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How To Shoot More Than 3 Brackets?

October 3rd, 2012

The poll I did over a year ago showed that over half (54%) of real estate shooters that read this blog shoot brackets rather than shoot only with small flashes. While some very competent photographers will argue that 3 brackets is all you ever need, most bracket shooters I talk to and comment here on posts insist on shooting more than the 3 brackets that typical DSLR AEB features shoot. So a fundamental question for bracket shooters is, “how are you going to capture 5, 7 or 9 brackets?

Back in March of this year I was overly optimistic that Smart Phone Apps and cables like Trigger Happy and Trigger Trap would offer an alternative to the Promote Controller. However, what I didn’t realize is that these Smart Phone controllers operate with the DSLR in Bulb mode which means shutter speeds below 1 sec can’t be used. This limits their usability for shooting brackets.

So what options do bracket shooters have to shoot more than 3 brackets?

  1. AEB + Exposure Compensation: Kerry Bern pointed this technique out in a comment. Kerry said: “Canon users can get 9 exposure bracketing by using Exposure Compensation in junction with AEB. Set your camera to AEB & the EC will now go from -4 to +4. I start out at -4. For that sequence I get -4, -2 & 0. Then adjust my EC’s left indicator to -3, then -2, then -1 and finally at 0. Of course you will get duplicate exposures at -2, -1, 0, +1 & +2. I simply delete the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th & 8th exposures. I am left with 9 exposures from -4 to +4.”
  2. What I call the Michael Freeman (which he describes in his book) manual method, which is:
    • Guess the shortest exposure needed to preserve highlights and shoot.
    • Check the highlight clipping warning and histogram. Correct exposure is the longest at which there is no highlight clipping.
    • Once the shortest exposure has been captured, set the shutter speed 2 stops slower and shoot the second frame.
    • Continue changing the shutter speed by 1 stop (or what ever bracket spread you want) until the darkest shadows are mid-tones. Check this on the histogram, the left edge of which should be in the middle of the graph.
  3. Magic Lantern Open Source microcode for many Canon DSLRs: You basically change the microcode in your 5DMkII or other supported Canon DSLR (this is not a Nikon option) with the Magic Lantern microcode and then you can shoot up to 9 bracketed exposures
  4. Promote Controller: This device is a $329 external controller that can be used for a whole range of cameras. The Promote then will shoot a huge number of brackets.

There are downsides to each of these approaches. #1 & #2 above require a lot of camera touching of the camera during the shooting. #3 is attractive but only works for some cameras and some may be apprehensive about replacing the microcode in their DSLR with non-manufacturer supported code. #4 is costly and adds extra cables and an external device. There is no perfect solution. You have to decide which works best for you.

Another obvious approach is to choose a DSLR based on how well it shoots brackets if bracket shooting is going to be your main technique. Here is a summary of many DSLRs

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18 Responses to “How To Shoot More Than 3 Brackets?”

  • I recently put Magic Lantern 2.3 on my Canon 50D and it’s quite a revelation. It’s amazing how much flexibility it adds. It allows you to take multiple shots on both sides of your set exposure, or take multiple shots up or down from your start point. It also has an auto hdr mode that assesses the exposure and takes sufficient shots to capture the highlights, mids and shadows. It’s been very stable and is well thought out. There’s also many other features that it adds.

  • We use the promote control for both brackets and time lapse with great success.

  • OK, you can all laugh. On inside real estate pictures I almost always shoot 13 brackets. In post I select the best BASE exposure to start with and then select 1-3 other exposures as needed. I manually mix the exposures together. This results in glass-less windows, and no dark corners (like adjoining rooms). Sometime I even need a separate exposure for the muntins, mullions, and astragels. Sometimes I would be taking a picture and think that I don’t need the lightest or darkest exposures. But later when I’m looking at all the exposure for that shot I wish I had a darker or lighter exposure. Since taking all these exposures only takes 30 seconds or so, and setting up the shot many take 20 minutes or more, then I just figure WHY NOT. Looking through all the exposures takes about a minute, and processing the selected ones take longer, but I like the result. Commence laughing.

  • Here is my approach with my canon 7D. program AEB from -3 to -1 to custom function C1 on camera, AEB 0 to 2 to custom function C2 on camera, and program C3 as a trigger with my 430EX as slave. My normal shoot would be, switch camera to mode C1 to capture 3 exposures, C2 for another 3, switch to C3 and popup in camera flash to trigger slave 430EX, hope this make sense

  • @Thoi- good use of custom functions! Thanks for pointing this out.

