Setting Nikon D5100 / D7000 White Balance

The How and Why of setting White Balance with a Nikon D5100 and D7000.  This article deals with a Nikon DSLR camera, but the concepts are useful for all digital cameras.   Edited 2017.11 - streamlined illustrations and added instructions for older Nikon D7000 cameras.

Photographs take on the color and hue of the light the photo was taken in.  You may have noticed this.  On overcast days, or under dark overhands or foliage, your photos may have a distinct blue tint.  Indoors, photographs may be unnaturally warm (red).  Fluorescents may appear as a variety of unnatural colors.

Your eye (brain) automatically compensates for most of these color shifts but, by default, the camera records the scene as-it-is.  You can use a setting called White Balance to color-correct the scene, setting the colors to "how they are supposed to be."

Digital cameras have an "Auto White Balance" and it can make a guess about the light, but you will get better photographs by balancing the pictures manually.  This article explains how and why to control the white balance.  This is sometimes called Color Correction.

  • Examples - White paper under incandescent
  • When to White Balance and when not to
  • Setting White Balance Manually with White Sheet of Paper (recommended)
  • Using Pre-configured White Balance (sunny-day, cloudy-day, etc.)
  • Using Auto White Balance
  • Turning off White Balance
  • "Mood" lighting
  • Histograms
Incandescent lighting (a standard old-fashioned light bulb) has a warm color to it -- verging on yellow or red.  Under normal conditions, people instantly become acclimatized to the light and the brain ignores the color. But from an outdoor (blue-ish) lighting, looking inside of a house, you can see the warmth, which is visible to both you and your camera.

See this article for an example of open-shade color correction:  Still Life with Mussels.

This article assumes you are shooting in a non-RAW mode.  White-balancing only matters if JPG or PNG.  On my Nikon D7000, I am saving 1 each RAW and JPG.  White-balancing matters on the JPG-side.

Examples with a White Sheet of Paper

As an experiment, you can test how your camera and its auto-white-balancing behaves by photographing a sheet of white paper. 

With the camera in automatic exposure and auto white-balance, it will likely miss both the color correction and the exposure.  Admittedly, all-white subjects cause other exposure problems, but it is easy to separate the color shifts from metering errors.  In these examples, pay attention to the color.

None of the photographs in this article were manipulated with a photo editor and all were taken under incandescent halogen lighting.

White Balance Examples

Correct WB and Exposure
Photograph A is how the photo should appear.

A white sheet of paper, a white book, and an apple -- on a light-grey desktop.  The paper is bright white.  With manual "white balancing" and manual exposure compensation, this picture appears as the mind's eye saw it -- even though it was taken under an incandescent light.   

Again, note this photo was not manipulated with a photo-editor; this is a straight shot from the camera.  I encourage you to try this experiment yourself. Consider trying this experiment under full-shade on a cloudless day - you will find an obvious blue shift.

The overall whiteness of the scene fools the meter.  Because of this, the picture was over-exposed +2 stops to compensate.  This would be a metering problem regardless of the light, type of camera, film, etc., and is a separate issue, covered in this imageLiner article:  Using an 18% Grey Card.  

Photographs B - Auto White Balance + Auto-Meter

Photograph "B" was taken as the camera would prefer:  Auto-White Balance plus normal exposure.  The photo is under-exposed and muddy -- and still carries a substantial red undertone.

Compare this in Photo C, where it is still Auto-White Balance, but the exposure was increased by two stops to counter-act the camera meter's inability to handle a mostly white scene.  Although "C" is improved, it is still nothing like the way photo should have appeared.

Photograph D was taken under the worse possible conditions:

The camera was set for a Daylight (not Auto) white balance and there was no exposure compensation to counteract the white-subject's metering error.  The red is overwhelming.  I was surprised at this photo. 

Real-World White Balance

Except for bright, sunny days, almost all photographs can benefit from White Balancing.
This is especially true if artificial lights are used. 

