Auto Exposure Bracketing

I have used AEB (auto exposure bracketing) often before but it came into a league of it’s on on a recent trip to NZ.

Normally I would use AEB for subjects that had a lot of detail in them that I wanted to bring out.  It hadn’t occurred to me to use it for strongly backlit subjects such as sunrise or sunset.  Thanks to a fabulous photo tour I took with Jarrod Castaing  around the lower regions of the South Island of NZ, I have a new appreciation of it.

AEB Settings

AEB  requires that you bracket your shots.  Modern DSLRs allow you to select a number of shots that will be taken in AV or Manual mode. With my Canon 6D its three… with the Canon 7d MII or Nikon its more.  The net result for 3 shots is you set your auto exposure bracketing to two stops under, one correctly exposed and one two over. 

Make sure your white balance is the same in all photos, and the focal point also needs to be the same.   Then using a tripod preferably, or hand-held if you are still enough, shoot off three identically composed images.  Next using Photomatrix or Nik Google Efex HDR Pro 2 you combine it into one image.

The benefit of this is that with images you have one that brings in all highlights, another for shadows, and the correctly exposed of mid range.  HDR need not look ‘cartoon like’, in fact done well it wont.  But it will give you sunset, or sunrise skies and correctly exposed mid ground and foreground without throwing them into silhouette. It’s also fabulous on any overcast day where the light is insufficient.

The image of the church was taken at sunrise.. this threw the church into shadow.  By using AEB I was able to keep detail in the midground, keep the sky from being under or over exposed and ensure the foreground was exposed to my liking.


Two Stops Under Exposed

Two Stops Under Exposed for sky and mountains

Correctly exposed for the mid ground

Correctly exposed for the church (mid ground)


2 stops over exposed for foreground

auto exposure bracketing

Final result – all three combined in Nik HDR Efex 2

As you can see from comparing the final result, and the ‘correct’ exposure… I wouldnt have got the degree of detail in church bricks, from just taking the one shot.  Only final things I did after they were combined was warm the image slightly to bring up the sunburst.  (which happened in camera by shooting at F18), and I removed the notices on the door in PS using the content aware tool.

Processing the Image

This can be done in LR or Photomatrix or Nik Efex HDR Pro 2.  Nik used to be my favorite go to for processing, but I recently purchased Photomatix and I have to say its much better than Nik (as Photomatix gets updated and since Google bought Nik, it doesnt).   If you dont want to jump into a Photomatix straight off (its about $100) Nik it is available as a free download at and can be used as a standalone program or a plugin to Photoshop and Lightroom.  I use the plugin version via Photoshop so I can still use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).  For the purpose of this step by step, we will assume you are doing the same and using Nik.

  1. Open all three images in ACR, highlight them so they are all selected and click on the little lens icon and apply lens corrections
  2. Click open images. Your three images are now open in PS.
  3. Click File>Automate>Merge to HDR Efex 2
  4. A dialog box opens up. Click ‘add open files’, then click the Merge Dialog button
  5. Another window now opens. Make sure that Alignment, Ghost Reduction and Chromatic Aberration are all ticked
  6. Click ‘Create HDR’
  7. PS does its magic and merges the images. But we aren’t done
  8. On the left panel is a series of filters that adjust colour, structure, shadows etc., they are separated into groups such as realistic, architecture, landscape etc. which each group being most suitable for your subject. I often use the Realistic category, and a favorite is the Deep 1 or Deep 2. But don’t be afraid to experiment.  Nothing is undoable until you click OK on the bottom right.
  9. Once you have applied your filter you can do any last minute tweaking from the right panel. Her you can adjust temperature, depth, exposure etc.   Once you are happy with the result click ok
  10. Your image is now merged into one and back in Photoshop. Here you can make any final edits such as cropping, content aware fill to remove unwanted objects or people.
  11. Next click ‘Save as’, save as JPEG and place it in your edited folder.
  12. You can also create a FB sized copy, add your watermark and save as a web copy
  13. Now simply close all images. No need to save them, you have already done that. 

………and….., below.. is image edited in Photomatix…no halo around the church with Photomatix

Church of the Good Shepherd – edited in Photomatix

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  1. Ruth June 4, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    Thanks so much for this informative post. I haven’t used this technique before so great to read about it and see the various shots before the combined image. Have so much to learn with my camera but posts like this are inspiring 🙂

  2. Glenda June 5, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

    Awesome pic. Love the work you have done on it. and WELCOME HOME

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