subject is too bright or in too much shadow, consider changing to spot or center-weighted mode.

12

Choose a focus mode.

Most of the time, auto focusing is preferred. If the camera has trouble getting a focus lock, however, you may have to kick in the manual override.

From here, you’re ready to compose the shot and start taking pictures.

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