Consider white-balancing in these situations where the color of the light can often look unnatural in the final photograph:
  • Outdoor shots underneath overhangs or shade (blue)
  • Cloudy, overcast days (blue)
  • Artificial lighting
  • Indoor under a cold, wintery window light (blue)
  • Indoor under incandescent lighting (red)
  • Scenes with a brightly-colored backgrounds or colored reflecting surfaces
  • Scenes with a lot of white (snow, concrete, etc.)
  • If you want the objects as their 'true' color

However, for artistic reasons, do not white-balance in these conditions: 
  • Sunrise / Sunsets
  • Candle and firelight
  • Neon and other light sources that are in the photograph
  • "Mood" lighting
For each of these, consider forcing white-balance to 'direct sunlight' (daylight) -- do not allow Auto to adjust.

Use Auto in these conditions:
  • Average day-light (no need to white balance; leave on Auto)
  • If using a Flash when the entire frame is within the flash's range
  • When you are too lazy to do otherwise
Do not bother white balancing if shooting only RAW. 

Setting White Balance

Follow these steps to set the Nikon D5100's White Balance.  Other cameras have similar steps.

There are three ways to control White Balance:

A. Manual (recommended)
B.  Pre-Sets (choosing a camera's fixed style, such as "cloudy day")
C.  Auto

White Balance can only be set when the camera is in one of these modes:  P,S,A or M.

For reasons only Nikon understands, automatic modes, portrait, landscape, etc,  use Auto White Balance and cannot be manually set.  I suppose this is because these modes were intended to be used by non-technical photographers.

However, if you are reading this article and are concerned about White Balance, you should already be in one of the P,S,A or M modes.

D5100 Manual White Balance with a Sheet of Paper

Method A: Manually Setting White Balance - Recommended Method

For a Nikon D7000, see below. 

In my opinion, the pre-set WB settings (incandescent, shade, etc.) are barely acceptable.  More accurate balances can be set by manually calibrating with a white sheet of paper.  This only takes a minute and the results are always better than the camera's auto white-balance.

You will be taking a calibration photo and this photo will set the correct White Balance for the current lighting conditions.  You will need a sheet of white paper and about 60 seconds of your time.

1.  Confirm the Camera's mode dial is in P,S,A, or M.  You cannot be in Auto-Program, Sports, Portrait, etc.

Have a sheet of white paper handy.

2.  Press "Menu"

In (green) Shooting Menu, select "White Balance". 
Right-arrow to move to the next menu:

Important: You cannot use the "i" menu to manually configure or set the 'Pre' white balance -- even though the "i" menu has a "Pre-set" choice.  "Pre" (as in Pre-set Manual) was an unfortunate name for this choice -- "manual" would have been better.  The name "pre-set" is easily confused with the factory-pre-sets, such as "cloudy-day", "shade", etc. 

3.  In the list, scroll to the last item. 
Select "PRE - Preset Manual"

4.  Press Right-Arrow to select. 

5.  Highlight menu choice "Measure" (OK).  If prompted to overwrite, choose Yes.

6.  In the view-finder, compose on a sheet of White Paper. 
  • The sheet must be in the same quality of light as the subject 
  • For Nikon, the paper must occupy most of the frame
  • Angle the sheet slightly so it partially faces the light source and the camera, with no glare
  • You do not need to be perfectly focused on the paper 
  • Do not cast your shadow on the sheet

7.  Press the shutter to take the calibration photo of the white paper.

Confirmation Prompts:
The video will show "Data Acquired"
The View Finder will show "Gd" (Good).
Note: The calibration photo is not stored on the memory card.

"Pre" (Pre-set manual) white balance is now set.

Photograph your actual scene normally.
Re-calibrate white balance if the nature of the light changes.
You do not need to re-calibrate if the subject or composition changes.

Note: You cannot use the "i" menu to calibrate the PRE White Balance, but you can use the menu to return to the last-recorded calibration. 

