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How to Manually Shoot Brackets with Your Digital SLR Camera

Whether you have a dSLR camera that shoots AEB or not, knowing how to shoot manual brackets is helpful. After a bit of practice, HDR photography (brackets, exposure, and the other aspects and terminology) becomes imprinted on your brain. You also get better at working with your camera this way.

Follow these steps to manually bracket a scene with three exposures taken at –2.0, 0.0, and +2.0 EV:

1

Enter manual shooting mode and compose the scene.

Focus manually, if you want.

2

Meter.

Press the shutter button halfway to see an initial meter reading. The camera then shows you what the exposure is (over, under, or perfect) given your current settings.

If you’re using autofocus (AF), get good focus as you meter.

3

Set the shutter speed so that the EV meter reads –2.0 EV.

The point of this step is to change the shutter speed so that the exposure index reads –2.0 EV to be able to photograph the underexposed bracket.

The chances are slim that your camera is set up at the perfect exposure before metering. You should have its aperture and ISO dialed in, but leave the shutter speed alone. Therefore, when you meter, the reading tells you whether you must, at the current shutter speed, increase or decrease the shutter speed.

For most cameras, three “clicks” of shutter speed equal 1.0 EV. Therefore, if the camera says that you’re at +1.0 EV, shorten the shutter speed (remember that faster shutter speeds result in less exposure) by nine increments.

4

Shoot the underexposed bracket.

This photo shows an underexposed photo of a field near a country cemetery in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. This was taken during the golden hour after visiting some graves. Notice that the exposure meter on the display reads -2.0 EV. That's exactly where it should be.

5

Set the shutter speed so that the EV meter reads 0.0 EV.

You'll have to lengthen the shutter speed. This raises the exposure because the camera lets in more light.

6

Shoot the center bracket.

There isn’t a ton of contrast, but there’s enough for HDR to use because of the shadows.

7

Set the shutter speed so that the EV meter reads +2.0 EV.

The shutter speed slows again. The final bracket is at 1/40 second. This was shot with a tripod but to avoid times getting too slow, the aperture was set to f/4.2. It’s odd, but it works.

The sky is completely washed out, but details in the far line of trees and field in the foreground are brought out. That’s what bracketing does.

8

Shoot the overexposed bracket.

Over time, you should be able to knock out a bracket of three to five exposures fairly quickly, assuming that the shutter speeds are reasonably fast. You can then overcome some, but not all, cloud movement.

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