Auto bracketing: why is it needed and how to use it. Understanding exposure bracketing

Often when shooting, I want to try to take frames with different settings, change the brightness level, color reproduction, so that later, in a calm environment, I can choose the best one from several options. And advanced photographers often take pictures with a “plug in exposure”, that is, several pictures of different brightness. This technique makes it possible not only to choose the best frame, but, for example, to stitch them all together using HDR or exposure blending. In a situation where we are constantly forced to alternate the same settings, I really want this to happen automatically, so that the camera itself changes the set parameters and takes a series of shots. For this, auto-bracketing was created. Auto bracketing is used in landscape, interior, subject shooting. But for shooting portraits and reporting, its use is problematic, because the object must remain more or less motionless so that we can make a series of identical frames.

NIKON D850 / 18.0-35.0 mm f / 3.5-4.5 Installations: ISO 50, F16, 8 s, 18.0 mm equiv.
Let's get acquainted with the auto bracketing function in more detail and find out when it is needed, how to configure it and apply it. To consider the full number of bracketing functions, we will do this using the advanced Nikon D850 as an example. Owners of more affordable cameras will find here all the functions that they have in the menu, and owners of advanced devices will receive complete information on all items of their own.
In the photography menu, you can choose the type of bracketing that we will work with.

Nikon cameras with auto bracketing

The auto bracketing function is available in all Nikon Z mirrorless cameras and SLR cameras, except for the "three thousandth" series (Nikon D3300, Nikon D3400, Nikon D3500). In the "five thousandth" series (Nikon D5300, Nikon D5500, Nikon D5600) exposure bracketing, white balance and active D-lighting are available, but the series always consists of three frames. For these cameras, bracketing is activated and adjusted in the quick menu called up by the i button. But for the rest of the devices, starting with the "seven thousandth" series (Nikon D7200, Nikon D7500, Nikon D610, Nikon D750, Nikon D810, Nikon D850 and mirrorless Nikon Z 7 and Nikon Z 6), the bracketing is configured more comprehensively, but also more conveniently . About it further.

Turn bracketing on

Regardless of the type of auto bracketing you choose, it is always activated in the same way. We find the BKT button on the camera body. Pressing and not releasing it, turn the wheel to adjust the parameters. By default, the front wheel is responsible for the bracketing step, that is, for how much the frames will differ in one or another setting. For example, in the case of exposure bracketing, the step will be measured in exposure steps. The rear wheel is responsible for the number of frames that will be taken during bracketing. You can make 2 to 9 frames in a series.
The bracketing setup process will be displayed on both information displays - top and main.
The main camera display. AE bracket in 1.0 EV increments was selected, and the number of shots was 3.
The same setting appears in the upper display while you hold down the BKT button. Three frames - 3F (frames) in increments of 1.0 EV. The exposure meter scale shows how exposure frames will be positioned relative to the original value.
Mirrorless Nikon Z 6 and Nikon Z 7 do not have a special button to enable bracketing. But this function can be assigned to any of the function buttons.
Setting bracketing to minus: two frames with a lower exposure and a step of 2EV will be taken to the original image
What frames will be taken is always indicated on the exposure meter scale in the form of pictures. Now we see that the bracketing is set to 3 frames with negative exposure.
You can take pictures with bracketing so that the settings will go from the base frame both to plus and minus. In the case of exposure bracketing, starting from a frame with basic settings, the camera will take pictures both darker and lighter. You can make 2 or 3 frames only in minus or only in plus. This is convenient when, for example, you need to shoot two or three darker frames to work out details on them in bright areas. In the future, they can be used for gluing HDR. So, as a rule, I shoot a night city with the -2F parameter and a step of 2EV. That is, I’m doing the main, fairly light, frame and the second - darker, where the light of lanterns and other bright areas are better worked out. To take frames only in minus or only in plus, it is enough to turn the rear wheel of the parameter settings while holding the BKT button to the left. A tripod and a release cable are the best assistants when shooting with bracketing. A tripod is necessary so that all frames of the series were made strictly from one point. So it will then be more convenient to select and process them. In addition, the tripod opens up the possibility of panoramic shooting and shooting at slow shutter speeds.

How to shoot with bracketing

A series of frames with bracketing will be done as follows. In the single - frame shooting mode S and silent shooting Q, one press of a button - one frame of a series. That is, the shutter button will have to be pressed as many times as there will be frames in the series. If you have selected CL, CH, QC burst shooting, you can press the button and hold - the device will take the desired number of frames and stop. Conveniently!
Disc for choosing shooting modes between single-frame, serial, and self-timer.
Nikon MC-DC2 Remote
Another useful feature: if we use AE bracketing, then when shooting with a self-timer, all frames in a series will be taken in a row. This mode goes well with shooting with a tripod. A tripod is often necessary for serious work with bracketing, at least so that all the frames of the series were taken from one point of shooting.