D7000 Manual White Balance with a Sheet of Paper

Method A: Manually Setting White Balance - Recommended Method

For a Nikon D7000, calibrating white balance with a white sheet of paper takes a moment and the results are better than the camera's auto-settings.

For a Nikon D5100, see above.

You will be taking a calibration photo and this photo will set the correct White Balance for the current lighting conditions.  You will need a sheet of white paper and about 60 seconds of your time.

1.  Confirm the Camera's mode dial is in P,S,A, or M.  You cannot be in Auto-Program, Sports, Portrait, etc.

2. Press and hold the WB button on back panel
    Rotate the control until "PRE" is selected on the top LCD panel
    Release "WB"

3.  While in "Pre-mode", press and hold the WB button again
      The LCD Flashes "Pre"; view-finder shows "Pre"
      (flashing "Pre" for six seconds; complete the following step within that time)

5.  Compose white sheet of paper in the same light and quality as your subject

     Press shutter to take a photo
     Confirm "Good" flashes on LCD
     Tap shutter to return to regular mode

Notes:  The D7000 store the reading in "d-0" (of d-4 possibilities).  I ignore the other d-x settings -- which are useful in a studio setting.

Notes for all Nikon cameras:

* The white balance remains in effect even after power-off
*  Make sure the paper occupies most of the frame
*  You do not have to focus on the paper, but may not be able to release the shutter, depending
    on your focus settings.  Set lens to Manual focus, if needed.
*  The Calibration photo does not actually store a picture
*  A grey card can be used instead of white, but in dim light, this is dark. 
    I use the backside of my grey-card

Return to Auto when the quality of light changes.


These cautions are true with all white balance settings.
  • White Balance remains in effect until changed. It is easy to forget to un-set.  It can wreak havoc on your remaining photos. 
  • Important: White balance settings even survive turning the camera off.  Remember to return WB to "Auto" when you are done.
  • D5100: There are no view finder indicators showing white balance has been set, but you can see the setting on the Video display ("WB").  When Viewing/Previewing a photograph's Information Panel, White Balance is indicated in the Statistics.
  • Switching to an Auto-P (Green) (or any of the Scene modes) forces white balance to Auto -- no matter what was previously set.  When the camera returns to PSAM mode, the selected white balance is returned as last-set. 

White Paper vs Grey Cards

A white sheet of paper (or any other uniformly white/grey object) can have some writing or other variations on it, but a clean sheet is best. Some will argue that a white sheet of paper is not precise and is "too white," blowing out the highest registers.  This may be true, but my results have been excellent and there is something to be said for inexpensive and handy. 

Kodak Grey Cards:  Technically, the paper does not have to be white.  Ideally, it would be a few percentage points less than pure white.  It turns out any uniform, neutral (non-colored) grey would work but finding a "neutral colored" card is hard; I'm still looking.

Standard 18% grey cards can be used, but they are often too dark (hard to calibrate in dim light) and most have a slight coloring which can throw off the calibration.  The cards were designed for printing and exposure compensation -- not for white balancing. With all this said, I use the back-side of my grey-card (a 90% white) as a white-surface.

Method B. Using Pre-configured White Balance, e.g. "Cloudy Day":

The camera has a series of pre-configured values, such as "Incandescent", "Cloudy Day", "Shade", etc.  I do not use these values, preferring setting them manually.

1.  Confirm the camera is in P,S,A or M mode.

2.  Press the "MENU" button, open the Shooting Menu (Camera icon), scroll to "White Balance." 

3.  In the White Balance menu, note these options:

Choose from one of the following:

Note: The camera also supports setting the White Balance from a previously-stored photograph.  Ignore this option because the white-paper method is faster and more accurate.
Although there is a Fluorescent setting, it probably won't work because of the myriad of different colored lights and some lights give out multiple color spectrums.  Use the manual method, described above, but even that may be hopeless.  Consider using a flash if the subject is close.

