Bracketing for HDR with Nikon DSLRs

February 26, 2010

HDR, Making an Image, Photo Tips

Pocosin Lakes NWR, NC. 3-shot HDR

When you are shooting images you intend to combine into a high dynamic range (HDR) image you usually want one image at the recommended exposure, one image under exposed by 2 stops and one image overexposed by 2 stops. Most DSLR cameras today can capture these three images quickly and easily using a feature called auto exposure bracketing. Your camera probably has a button or menu item called AEB or BKT to activate this feature.

If your camera allows you to bracket three shots with 2 stops in between, you’re all set. Be sure your camera is on a tripod, set your frame-rate on ‘continuous’ and use a remote or cable release. But what if your camera can’t bracket in 2-stop increments? I get this question a lot from Nikon shooters, and there is an easy answer.

For some reason the higher end Nikon DSLR cameras can only bracket up to 1-stop increments. I use a Nikon D700 and a D300s. I can bracket three, five, seven or nine shots, but I can only do so 1-stop at a time. The D200, D300 and even the D3 series have the same bracketing options. Here’s how I work with these options for shooting HDR.

I bracket five shots with 1 stop between them. I end up with -2, -1, 0, +1 and +2 EV. When I import my photos and go to process my HDR image I use only the -2, 0 and +2 images in the series. I normally end up trashing the -1 and +1 shots, but sometimes I use one of these images to make the final HDR.

It would be great if Nikon would let us bracket 2 stops at a time. Nikon D90 and even D5000 users can bracket 2 stops, so it’s probably as simple as a firmware update. Until then I’ll keep my fingers crossed and use this simple workaround.

The image in this post shot with a Nikon D700 and 24-70mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens. The three exposures were combined and tone-mapped with Photomatix Pro. Finishing touches were applied in Lightroom2. Enter the discount code “RobKnight15” for 15% off when you order Photomatix Pro at

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This post was written by:

- who has written 23 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Rob Knight is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop Lightroom and a two-time Photoshop Guru finalist. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Rob loves to travel and share his passion for photography with others.
You can follow Rob on twitter @RobKnightPhoto, and find out about Rob’s classes and photo workshops at Rob Knight Photography

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17 Responses to “Bracketing for HDR with Nikon DSLRs”

  1. Dave Wilson Says:

    Although the D90 allows 2 stop bracketing, remember that it only allows a maximum of 3 shots per bracket. This is great for -2/0/+2 which covers most of my HDR requirements but in tricky conditions, I very frequently have to turn auto-bracketing off after the first three shots and dial in manual exposure compensation to take other exposures further than 2 stops from centre.

    The ideal choice would be to allow the user to specify the number of brackets (from 3 to 9, covering both the low- and high-end Nikon options) and the exposure delta between each shot in the bracket (from 0.5 stops to 2 stops). Anyone got any clout in Nikon engineering?


  2. Ed Cooley Says:

    I have been asking for greater than 1 stop AEB from NIKON since I switched from Canon. I don’t understand why they would refuse to do something so easily handled in a firmware upgrade.

    I can’t think of any reason why they would be reluctant to do it.


  3. Rob Knight Says:

    I’m with you fellas… it seems like an easy thing to change. Oh well, I guess it’s OK if everything’s not automatic ; )




    • Predrag Says:

      Some tips when using nikon d90 for bracketing exposure:
      -Use a lowest ISO number – 1ev under ISO 100 – result is low noise and less artifacts in your image.
      -For geeks with notebook: invest in camera control pro software from nikon – you can use it for remote changing the all settings for camera about exposure without touching the camera (yes you are using the tripod, but even touching the command dial will cause a micro movement and cause blur on your final photo – you can use the alignement of exposures in software, but it’s better to prevent any movement) – take e shoots with auto bracketing then shift the exposure and take another 3 and so on … This work every nikon camera


      • Dennis Gray Says:

        Predrag: I use DSLR Remote software to shoot wirelessly from an iPhone and to auto bracket. The automatic auto bracket allows up to 11 exposures per bracket on my D7000. Was considering the Camera Control Pro 2 but didn’t want to manually select each exposure or be limited to 3 shots per bracket. Do you know if the CCP2 has automated bracketing with over 3 shots per bracket for a D7000?



      • DanHill Says:

        Actually looking at dpreview test, it seems that the biggest dynamic range is at ISO 400 and there is no visible noise difference between 100 and 400.

        For geeks with notebook, you can also use a free gphoto2 if you are familiar with console.


  4. David French Says:

    I understand this a NIKON blog but I have a quick Q on the canon 400D, does it supported bracketing? I cant seem to find an option for it anywhwere on the camera even in the custom options.

    Thanks in advance


    • Drew Says:

      @David Yes, the 400D does have auto bracketing. 3 shots up to 2 stops apart if I remember correctly. It’s in the menu settings or consult the Canon site if you don’t have the manual.


  5. Brett Gilmour Says:

    hey guys,

    i’m shooting with the D3 and it does bracket at 1/3 increments. i just set the camera to bracketing on then use either remote trigger or camera control pro software from nikon to trigger the camera. Works a charm every time.

    Brett Gilmour
    Gilmour Photography


  6. Marco Says:

    I’m looking to get into HDR photography, I was looking at getting a Nikon D3000 but it doesn’t feature auto bracketing. As I understand it the D5000 does. Would the D5000 be the only option to me?


  7. Rob Knight Says:

    You can use the D3000 for shooting HDR. You will have to manually change the exposure for your bracketed shots. It’s easy enough, just not as convenient.
    In manual exposure mode, take a shot at the recommended exposure. Then change the shutter speed (keep the aperture consistent between your bracketed shots so your depth of field stays the same) to under-expose your second shot by 2 stops. Change your shutter speed to take a third shot that is 2 stops over-exposed and you’re done.
    If I were to recommend an entry level camera I would definitely go with the D5000 over the D3000. I think you would “outgrow” the D3000 a lot more quickly.



  8. kevin Says:

    this is a great article and I found it to be a huge help. I’m using the D5000 and it is working great thanks


  9. John Harding Says:

    I admit I’m pretty dense on math so help me understand how auto bracketing five shots with one stop between them give you -2 -1 0 +1 +2. In other words how does two -1 stops combine to give you the -2. Manually done this would certainly be possible but how on earth do you get the 2 stop setting when the D700 limits the stop to 1 in the auto bracketing program.


  10. Joe P. Says:

    i’m getting into HDR with my D3X and these advises are good, but please someone, take the time and explain in detail how to start bracketing with the D3X, step-by-step.
    That, i’m sure, would be a great service to your not so experienced photo buddies.
    Thank you.


  11. Alex Morales Says:

    I know this is a Nikon subject, but I found that using Pentax equipment especially the K5 has the greatest range of options that I need to shoot HDR’s. It can shoot three or five shots, from an EV range of -5 to +5, in steps ranging from 1, 1.5, or 2. One would think that all DSLRs would feature such a capability….


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