Exposure Bracketing

The New York City!

Living in Washington DC, only four hours drive from New York City, I have been lucky enough to be able to visit this incredible city many times in the last ten years. It is always crowded, busy and messy but still magical. It hosts people from all around the world and serves food from all continents. I read somewhere that, in the New York City, even if someone eats two meals a day in a different restaurant everyday, they wouldn't be able to taste all the restaurants in their lifetime. That says so much about the magnitude of this world's largest city which has so much to offer to everyone. You can possible buy everything that money can buy here. After all, this is the Financial Capital of the free world.

This majestic city is the home for almost 10 Million New Yorkers and travel destination for almost 60 Million tourists every year. No matter what day of the month or what month of the year it is, the crowd doesn't seem to be lessening. People are out and about even if it's blazing hot outside or freezing cold. This city of concrete jungle welcomes you with the magnificent view of countless skyscrapers which seem to be growing in numbers every day. One does not have to be an architect or a photographer to admire the skyline of New York City. When I visited this city for the first time in 2009, I drove through New Jersey Turnpike and reached to the city via Lincoln Tunnel. When I saw the glimpse of these skyscrapers for the first time (from a distance), I was in complete awe and forgot to take a photo. I went there for the July 4th weekend to celebrate America's independence day and witnessed one of the biggest fireworks in the world. Even though I had just started learning about photography, I took my camera with me but didn’t feel ready to go out and shoot. I returned with some casual shots of friends and family gathering and promised myself to come back more prepared. I visited the city many times ever since and had managed to take few shots here and there. However, I was not satisfied with the outcomes and felt something was still missing. I decided to visit the city again and this time, I went back fully prepared to capture NYC in its full glory. This time, I was determined to get the shots I have always wanted and from as many places as I could pinpoint.

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How To Setup Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB)

I wrote a blog about the exposure compensation and bracketing last month where I talked about the exposure compensation, when to use it and what does the bracketing mean? In this blog, I am going to talk about the Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) and how to set the controls to activate the exposure bracketing feature for the Nikon D90 or any other DSLR in that matter although the menu settings and the controls might be in different places for a different camera. Sometimes, manually bracketing and taking multiple shots will be forgetful and tedious job. And that is the main reason we use Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) feature available in most of the advance DSLRs. When AEB is activated, camera will take three (or more depending on the camera model and the settings applied) shots automatically provided that you are in a continuous shooting mode or a burst shooting mode. Once the automatic bracketing is activated, when you press the shutter release button once, it takes the first picture at the camera measured exposure, second picture with a negative exposure compensation (usually -1/3 EV but Nikon D90 allows you to specify a different value), and the third with a positive exposure compensation (usually +1/3 EV).

How to set Nikon D90 for AEB?

Nikon D90 Bracketing Menu

Nikon D90 Bracketing Menu

1. Press the Menu button on the left side of your camera.

2. Navigate to the Custom Settings Menu (Pencil icon).

3. Go to e bracketing/flash menu and option e4 is for setting up Auto Bracketing with different options.

4. Inside auto bracketing, you have other options available as well to set for but Automatic Exposure (AE) is what we are discussing here.

D90 Bracketing Order.png

You can also set the order of how you would want your camera to take the pictures whether it is in the order of correct exposure first, under exposure second and over exposure at last or under exposure first, correct exposure second and over exposure is at third. In order to set that order, you have to go to e6 Bracketing order menu under e bracketing/flash menu and set whichever order you want. This doesn't make any difference on the exposure but just the order in which photographs will be taken and saved in the memory.

