HDR Auto Bracketing Tip for Canon DSLR Users

This is a quick guide to increase HDR capabilities on the Canon 5D Mark III / II / 7D / 60D or lower model DLSR cameras.HDR Auto Bracketing Tip for Canon DSLR Users. HDR is exploding with popularity and adds an exciting new  tool set to the creative world of digital photography. If you are not familiar with the term “HDR”, check out my HDR Tutorials or this excellent HDR overview on Wikipedia. I greatly enjoy capturing HDR images with my Canon DSLR cameras; however, it was rather disappointing to learn the Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 7D cameras were still limited to 3 auto bracketed shots as were previous models such as the Canon 50D and Canon Rebel DSLRs. Sure, you can still capture and process HDR images with 3 shots that are 2 f-stops apart i.e. -2,0,2 but sometimes a 5 or 7+ bracketed series HDR image is required to capture the entire tonal range of light in a scene. On the Canon 5D Mark II / 7D / 60D or lower model DLSR cameras, there is no option to increase the auto bracketing to lets say 5 shots i.e. -2,-1,0,1,2 unlike the mid-high range Nikon cameras which all have expanded auto bracketing options and sometimes the two extra captures are useful when masking in some original detail into the final HDR composite image.On the flip side, the Canon 5D Mark III delivers major HDR enhancements with native HDR mode and the ability to capture 7 shot brackets.

Over the past several years, I’ve explored many HDR bracket solutions to overcome the limitation in the Canon DSLRs. The Promote Control shutter cable continues to be my all time favorite workaround as it provides all kinds of HDR bracketing magic with the ability to capture 40+ HDR bracket series, HDR time-lapse and long exposure HDRs. In recent months, I’ve grown to love the native HDR controls in the Canon 5D Mark III which has become my primary HDR setup. I’m also shooting a lot of time-lapse latetely which led me to discover a couple of alternative solutions that I’m evaluating such as GBTimelapse and a new exciting iPhone shutter cable app called Triggertrap Mobile that delivers even more HDR bracketing and time-lapse options then the Promote Control.

Below are some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up while exploring HDR bracket options for Canon DSLRs.

Canon 5D Mark II and 7D in Camera HDR Bracketing

The Canon 5D Mark II and 7D have 3 custom settings on the mode dial to use for quick use custom presets. Initially, I set up C1 to take an auto bracketed series in Aperture Priority mode at -2,0,2. Then I setup C2 with the same exact settings but this time set the bracketing to -1,0,1. Then with the camera securely mounted on a tripod and using the internal timer or an external shutter release cable, I was able to quickly take 2 series of shots that resulted in 5 unique exposures i.e. -2,-1,0,1,2.

In recent months, I’ve adjusted my strategy. I still use my custom presets on the mode dial but now I have C1 setup for video, C2 is my go-to HDR base settings of Aperture mode with brackets set to -2,0,2, f11 and ISO 100. On flip side, I’ve changed my C3 slot to use Manual mode which I need for shooting HDR panoramas. When I started using the Canon tilt-shift lens for panos, I quickly learned it was critical to lock the exposure in manually before shifting to the left or right which causes the camera meter to wig out.

This auto bracketing tip does not work for long exposures greater then 30 seconds. If you’ve run into this 30 sec limitation, check out my Long Exposure HDR Tutorial.

Here is a Canon 7D HDR Bracketing Tip – Video Tutorial and a Canon 7D HDR Custom Settings – Video Tutorial

Here are a couple of my favorite HDR images using these bracket tricks:


Glowing Chicago

Seattle Skyline Sunset

Hope you found this little workaround helpful. If you know of any other tricks / hacks to increase the auto bracketing sequence on Canon DSLRs, please do share!

Good luck shooting!

[updated 8/17/2012]

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  • http://photographyminute.com Eric D. Brown

    Great tip! I’ll try that on my 7D and see how it works. Great image!

  • http://www.michaelbolognesi.com Michael Bolognesi

    Thanks for a great tip. Very useful.