Method C:  Auto White Balance:

The Camera's AUTO White Balance attempts to choose the color correction, but as illustrated at the top of this article, it is less-than-perfect.  However, I will use it in bright daylight or when using a flash.  But almost all other times, you should take more control. 

Setting "Auto" White Balance:
1.  Press the "MENU" button,

2. Open the Shooting Menu (Camera icon), scroll to "White Balance."

An alternate path to this same setting is to press the "i" Menu, which opens the Information Display.  Press "i" a second time to place the editing cursor on the adjustable menus.  Scroll to "WB" near the top, right).  Click OK.

3.  In the White Balance menu, choose Auto.

Turning Off White Balance

White Balancing cannot be turned off -- the camera's JPG mode will always attempt some form of white balancing, either in a pre-set or auto-mode.  In any case, when done with any manual setting, return the camera to Auto WB because the setting is so easy to forget.

A.  For the D5100: Using either the MENU or "i" menus, select White Balance (see above)

B.  In the scrollable list, choose AUTO

Confusion Alert:
The D5100 MENU, 'Shooting Menu,' "White Balance," is confusing.  When you return to the WB setting, the menu starts with "PRE - Preset Manual" at the top of the scrollable list.  It is not obvious the up/down arrow keys will take you to AUTO.  (Note: in the "i" menu, it is obvious how the menu should be used.)

For the D7000,

a.  Press-and-hold WB; turn the wheel-control until "WB A" appears in the LCD.

"Mood" Lighting

There are times when Auto should not be used. When shooting for "mood" lighting -- where the color of the light is important.  In these conditions, do not allow the camera to use Auto -- and somewhat counter-intuitively -- do not choose Incandescent or any other White Balance setting.

Situations like sunsets, candle-light, street lighting, etc., require a somewhat exaggerated color balance.  In other words, with Auto (or any of the pre-sets), the camera will try to make the scene appear "normal" -- when in fact, you want the color. In these instances, manually force the camera to a pre-set "Daylight," accentuating the color.

In other words, "auto" is not daylight.

A.  Using either the MENU or "i" menus, select White Balance (see above)

B.  In the scrollable list, choose Direct Sunlight (Daylight)

Fine Tuning White Balance:

The built-in pre-configured values (incandescent, flash, cloudy, etc.) can be fine-tuned to a warmer or cooler color than the offered defaults.  You might consider using this when selecting Direct Sunlight (Daylight) and "warming it up" for a portrait. 

This option is only available from the MENU button (not the "i" menu) and is only available for the built-in pre-configured values.  Sadly, these steps will not work with the Manual/White Paper method and this cannot be used when using any of the Scene exposures.

1.  Using "MENU", choose a Pre-Set White Balance, such as "Direct Sunlight"

2.  While highlighting the choice, press the Right arrow.

3.  Use the arrow keys to set a more pronounced color cast.

Note: The center ("0,0") is for the selected pre-configured value.  In other words, Incandescent, cloudy, Daylight, etc., all start at their own (0,0).  When making fine-tuned adjustments, Nikon does not show the selected value numerically.  

This concludes the White Balancing article.
The remaining sections are technical details about the illustrated photographs.

Histogram Details on the Example Photos:

Readers may be interested in the example photograph's histograms.  The on-camera histogram shows Picture D (incandescent light, no White Balance (daylight) and no exposure compensation) like this.

The chart shows the photograph was generally under exposed, with almost all the pixels on the left sides.  The pixels appear by volume and almost all are the "Red" variety.  Picture C (Auto WB, no EC) would show a more centered histogram, but with very few pixels on the right side of the charts due to under-exposure.

Picture A (correctly exposed with manual White Balance, +2 stops EV) as this:

where all colors have approximately the same number of pixels and all the pixels were in approximately the same place -- indicating a mostly-white subject.  Because it was over-exposed two stops, most of the pixels were on the far-right, compensating for the meter's inability to understand the all-white-scene. 