Nikon D90 Bracketing Button

Nikon D90 Bracketing Button

Now the next step is to set the exposure value and the number of frames you would want. Nikon D90 allows you to shoot 2 frames over exposed and one correctly exposed (+2F) or 2 frame under exposed and one correctly exposed (-2F) or traditional 3F which gives one under exposed, one correctly exposed and one over exposed picture. So the maximum number of frames for Nikon D90 is 3. In order to setup +2F, -2F or 3F, press the BKT button on the left side of the camera, just below the flash button, and once the button is pressed, you will see an option displayed on the top LCD near the shutter release button to set the exposure value and the number of frames. While pressing the bracketing button, rotate the main command dial to change the number of frames whether it is +2F, -2F or 3F and use the sub command dial to change how much you want to shift the exposure value for the under and the over exposed photographs. Once you are done with all those setup, your camera is ready to take the bracketed shots.

Automatic Exposure Bracketing is a great feature if you want to blend multiple exposure shots and extract the details and the shadows by creating an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image. This technique is getting increasingly popular in landscape photography and I use it almost every time when I shoot night cityscapes .

Introduction To Different Exposure Modes - Which Exposure Mode Should You Use?

Today's most of the consumer level DSLRs have dedicated scene modes like close-up, portrait, sports etc which sets exposure automatically when you dial into the mode. Besides these pre-programmed modes, it also comes with few other exposure modes (A, S, P and M) to allow you control over camera’s default settings. When you dial into those pre-configured mode, portrait mode for example, you really do not have a control over exposure. If you want to manually set the exposure, you have to use one of the four modes (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program Mode and Manual Exposure) available in your camera.

Image Source : Wikipedia

Image Source : Wikipedia

Out of these four modes, three of them are semi-automated modes and one is fully manual mode. When you want to change from one mode into another, you would have to rotate the Mode Dial and select the mode you want to change into. These settings are not specific to any particular camera model but different companies may use different alphabets to denote these modes. For example, Nikon’s shutter priority mode is denoted by letter S whereas Canon’s is T but the idea behind it’s functionality is the same. But in this blog, I will be taking Nikon DSLR as a reference camera when I explain these different modes. Now, let’s get into our first exposure mode which is an Aperture Priority (A) exposure mode.

1. Aperture Priority

In an Aperture Priority (A) mode, you set the lens’ aperture value or give priority to the aperture value and your camera sets the shutter speed to control the overall exposure of the image. This mode is probably best when you want to control the opening or the closing of your lens to gain shallow or deep depth of field. You would have to use the smaller F-stop (f/stop) value to get the shallower depth of field (famous for portrait or close up shots) and you might want to use the larger f/stop value to get everything in focus (widely used in landscape photography).

This mode is best if you want to lock the aperture at fixed value and want your camera to set the shutter speed according to the aperture value you set. If your current aperture value and the shutter speed doesn't match to give you optimal exposure for the subject, you will get Lo or HI indicator in the camera viewfinder telling you that subject is too dark or too bright resulting into underexposed or overexposed photograph. If you get the indicator on, you might want to consider adjusting your settings.

2. Shutter Priority

Our second exposure mode is the Shutter Priority (S) mode which is just an opposite of the Aperture Priority mode. In this mode, you set the shutter speed and your camera will adjust the aperture value for the corresponding shutter speed to give you the balanced exposure. You might want to use this mode when you want to shoot fast moving subjects to freeze the motion (shooting sports events for example). This mode is also famous for landscape photography specially if your frame contains moving subjects like water falls or vehicles where you can control the speed of shutter to produce long exposure effects.

3. Program Mode

Third exposure mode is the Program Mode (P) which is almost like an Auto mode but it will let you override some of the settings on the camera. Nikon uses sophisticated algorithm to determine the best exposure by using the combination of aperture and shutter speed. The algorithm takes the present lighting conditions and other variables into account and program the camera setting to the best of it’s ability. When you frame your photograph and the correct exposure can't be achieved using pre-set value, Lo or Hi indicator in the camera viewfinder warns you about the underexposed or overexposed image. If you get the warning, you can adjust ISO setting to change the light sensitivity and see if that makes any difference.