How to turn off bracketing

Please note that bracketing in more advanced cameras will not turn off itself either after a series of shots is taken, or even after the camera is turned off. This is done for the convenience of the photographer, so that he does not have to configure everything again after each action with the camera. But beginners often forget to turn off the bracketing, and then they don’t understand why their camera, for example, began to take shots of different brightness. Therefore, be careful and do not forget to turn off the bracketing when it is not needed.
If bracketing is active, the BKT icon will be lit on the top screen, and there will be three risks on the exposure meter scale corresponding to the exposure of each frame of the series.
To disable bracketing, hold down the BKT button and move the number of frames to zero using the rear wheel.
Nikon D5600, Nikon Z 6 and Nikon Z 7 have something in common that their bracketing settings are reset when the camera is turned off. Which is inconvenient for advanced photographers, but better for a beginner. So, let's get started! First of all, you need to choose a parameter that will alternate when bracketing exposure. The Nikon D850, like other advanced Nikon cameras, offers five options at once. Consider them.

Types of Bracketing

Perhaps the most popular type of auto bracketing is exposure bracketing. But besides him, there are other options that are worth considering.

Active D-Lighting Bracketing

Active D-Lighting is Nikon's proprietary technology designed to expand the dynamic range in the photo. Simply put, in contrasting scenes, D-Lighting brightens the darkened areas of the photo. This is often required for shooting sunset and dawn landscapes, any contrasting subjects, so that there are no black dips in the photo. But with what degree of impact should D-Lighting be used in a particular plot? In the Nikon Advanced Cameras menu, you can choose how active D-Lighting affects the picture. But to understand exactly what effect we need, trial shots will be required. You should immediately make a series of frames with different D-Lighting options, and then choose the most successful option from the series.
A series of frames made by different settings of the active D-Lighting. Next, the photographer can choose the picture he likes best. I liked this, an intermediate version without loss of detail in dark areas, but with good contrast.
So, in the auto bracketing menu, select the option “Active D-Lighting”. Now it remains to choose the number of frames to be taken, and the step with which the setting will be applied from the weakest to the strongest option.
Select bracketing for active D-Lighting in the menu.
For reference: the degrees of active D-Lighting and their letters that will be displayed on the camera display when bracketing is set to active D-Lighting.
Setting example: the camera will take 5 frames. The first is without active D-Lighting (OFF). Next up will be shots with varying degrees of active D-Lighting: Moderate (L), Normal (N), Strong (H) and Super High (H *). It is advisable to use active D-Lighting bracketing only for amateur shooting in JPEG format, when you are not going to engage in further processing of frames and want a beautiful result right away. If you shoot in RAW format, it will be easy for you to do the processing similar to the active D-Lighting in any RAW converter.

White Balance Bracketing

Some photographers are constantly unhappy with the color in their photos. At the same time, they are not ready to show pictures from RAW, I want to achieve perfect color rendering when shooting. In many lighting conditions, white balance presets such as “Cloudy” or “Incandescent” do not provide perfect color reproduction. White balance bracketing comes to the rescue. The camera takes a series of pictures with a shift in color temperature. Thanks to this, in addition to the original frame, we will have pictures with shades a little warmer and a little colder. Please note: White balance bracketing does not alternate presets like “Sunny” or “Cloudy”. He, starting from the existing color temperature, takes frames, changing it a little. The result is pictures with a very delicate change in color, from which you can choose the best option. It’s not always worth chasing the color palette “as in life” - in creative photography it is better to choose a more effective, aesthetic version.
The following is an example of setting white balance bracketing. 9 frames will be made in increments of 3 units. The step of changing the white balance is measured in mired . The step in 1 unit is 5 mired, in 2 - 10 mired, in 3 - 15 mired. What is mired? 1 mired = 1,000,000 / K, where K is the color temperature in Kelvin. You don’t need to remember these units of measurement and do some calculations when shooting. Just shoot and trial and error we get the optimal frames.
White balance bracketing only works for JPEG. This is logical: when converting RAW, we can change the white balance in the picture as we wish, without loss of quality, and it is not necessary to take a series of pictures.