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  • Joel

    Cool idea. I'm still trying to figure our if I need to set auto drive to High speed or if it matters.

    • unifiedphoto

      Yes, set it to high speed this will enable 8 shots per sec on the Canon 7D.

  • Mike

    Thanks! I have a 7D (love it) and will use this too!

  • Erik

    Custom settings are not saving. Everytime I switch from C1 to C2 everything defaults. Ideas?

    • S. Vasquez

      Once you have set up your custom settings go to menu to the third yellow icon (the one with the tool and the 3 dots), then go to “camera user settings”, then “register” and here you can choose where to save your settings (c1, c2 or c3), select one with the “set” button and to confirm click “OK”.
      You don't have to be necessary on the same mode dial to set up… you can be on Manual and save your current settings to.. c1 for exaple.

      bye! ;)

      • onjoFilms

        True. You just can be on CA (Creative Automatic) or Full Automatic. The option is not available there.

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  • http://twitter.com/sxbaird Stewart Baird

    Thanks Ken. I was thinking my 7D was almost perfect… if only it did 5 exposures… great trick. I love your work BTW.

  • chrisyao

    doesn't work for mine, where to set C2? can it be more clear? Is it C fn II ?? that is image setting i believe.. thanks!

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  • KC

    Excellent pic, how many images were taken. I bought a Canon 7D today and I am all over your site at the moment instead of reading the manual and I am already eyeing up the Zeikos Battery Grip. This is the sort of stuff that I would love to create suppose I need to learn how to use the camera first. Can anyone recommend a DVD that takes you right through the camera. It would be easier then reading the manual. Cheers KC

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  • http://www.yogie.de Joerg


    wouldn't it be possible to eliminate the dupe “0” picture? For example when you take the first auto bracketed series with a exposure value correction to any minus X f-stops and the second with a exposure value correction to any plus X f-stops?
    I never tried this but what do you think about it? Please let me know…


  • Singty

    You dont need two settings use only 1 ie C1 and set as mentioned followed by the normal manual auto bracketing for 2 f stops.

  • Jmj

    Instead of all the custom stuff, take one -2, 0, 2, the add + or – 1 EV and retake the -2, 0, 2. Voila–six unique exposures 1 EV apart.

    • unifiedphoto

      Yep. That works too! `,-) I use that method often. I typically have C2 reserved for my -2,0,2 at ISO 200 and f16 which works great for tripod captures. For hand held HDRs, I use C3 setup with -2,0,2 at ISO 400 and F8. Then depending on the situation I'll use one or other custom setting and use the trick that you referenced to capture extra brackets.


    what is the best external shutter release for a 7D? Reasonably priced….

    • unifiedphoto

      My favorite is the Promote Control but it is a bit overpriced at $299. A cheaper alternative that I've enjoyed using is the 'Satechi TM series' which can be found pretty cheap on Amazon.

      • http://www.yogie.de Joerg

        Hi, do you have an exact product name or link for the 'Satechi TM series' that can handle HDR (AEB) controlled photographs?
        I was in thought that only the Promote Control can do so?!

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  • John Sapienza

    Has anyone tried DSLRbot( http://www.dslrbot.com/ ) for HDR bracketing ? It looks very promising.

  • AC

    I told that you could tether to a Netbook and take all of the exposures that you want using Canon software. I don’t know if I want to buy a Netbook and carry it around though. :)

  • Don Vu

    Great tip for setting C1 C2 for HDR Auto bracketing – I tried it last night and so easy, makes me want to take more HDR pictures. Thanks Ken!

  • http://www.kenyonphotography.blogspot.com/ [email protected]

    Great information I will use some of your suggestions.

  • Michael B.

    I found somewhere, you can use C1 for -4, -2, 0 sequence,
    C2 dor 0, +2, +4 sequence – gives 8 stops range. Unfortunatelly every picture needs shutter button to be pressed…

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  • Bé van der Woude

    The links to HDR settings of the 7D are no longer working??

    • kennethsnyder

      Sorry we had a server issue. Should be fixed now.