I’ve been saying it for so long that it’s time to write about it! What I’m referring to is my often-given advice for capturing bracketed images. Many people say that we should choose the ‘correct’ exposure, then capture overexposed & underexposed images. However I recommend to forget the notion of the middle image being the ‘correct’ exposure. Rather, the ‘correct’ exposure is a series of images — and those images capture the full dynamic range of the scene. We can do that by measuring and choosing all of the exposures more deliberately. In short, I recommend to:
“Meter for the Highlights, then meter for the shadows, then set your camera to capture it all.”
Following my advice, and taking control of your bracketing, has a number of benefits:
- Of course you don’t risk losing any of the lighting information — the main purpose of shooting ‘brackets’.
- No excessive noise because you have captured the shadow areas well (noise happens mostly in underexposed areas)
- Full freedom to create realistic or artistic (or extreme) results. The ‘fake’ look mostly happens when the full dynamic range isn’t there, then pushing the adjustments too far.
- Processing is much easier and faster when starting with all of the information
- The whole process is just more satisfying!
So what does this look like in action? For the title image of this article, I first chose an ISO and Aperture… and, as always, those settings remain constant for the sequence. Then I pointed the spot meter in the camera out the window. In the underexposed image below, I saw the brightest part of the sky (on the right of the frame) to have a shutter speed of 1/500 second.
Then I pointed the spot meter at the dark area below the desk. In the overexposed image above, I saw 1/8 second for the shadows. If the convenient Exposure Calculator had existed at the time, I could have entered those values. In my case I counted the stops on my camera (counting the stops back from 1/500) and found the middle exposure to be 1/60. Here is what those numbers look like and the resulting 7 images:
This example has a dynamic range that is fairly extreme compared to most outdoor scenes. However I didn’t need to setup any lighting equipment and did the capture in mere moments. I combined the images in Photomatix Pro, this time I chose the ‘Smooth3’ Preset and clicked ‘Apply’. Then I added mild contrast in the Finishing Touch dialog and… all done!