  • I too invested in the Trigger Happy project before noticing in the details that it doesn’t reliably support bracket exposures shorter than 1 second. Oh well.

    Magic Lantern on the other hand is about $329 cheaper than the Promote, doesn’t require additional hardware to haul around, is awesome, and (now) stable! While I rarely do HDRs anymore, it’s still a great option to have for the 3-bracket Canons. That, and the hundred or so other functions it performs. Hooray for hackers!

  • I will add a 5th option for those with Canon and a supported Android device.

    http://www.dslrcontroller.com/

    Using my 10″ tablet, I have a huge liveview preview and also a large review size. The app is only $8 but of course the cost of the Android device and cable isn’t included.

    Anyone looking for a slightly used Promote Control?

  • I think a lot of people don’t realize that touching the camera between frames is not necessarily a big problem. It’s done quite commonly. Lots of people, as an example, do a frame with a polarizer oriented one way, for reflections in glass, and then a second frame with the polarizer rotated the other way, for glare on the floor. This is WAY more camera-handling than just changing the shutter speed. In other cases, filters are added or removed between exposures, or the focus is adjusted (for focus stacking techniques).

    Bottom line is, it’s OK to touch the camera. If you’re having problems with camera movement, I’d be looking at the head, and possibly the sticks, as the solution.

  • The canon mark iii does 7 aeb perfectly and fast…like 7-8 secs total.

    I heard the promote takes alot longer?

  • Shawn,

    I had considered that as well, but my android version was too old. I could have TRIED by rooting my phone, but then I couldn’t use the Square reader anymore (they don’t allow usage on rooted phones). C’est la vie!

  • @Shawn

    Does dslrcontroller add more AEB options? I read awhile ago on their forum that it just does whatever the camera does (3 aeb if you have a mark iii)

  • @Shawn – Thanks for bringing up dslrcontroller – I’d heard about that but completely for got that option.

    @Scott – Thanks for confirming that – that has been my experience as well, #2 above is one of my favorite techniques because it measures the actual dynamic range of the scene. I’ve never noticed any movement from just rotating the thumb-wheel and releasing the shutter.

  • Some great comments. Personally, I’ve had positive experiences lately leveraging Photomatix Pro’s 9-bracket capacity. I start out by putting camera in Manual, at f/11 and then getting my EV at 0 based on the composition that I want. I then put the camera in Av mode and get my 9 exposure changing shutter speed in 2/3-stops (i.e., from – 2.67 to + 2.67). I fuse the 9 images via Photomatix Pro 4.2, and then use three additional steps: (1) put the resulting image into DxO; (2) apply my 3-4 favourite filters Nik Color Efex Pro 4; and (3) final tweaks in Photoshop. I know it sounds like a lot of work but it isn’t really. I’m not sure what the more experienced RE shooters think of this approach but it’s worked quite well for me lately, based on glowing feedback from happy realtors! 🙂 Would welcome any additional constructive input/feedback. Thanks!

  • This conversation makes me really appreciate my D300. I just set it for 7 brackets and hold down my wireless remote. I do however typically only use 3 of these, but 7 ensures that I have what I need and don’t need to return to the house later.

  • @Chris,

    I just dialed in 41 exposures of 1/3EV on my 7D, so it’s the same as the Promote Control. It will even do time-lapse bracketing, and lots, lots more since it first came out.

    I didn’t hit go on those 41 exposures. 🙂

  • Just finished a shoot today where I used the Promote on one camera and a Tab 2 with DSLR Controller app on the other camera. I like both of these solutions and they each have their own pros and cons. For me it all comes down to the Promote being faster to use and a more sturdy piece of gear, thus it is my go-to choice for a day to day camera controller. The DSLR Controller app is very cool (and super affordable) but it is still in beta and far from stable. I find that it eventually crashes on 80% of my shoots; its not very reliable. When it does work, however, it can do everything and the Promote Controller does ( and more actually) plus the huge benefit of the tablet essentially acting as a live view screen if the camera has Live View.

    It is too bad that neither of these options are wireless at the moment. Honestly, having to be tethered to the camera via USB is perhaps the biggest drawback to these controllers, especially with the tablet. I can’t wait until they get that one figured out!

  • @Shawn

    Thanks for the update, good to know there is an cheap (good) option for my backup mark ii.

    That app pretty much makes the promote control a complete waste of money since you can buy some of the tablets they list on their devices page for around $200 new.

  • Magic Lantern all the way. Sometimes fails, big deal, take off battery and put it back. Then keep shooting. Saves me 300 USD or so. not bad for me.

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