5 Tips for Capturing Exposure Brackets for HDR Imagery

by Sean Setters
When presented with a scene that requires more exposure latitude than your camera can capture in a single image, exposure bracketing (taking several images at varying exposures) and HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing with programs such as Aurora HDR can be used to capture detail in both the highlight and shadow areas of the scene.
Below are a few tips for capturing exposure brackets with Canon cameras.
1) Set your desired AEB (Auto Exposure Bracket) variables in the Custom Function menu, if applicable.
Those with mid-to-higher level cameras (in Canon cameras, the EOS 80D and above) will have the ability to choose the number of bracketed images (a higher number tends to produce a cleaner final image with smoother transitions between highlight and shadow) and the sequence in which the bracketed images are captured. The default sequence (0,-,+) can be a little confusing when perusing bracketed images in post-processing, so we prefer to change the sequence to either (-,0,+) or (+,0,-) for a more natural layout of the exposures in post processing.
2) Choose an Exposure Compensation range in which the highlights and shadows are easily contained in the darkest and brightest images, respectively.
Sometimes it can be difficult to survey a scene and determine the exact exposure latitude needed to capture all the details in your composition. Therefore, try a ±1 stop exposure bracket and see how your bracket looks. With the histogram enabled, if you see clipped highlights in your darkest image or clipped shadow areas in your brightest image, either increase the exposure compensation range (if the base exposure is ideal) or otherwise adjust the whole exposure range up or down accordingly (up for an overall brighter image, down for darker). Rinse and repeat until desired results are obtained.
3) Use a tripod.
When capturing an exposure bracket, a fully stabilized camera is ideal, necessitating the solid support a good tripod and head provide. Even though most HDR programs can automatically align images that may not be perfectly identically framed, the best results will be achieved using a tripod.
4) Disable lens image stabilization and autofocus.
While many lenses feature tripod-sensing IS systems, if you’re unsure about the design and capability of your lens’ built-in stabilization, then your best bet is to turn it off. Doing so will prevent motion blur (sometimes caused by a non-tripod-sensing-IS) and slightly shifted compositions between bracketed images. And because you want the scene that’s captured to be absolutely identical between exposures (aside from the varying exposure times), using manual focus (aided by your camera’s Live View at 10x magnification) will ensure your focus doesn’t drift between frames (take several brackets of the same scene in case movement occurs in one or more images).
5) Set the camera to 2-second delay in Live View mode.
With Live View enabled, you will ensure that the mirror assembly’s movement does not create internal vibrations which can impact image sharpness (same as having Mirror Lock-up engaged). Enabling 2-second (or 10-second) delay has two distinct benefits. First, the delay allows for vibrations to settle down before the shutter is released. The second benefit is that your bracketed images will be captured automatically in succession without you having to touch the camera again. If the possibility for movement in your scene is high, you may want to leave the camera in single shot mode and use a wired remote release (or your camera’s built-in wireless features) to trigger each image when the time is right. Note: Mirror Lock-Up must be disabled for automatic AEB capture to work. In this case, we don’t need Mirror Lock-Up because shooting in Live View accomplishes the same goal of eliminating vibrations caused by the mirror assembly.
After you’ve captured your bracketed images, all you need to do is load them into your favorite HDR program (Aurora HDR 2018 is my current favorite, but Photomatix is another good option) and tweak the final image to your heart’s content!

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