Exposure Bracketing With The Nikon D7000
I used to equate exposure bracketing with HDR, but no longer. Sometimes I shoot HDR, sometimes I don't. But I bracket my shots often ... quite a bit actually. When I'm in the field, I'm focused on putting my camera in a cool location and finding a strong composition. Bracketing is more or less a crutch to make sure I get a good exposure. Very often I'm throwing away exposures back in the studio - but that's way better than missing the right one!
I'm a Nikon shooter and my primary camera is the D7000. The D7000 has good bracketing support, but is limited to groups of 3 exposures. For most situations, HDR or otherwise, 3 frames (-2 EV / 0 / +2 EV) is sufficient. For other situations, you may want a broader dynamic range. With a little setup, you can exploit the D7000's user-setting modes and take a 9 bracket sweep in 1 EV increments. And you don't need extra gizmos to do it.
3 Bracketed Shots
Consult the D7000 manual for the full details on setting up exposure bracketing, but the basics are holding down the bracket button and using the command dials to set the number of shots and the bracketing increment. The D7000 supports 2 or 3 bracketed shots at increments from 0.3EV to 2.0EV. I typically use "3F 2.0" - 3 shots at 2.0EV increments. Assuming my exposure compensation is set to 0.0, this setting yields -2.0 EV, 0, and +2.0 EV exposures. I've found this range is suitable for most HDR situations. And it's a good crutch for a single-shot photo.
The real trick I want to share for 3 bracketed shots is to use the self-timer mode to take the bracketed shots. With a single press of the shutter, the camera will take the specified number of shots in a single go. You only touch the camera once and you have time to take your hand away and let the camera settle before the shots are taken. This is handy when you don't have a remote shutter release with you.
9 Bracketed Shots
Occasionally, I want a 9 bracket exposure. As I said above, the D7000 doesn't support more than 3 shots in a bracketed burst. Some of the higher end Nikons have broader options for bracketing. But, with a bit of camera setup and a little practice, taking 9 brackets is totally doable. There's two parts: the camera setup and the shooting sequence. I'll describe how to achieve a -4EV to +4EV sweep at 1EV increments.
The D7000 has two user definable settings U1 and U2. The user settings are very thorough and save everything from the shooting mode to focal points to aperture and shutter speeds to, of course, bracketing. I'll use aperture priority mode as an example, but this works for almost all shooting mode. First, dial in your desired settings into the camera. A good starting point:
Shooting mode: Aperture priority
Focal point: dead center
Exposure Compensation: 0.0
Bracketing: 3F 1.0 (3 shots, 1EV increments)
Using the D7000 menus, save this as User Setting U1.
Next, change the exposure compensation to overexpose:
Exposure Compensation: +3.0
All other settings stay the same. Save again, this time as User Setting U2. That's it for the setup.
For 9 brackets, I always use a remote shutter release. Every touch of the camera increases the potential for camera shake or misalignment between shots. If you don't have one, you can still follow the sequence below and get 9 bracketed shots. But you'll touch the camera 5 times vs. 2 times if you have a cable release.
You've done your setup, you've got your camera to a cool location, and now you want 9 bracketed photos. Since the D7000 takes a maximum of 3 bracketed shots in a burst, you take 3 sets, using the U1 and U2 modes to cover the -4 to +4 range. The U1 setting is for the middle exposures. The U2 setting is for both the over and under exposed frames. U2 is controlled with the exposure compensation.
Here's the exact steps to capture the 9 brackets:
Turn the mode dial to U2.
Change the exposure compensation to -3.0.
Fire the cable release and take the first set of 3 brackets. This captures -4EV, -3EV, and -2EV.
Gently rotate the mode dial to U1.
Fire the cable release again and grab the next set of 3 brackets. This captures -1EV, 0EV, and 1EV.
Gently rotate the mode dial back to U2.
Fire the cable release one more time and grab the last set of 3 brackets. This captures 2EV, 3EV, and 4EV.
With a cable release, once you start shooting, you only touch the camera at step 4 and step 6. From my experience, you can rotate the mode dial without shifting the position of the camera. A gentle touch is all you need.
I use an ML-L3 wireless remote and also take advantage of the D7000's "remote mirror-up" mode. The first press of the shutter-release raises the mirror, and the second press opens the shutter. An additional measure to minimize camera shake.
I will change the user settings from time to time, primarily to alter the aperture or the selected focal point. This is easy to do on the fly in the field - just don't forget to update both the U1 and U2 settings!
That's it! Yes, there are products that allow you to remotely control more functions of the camera. They may be great - but I've never used them. I want to carry less gear, not more. And for the infrequent occasion I need a 9 bracket shot, the technique above does the trick.