How to Use Exposure Compensation in HDR Photography

Exposure compensation is a fallback method to shoot brackets in high dynamic range (HDR) photography. If you don’t have a camera that has a manual shooting mode or AEB (which includes almost anyone without a dSLR or advanced compact/super-zoom), there is no other option. The main advantage is you can use a camera otherwise unsuited to HDR without immediately having to go buy something expensive.

Another major benefit is that it steps you away from the inner workings of your camera and exposure control. You don’t have to mess with shutter speed or most other settings. Just call up exposure compensation and set it to shoot the appropriate brackets — the camera handles the rest (it changes shutter speeds for you). Follow these steps to shoot brackets using the exposure compensation method:

  1. Set up your camera.

  2. Compose the scene.

  3. Double-check camera settings.

    Make sure that you’re in the right shooting mode and that the flash is off.

    Check your camera’s manual to see what modes exposure compensation is compatible with. Depending on the camera, you can control exposure compensation and disable flash while in many scene modes, programmed auto, and possibly auto mode. For example, the Canon PowerShot A480 allows you to force the flash off in auto mode, but it doesn’t let you access exposure compensation. You must be in program or scene mode for that.

    If you’re shooting a scene with clouds, you should turn off review (when the camera shows you the photo you just took for a few seconds) so you can get right back to shooting. Look under your system configuration or playback menu and turn off review or auto review.

    All examples were shot at ISO 100 and an aperture of f/8 unless otherwise noted. You can vary these settings at your own discretion, of course.

  4. Meter the scene.

    Press the shutter release button halfway down. You might see exposure or focus information appear, telling you the camera has “got it.”

    If flashing red lights appear and the camera can’t focus, you might not be able to continue given the current conditions. This can happen in low-light conditions when focusing on a neutral gray object, such as clouds at dusk. You might need to switch to manual focusing if you have it.

  5. Set exposure compensation to -2.0 EV.

    This normally requires you to press a button to bring up the exposure compensation index on the back of your camera, and then press another button to lower the number to -2.0 EV.

  6. Shoot the underexposed bracket.

    This one is dark. Notice that the tree to the left and the foreground are completely dark. The sunset looks nice. One down, two to go.

    image0.jpg

    If you turned off review, you can continue right into the next step. Otherwise, you might have to wait until the camera comes back into shooting mode to continue. You can speed it up sometimes by nudging the shutter release button (but not enough to take another photo).

  7. Set exposure compensation to 0.0 EV.

    This brings the exposure back to normal. You always want one good photo at 0.0 EV.

    8.Take the center bracket.

    This figure shows the exposure at 0.0 EV. This is basically a standard snapshot. Notice, however, that the dynamic range of this scene is too large to capture. The foreground is a bit too dark.

    image1.jpg
  8. Set exposure compensation to +2.0 EV.

    This raises the exposure to create an overexposed photo.

  9. Take the overexposed bracket.

    The final bracket is shown in this figure. The highlights are blown out, but what was previously in shadow is now well lit. That’s it!

    image2.jpg

The mechanics of shooting brackets using exposure compensation are pretty simple. You’re not working directly with shutter speeds or anything more complicated than moving the EV index from -2.0 to 0.0 to +2.0.

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