Unlike Auto mode, Program mode allows you to change the camera parameters such as Exposure Compensation, Metering, ISO, White Balance etc. If you want to change the shutter speed and the aperture value, use the main command dial (also called rear command dial) and it will give you the different combinations of aperture value and shutter speed with the same exposure. When you do that, the letter P (for the Program Mode) changes into (P*) into LCD screen which Nikon calls the "Flexible Program". If you want to go back to the default settings of P mode, you just have to rotate the command dial to the left or the right until P* changes into P.

4. Manual Exposure

Our fourth and final exposure type is Manual Exposure (M) mode. If you want the complete control of your camera, Manual Exposure mode is what you need to dial into. Most of the experience photographers and the professionals use this mode very often because they know how their camera metering system is going to react under certain shooting environment. In the Manual Exposure mode, you can set the shutter speed and the aperture value in whichever combination you like. When you are in Manual mode, rotate the main command dial to change the shutter speed and the sub-command dial (also called front command dial) to change the aperture value. In this mode, you can set everything manually including ISO, White Balance, File Type etc.

Personally, my favorite for the landscape or the cityscape photography is an Aperture Priority (A) mode where I can set the lens aperture to certain value and let the camera decide the shutter speed. If the lighting situation is tricky, I use the Manual mode and control both the Aperture value and the Shutter speed individually.

Using ISO Settings With Nikon D90

We have already discussed about ISO and its pros and cons in my previous blog. Now, lets discuss about the ISO settings for Nikon D90. There is no doubt that Nikon D90 is a very powerful and semi-pro DSLR camera and also one of the first DSLR which records HQ video with sounds. Today, I am not going to discuss about the movie feature and save that topic for the future discussion. D90 is also considered as one of the best camera to capture variety of rich colors in if you handle the exposure correctly. We know that Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO are the three main fundamentals (also called an exposure triangle) to control your exposure settings. We also discussed about the exposure compensation using different techniques like exposure lock, bracketing etc and we will discuss more about the proper combination of shutter speed and aperture for proper exposure in our future posts. But for now, lets discuss about the ISO settings that affects the exposure.

ISO Sensitivity settings.png

When you press the Menu button at the left panel on the back of your camera, you will get few menu options. Please click on the Shooting Menu (camera icon) where you will find ISO sensitivity settings option. When you go inside that option, there are mainly two things to be considered, one is ISO Sensitivity which is available with all exposure modes and another one is ISO Sensitivity Auto Control which is available in PAS modes only.

ISO Sensitivity option allows you to specify the ISO settings. It's a same thing as you press the ISO button on the back of your D90 and rotate main command dial. In Nikon D90, ISO can be set to AUTO which lets camera pick ISO value automatically as necessary or you can also manually set any value that ranges from LO 1 (equivalent to ISO 100) through 3200 to HI 1 (equivalent to ISO 6400). ISO Sensitivity Auto Control menu lets you specify how and when your camera will adjust the ISO value automatically under different lighting conditions. When Auto ISO is activated, the camera set ISO value whenever it's necessary if current ISO settings won't allow you for optimal exposure. There are three main features to be considered when you enable ISO sensitivity auto control option. Here is the brief discussion about them.

1.  ISO sensitivity auto Control ON/OFF

This button will let you set the ISO sensitivity auto control ON or OFF. If it's OFF, it will prevent the camera from changing the ISO value automatically. If you turn this feature off, you have to increase or decrease the ISO value manually to compensate the exposure.

2. Maximum Sensitivity

This option is used to set the highest ISO value your camera can set automatically before it starts lowering the shutter speed to get the proper exposure.

3. Minimum shutter speed

This setting allows you to set D90 how slow the shutter speed can be before ISO is boosted up by camera automatically to higher value to get proper exposure. Default value is 1/30th of the second and it's not recommended most of the time to set shutter speed below that unless you are using tripod. If you are using telephoto lens, you might want to set the Minimum shutter speed to 1/250th of the second and if you are using wide angle lens for landscape, you might want to set below 1/30th of the second.