Flash Bracketing, AE Bracket, and Flash

In fact, all these three types of bracketing are responsible for the same thing - for working with the exposure of the frame. Whichever of these three types of bracketing you choose, the adjustment will take place at the exposure levels . The question is, due to what parameters will the exposure of the image change. So, if flash bracketing is selected, the camera will only control the power of the built-in or installed external flash with i-TTL support. Several frames will be taken with different flash output. If the “AE and flash bracketing” option is selected , the camera will decide whether to change the brightness of the image due to the flash or due to exposure parameters. If the flash is not used, AE and flash bracketing will work exactly the same as AE bracketing . In practice, flash bracketing is rarely used. Nevertheless, TTL-flashes have not infinite batteries and few people want to discharge them with additional pulses for bracketing. It’s better to fine-tune all your lighting equipment before shooting, taking a few test shots, and then shooting for sure.
Nikon SB-5000 Flash
Nikon D750 with integrated flash

AE Bracketing

So we got to perhaps the most popular type of bracketing. Most often, the photographer needs to take shots with a different exposure, different brightness. Firstly, when we shoot scenes that are complex in terms of light, it can be difficult to perfectly adjust the exposure. Almost any landscape with a setting sun in the frame can be an example of such a plot complex for exposure. The difference in brightness is large. And when adjusting the exposure, you need, on the one hand, not to overexposure the sky, and on the other, not to sink into black the details of the landscape itself. Therefore, "in the field" it is difficult to ideally adjust the exposure. And there is nothing better than making safety shots with exposure bracketing - one a little brighter, the other a little darker. And then choose the best option. In the field shooting, we don’t have tools for precise exposure control. Even a histogram when shooting in RAW is built for its JPEG preview and we don’t know for sure how many details we can finally get out during processing. It saves only thorough knowledge of the features of your camera and safety net in the form of bracketing. Secondly, there are plots that, one way or another, do not fit into the dynamic range of the camera . No matter how we try to remove them with a single exposure, either light details, say around the sun, or dark foreground details will be lost. The same thing when shooting interiors, when you need to show not only the room, but also the view outside the window, and not just the overexposed squares of the window openings. It is also useful to shoot such scenes with bracketing - later on we will be able to create an HDR image from them or stitch images using exposure blending. With such an approach, it is important to set such bracketing parameters at which the darkest parts of the picture will be worked out on the brightest frame of the series, and especially vivid plot details will be preserved on the darkest picture.
Launch exposition
+ 2EV
+ 4EV
in steps of 2 EV. And if in front of me there is a plot with a relatively weak difference in brightness, sometimes 2-3 frames with a step of 1 EV are enough. In general, in setting up bracketing for their tasks, each photographer should take into account, first of all, his own experience and style of shooting and the technique used: there are no universal values. The main advice is to make a trial series of frames and make sure that there are no serious overexposures in the darkest frame, and there are no loss of detail in the shadows on the lightest frame. Knowing that the most important thing is to preserve details in bright areas, I often make the starting picture obviously dark. In the case of a landscape, I usually focus on the sky around the sun: it should be worked out, which is easy to see on the camera screen, especially if you activate the indication of flare .
Thanks to the widest dynamic range of the Nikon D850, I can “pull out” all the details from a single frame, choosing for this the most suitable exposure picture of the series. In my case, this is the starting frame. But with such an extreme “stretching” of the dynamic range, digital noise will inevitably appear in the photo and not all the details in the shadows will be transmitted well. And at a time when I was shooting on a simpler technique, with a narrower dynamic range, such a trick would have been simply impossible - everything would have drowned in a mess of noise.
A HDR image sewn from 5 source images with detailed details in both light and dark areas. Less digital noise.
It’s best to shoot a series with bracketing from a tripod - so that frames are shot strictly from one point. This will facilitate further work with them, for example, when gluing HDR.
NIKON D850 / 18.0-35.0 mm f / 3.5-4.5 Settings: ISO 64, F14, 1/250 s, 28.0 mm equiv.

How to set exposure bracketing

Exposure bracketing has a number of settings. Most importantly, due to what exposure parameter will it be changed? After all, the exposure can vary both due to shutter speed, and due to the aperture. In the case of modes A and S, the change in exposure between frames occurs due to the parameter controlled by the automation in this mode. In mode A, this is shutter speed, and in S, aperture. In P mode, automation simply alternates the exposure pairs with various parameters and can change both shutter speed and aperture. Let's reason logically. When shooting a series with bracketing, two things must be unchanged so that later we can work with a series of shots. This is the focus and aperture value. If focus fails or the depth of field changes, it will be hard to assemble HDR or just get a defect. Most often, bracketing is used to shoot static scenes, because otherwise there simply will not be time to use it. Therefore, the exposure parameter is not so important to us. It would be more correct to use shutter speed to change the exposure. Therefore, exposure bracketing is used in modes A or M.
In advanced cameras, you can choose which parameter the exposure in M mode will adjust. Of course, you should choose a shutter speed (it is already set by default). In entry-level cameras, bracketing is set correctly by default and works due to shutter speed.
The second setting is more dependent on your personal preferences: in what sequence the camera will change the exposure. Below are two options available.
I prefer the first exposure frame to be taken first - it will be easier to track where the series of shots begins and where it ends. And the starting frame is usually the most important.

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