* You cannot blindly accept that you want all of your pixels in the center of the chart.  In this case, knowing the nature of the subject, it is acceptable (required) to have most of the pixels on the far-right of center.  A perfectly-centered histogram does not mean the picture is "perfectly exposed."

What About Color Correction in the Editor:

Can you color correct in your photo editor.  Of course.  But assume you took 100 pictures that day.  You would have to color correct them all.  As long as you are shooting in JPG (not RAW), it may  save you more time if you color-correct when the photo is captured.  (Admittedly, some editors allow you to batch-apply one color setting to all photographs in the session, making this less of an issue.)

With RAW, all bets are off and all corrections are done in an editor - not the camera.  When White Balancing in the editor, you essentially don't care the color cast when the photo was taken (RAW doesn't even allow you to care), but you must, at least in one of the photos, have a reference shot of a known, fixed color (see Whibal link below, as well as other products).  Unfortunately, this type of card cannot be used for exposure compensation.

The workflow on post color-correcting are different and will be described in a separate article.

Related Links:
imageLiner: Using an 18% Grey Card for exposure Compensation
Reference: Color Temperatures

Article showing color correction in open shade, shadow, blue hue
Still Life with Mussels

There are several commercial products that claim to help with White Balancing.  All of these have my interest, but not yet my dollars.  I'm inclined to purchase WhiBal but in the back of my mind, a white sheet of paper has been doing a fine job.

Commercial link:
WhiBal White Balancing Card ($30 - 50, sized various)
Whibal Purchase (oddly, a different site)
The first link opens to a tutorial.  This product is designed to White-balance in editing software but would work very well, replacing the white paper described in this article.

Commercial link:
DotLineCorp White Balance Disks ($20)
I have not tried these products, but am somewhat interested.  On the other hand, a sheet of white paper works fairly well.  There are also inexpensive white balance lens caps.

Commercial link:
ExpoImaging ExpoDisk on Amazon and others ($100).  A lot of people use the lid from a Pringles Potato Chip can, claiming they get the same results.


Nikon D5100 HDR is not available..

Problem:  HDR - This option is not available at the current setting or in the camera's current state.

HDR is unavailable (cannot be used) if Auto-Bracketing is on.
HDR is unavailable (cannot be used) if Image Quality is set to any of the RAW settings.
HRD is only available in one of the PSAM modes (you cannot be in fully-automatic or scene modes).

With the Nikon D5100, HDR is not selectable if the camera has Auto Bracketing turned on or any variant of RAW is selected in the Shooting Menu, 'Image Quality.'  It almost goes without saying, the camera must also be in one of the PSAM modes, and not in the Green-Automatic mode.

This article is an excerpt from a longer, more detailed article:  Nikon D5100 Auto Bracketing

Turn off Auto-Bracketing and/or
Turn off RAW

A.  Press "i" to activate the Information Display.

B.  Press "i" a second time to position the cursor along the right side.

C.  Arrow-key down to the BKT section (illustrated in yellow, above).
Click OK to select the bracketing option - e.g. "stops" -- set the value to "Off" to disable.

3. Choose "Off" to turn off the feature. 
(Note: Use this screen to turn off Auto Bracketing in mid-series)
4.  Turn off RAW.

Additionally, confirm the camera's Image Quality is set to JPG (FINE).  RAW, or any variant of RAW+JPG cannot be used.  See "i" menu, Qual, or Menu, Shooting Menu, Image Quality.

Additional Comments:
Rather than using HDR in-camera, consider manually using bracketed exposures and HDRing in software, such as PaintShop Pro, Photoshop, or Photomatix.  This way, you are not restricted with JPG-only.

