Friday, July 5, 2013

Are you a Bracketeer?

Unless you live on Mars, you will be aware there remains some debate over the ‘HDR thing’, or High Dynamic Range photography. As a simple person I don’t get it. That is taking brackets around a base exposure to ensure that you have extracted the maximum quality of photons from the scene just seems common sense to me.
Of course, bracketing is not the issue; it’s how you manipulate those brackets into a single image, eg grungy-looking vs natural-looking. Let me say up front, I strive to make my images, from brackets or not, look natural, although I am not always aiming to make an image that is an exact replica of the scene.

So why bracket?

For me it comes down to physics and engineering. That is our cameras, no matter how expensive, will not always be able to capture the tonal range of the scene we are observing, ie brights to darks. If you wish to capture such high contrast scenes with the simplest of equipment, I recommend looking at the scene and try and remember it for as long as you can. You don’t need a camera for this approach!

If, on the other hand, you wish to share your made images with others, then taking a set of brackets is the only way, until a 20+ Ev dynamic range camera arrives, that ‘guarantees’ success, albeit with some post processing work in the computer.

As a Canon shooter I have, until I got my 5DIII, been limited to capturing three brackets with my camera’s (G11, S95 or 50D) 3-bracket AEB function. If I needed a wider set of brackets I was forced to manually adjust the AEBs, eg through exposure compensation or some other manual intervention.

However, as a Canon shooter I also have access to two free and simple ‘add-ons’ that allow me to extend my bracketing to any level I need, including scene-informed auto bracketing. For my G11 and S95 I use CHDK ( and for my 50D, and soon my 5DIII, I use Magic Lantern (

I have no hesitation in recommending these two firmware add-ons. Magic Lantern comes with a built in auto-bracketing feature, that will take as many brackets as required, ie you don’t need to specify the number of brackets; and in CHDK, although it doesn’t have an auto-bracketing feature built in, you can write a simple script to achieve this ‘magic’.

With CHDK and ML I could just call it a day. But I like bright shinny things and therefore I also have two additional pieces of technology, which by the way, run on non-Canon cameras. 

My ‘top of the range’ technology is a very robust and powerful ‘gadget’ called Promote Control. The Promote Control plugs into my 50D or 5DIII cameras and essentially acts as a tethered controller, ie it is like a small PC, not much bigger than an iPhone. If you have not heard of the Promote Control, I have placed a link to their site and can recommend it for all your extended control, ie HDR brackets, timelapse and focus stacking etc.

At about the same price as the Promote Control is my CamRanger. I have only just starting using CamRanger and really like it. It operates over a wifi link to my iPod or iPad, and allows me to control my EOS cameras via Live View, ie refocus or take a set of exposure or focus brackets. CamRanger is a relatively new product and I’m sure the manufacturers will be extending its functionality in the future.

Finally, I also have a few control Apps that say they do extended bracketing, but all only do this in bulb mode, hence short exposures, less than say, 1/25 sec, and not accessible, ie you may need to play around with ND filters to get into the accessible bulb range. These iPhone based solutions are much cheaper than the other solutions, and you get what you pay for.

In future posts I intend to cover extended bracketing and HDR processing in more detail. For now, suffice it to say, if you wish to extend your bracketing, ie beyond what Canon, say, gives you, then you need to consider some technology. In my opinion, if you are a Canon user, you should ‘load up’ either CHDK or ML, as it will always be with you. If you are a non-Canon user, or a Canon user who prefers a little bit of hardware in their hands, you can’t go wrong with Promote Control. As I am still evaluating CamRanger I will hold further judgment on this technology until a future post.

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