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How to Use Manual Bracketing in HDR Photography

Manual bracketing in high dynamic range (HDR) photography means that you directly manipulate shutter speed and watch its effect on EV. One of the main reasons to use manual bracketing is if your camera doesn’t have AEB or if it’s not suitable for HDR.

1

Set up your camera.

You want to be in manual or aperture priority mode with the right f-number dialed in, the ISO as low as you can go, flash off (mostly), focus mode set to your preference, anti-shake turned off, noise reduction off, review off, drive mode set to your preference, and metering mode set.

2

Compose the scene.

You’ll keep the same composition for each shot. Use a tripod.

3

Meter the shot.

Press the shutter release button halfway down to get a meter reading. The camera shows you where your current settings put the exposure.

Make sure you get a good focus as well, if using auto focus. This is triggered by metering. If you’re manually focusing, now is a good time to double-check it.

4

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

For the first exposure, you’re moving from wherever the camera happened to be set up to where you need it to go. That can sometimes be a long way.

When you shoot in manual mode, you’re paying attention to two things at once: the shutter speed and EV index.

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.

For the underexposed photo, double-check the shutter speed to make sure it’s fast enough for the scene at hand. If you’re shooting fast-moving clouds, for example, a slow shutter speed can smear them. If needed, increase your aperture or ISO.

5

Shoot the underexposed bracket.

This is an underexposed photo of a barn near sunset. The sky and clouds show up very nicely at -2.0 EV and f/8, and none of the highlights are blown.

6

Set shutter speed so the EV meter reads 0.0 EV.

You’re reducing the shutter speed, which raises the exposure because the camera lets more light in to strike the sensor.

7

Take the center bracket.

It’s especially helpful to have the center bracket perfectly exposed, as shown in this figure. This way, you have a good photo regardless of whether the HDR processing looks good or not. In addition, you can use this center bracket as a blending layer in software to heighten the sense of realism.

In this case, the tree branches to the left are moving, which causes a problem in the final HDR image. That is overcome by using the branches from this photo.

8

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

Getting faster again, as shown in this figure.

9

Take the overexposed bracket.

This is the final sequence of this bracketed set. Notice that the sky is almost completely washed out, but details in the grass, barn, and trees to the right are brought out. This is what bracketing does.

With time, you should be able to knock out a three-to-five exposure bracket fairly quickly, assuming the shutter speeds are reasonably fast. This means you can overcome some cloud movement, but not all.

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