What are bracketed exposures? If you’re familiar with this term, you know how useful they can be. There are multiple uses for bracketed exposures, but they are especially helpful in IR photography. Shooting bracketed exposures is where the camera is set-up to shoot the same scene, but at different exposures.
Nearly all stock cameras are meant to shoot in color. So when we get into the optics and start removing filters or adding other filters, the camera doesn’t work the same. The one area that really takes a beating is the metering. After a modification, the metering will still be fairly close. But shooting in IR or full spectrum will definitely change the way the camera’s metering system sees the world. I find that my full spectrum modified Canon 5D Mk II with a 740nm filter will usually meter a ½ to 1 stop (usually denoted by EV) brighter than a normal scene. Most of my other modified cameras were the same.
The shows a series of 3 bracketed exposures at -1, 0 +1 EV
When I shoot IR photos, I shoot bracketed exposures as a rule. I’ve had too many IR photos where I thought the metering was accurate only to find that there are highlights in the scene that are blown out (camera’s histogram is clipped on the RHS). Shooting bracketed exposures nearly always helps me recover these highlights or even allows me to process a different shot that is at the + or – end of the bracket.
How do you begin doing this? Well, most cameras these days will allow the use of bracketed exposures. This is where the camera will shoot 3 or more exposures for each image. Depending on how you set it up, the camera will typically shoot a normal exposure and one under exposed and another that is over exposed. Some cameras will shoot additional over/under frames and also allow you to skew how these different exposures are framed in the overall bracket. I like to set my camera to shoot the bracketed exposures in high speed mode, so I can get the 3 images in rapid succession with a single shutter button press.
This is the menu option for setting bracketed exposures on a Canon 7D. This one is set for -1, 0 +1 EV
My cameras (as to many) have several programmable settings where I can set f/stop, ISO, exposure mode, bracketed exposures, etc. So I have 2 custom settings that shoot only bracketed. On my camera, C1 is set up for 1 stop over and under. The camera will record 1 normally metered frame, one frame that is one stop under and one frame that is one stop over. C2 is the same operation except for 2 stops over/under. This makes it quick and easy for me to change the camera to different situations where 1 or 2 stops might be needed.
Many DSLR’s have the ability to set custom settings. This one is a Canon 5D MkII
So why else would I shoot bracketed exposures? One great feature is HDR. If you’re shooting a scene that has both bright and dark elements or the scene spans more dynamic range than a single shot can record, HDR or some other technique of exposure masking or blending is the way to do this. It’s also very helpful to have multiple exposures when shooting on the shadow side of the Sun, or toward the Sun. Many times you won’t see the need for HDR until after you return and are processing your images. It’s too late to do an HDR at that point. So by shooting bracketed exposures, you have the ability to do HDR or exposure blending on shots, after the fact.
This is an HDR of the 3 images shown above.
Isn’t shooting bracketed exposures going to wear out my camera? Won’t it take more memory? Yep, for both. Your shutter is now clicking 3 or more times for each scene. All of these shots have to be recorded on the memory card. Of the 7 modern DSLR’s I’ve owned, I’ve only replaced the shutter on one camera (my 30D), and that was at about 3700 clicks, for sure an anomaly. Most prosumer DSLR’s are good for 100k -150k shutter clicks. I’ve never shot 100k shots on any of my cameras. But I’m not a professional photographer. I venture to guess that most other casual shooters are the same. As for the memory consumption, memory cards are cheap.
Another example of scene that benefited from having more than a single exposure
There is a little good news. If you focus and shoot your IR like I described in my last blog, focusing through live-view, the mirror will stay locked up. So the wear associated with the mirror flipping up and down is removed from this operation. It also helps to use a tripod when shooting bracketed exposures, especially if you’re going to be using them for HDR. You can still align the images in post-processing. But it’s easier if the images begin with good alignment. I prefer to shoot all my IR with a tripod.
Scenes that are shot toward the Sun typically have a high dynamic range that benefit from having bracketed exposures
If you’re comfortable with shooting regular exposures with your IR photography, by all means proceed. I find that shooting bracketed exposures helps save many images that might have otherwise been unusable. Happy shooting.