Related articles:
Nikon D5100 Auto Bracketing - Full Details on the feature, including additional methods
White Balancing - Color Balancing
Using an 18% Grey Card - For better exposures

Nikon D5100 - Auto Bracketing

-Using Nikon D5100 Auto Bracketing
-Visual Indicators for Auto Bracketing
-Release Modes
-Differences in Single vs Multi-frame release modes
-Using Fn (Function) to set Auto Bracketing (highly recommended)
-Picture Preview Mode (Showing +/- EV)
-When to use Auto Bracketing vs Exposure Compensation
-HDR Auto Bracketing (High Dynamic Range)
-Nikon Auto Bracket Issues and Oddities

Definition: Auto-Bracketing:

Auto-bracketing is when the camera takes 3 frames, each at a different exposure.
  • The first picture is at the metered reading (+0EV)
  • a second frame -1 stop under-exposed (-1EV)
  • a third frame +1 stop over exposed (+1EV)
The amount over and under is adjustable in 0.3 stop (EV/Exposure Value) increments.

Use this feature when you are unsure on how to set the exposure.  Common situations include strong back lighting and scenes with internal light-sources or dark shadows. Auto-Bracketing is also used with camera-based HDR.  With HDR, the three exposures are combined into one image and this can be done in-camera or with software.  However, when using HDR, I found it best to use software-based HDR (such as PaintShop Pro or PhotoShop) rather than the in-camera HDR function because you have greater control over the image.

See this Keyliner article on how to AutoBracket:
HDR Techniques for Stanley Forest Burn
NewPort Bay (Yaquina Bay Bridge)

If the in-camera HDR is used, Auto Bracketing is automatic and you cannot use the Auto Bracket feature discussed in this article - although you can adjust with width with these steps

Common Error:

If the camera displays an HDR error when Auto-Bracketing: "This option is not available at the current setting or in the camera's current state", see this article: Turning off Auto-Bracketing for HDR (plus other conditions that can trigger this error) plus see this article for other details on bracketing.

For a small run of exposures, Auto Bracketing may be more trouble than it is worth and you might consider using manual +/- Exposure Compensation.  Reasons to chose auto bracketing over exposure compensation are explained later in this article.

Using Nikon D5100 Auto Bracketing:

Setting Auto Bracket Style:

Auto Bracketing is controlled in two different menus.  As a one-time event, set the Auto Bracket 'style' -- where I recommend "exposure only" -- then separately, set the bracketing amount for the current round of photos.

1.  Set Auto Bracket Style

Start by setting what type of Auto Bracketing you want to use.

Three styles are supported
  • AE (Auto Exposure Bracketing - recommended)
  • WB (White Balance Bracketing)
  • ADL (Active D Lighting bracketing (on-off)

This is a one-time setup and I recommend choosing Auto Exposure (only).

From the manual:  Nikon supports multiple types of bracketing. This article is concerned with Auto Exposure Bracketing.

Illustration from Nikon D5100 User's Manual.  Click for larger view; click back to return.
Note the upstairs window exposures.  At +0EV, and +1EV, the window's highlighted details are blown-out.

Setting Auto-Bracket Style:

A. Press "Menu" / Pencil
B. Select "e" (Bracketing/flash)
C. "e2" Auto Bracketing set
D. Select "AE" (Auto Exposure bracketing "OK")
E. Press "Menu" twice to return to normal exposure mode

2.  Using Auto Bracketing while Shooting

After setting the style, turn Auto-Bracket on with these steps. Once turned on, the camera will auto-bracket all photos in groups of 3 until turned off.  Only groups of three are supported.

A.  Press "i" to activate the Information Display. 

The Information Display may be set to show a simple or more complicated screen; both are illustrated.

B.  Press "i" a second time to position the cursor along the right side.

C.  Setting the Width or Spread:

- Arrow-key down to the BKT section (illustrated in yellow, above).
- Click OK to select the bracketing option - e.g. "stops".

Typically, choosing AE07 or AE10 (1 stop).

(See below for a faster way to make these adjustments)

3.  Take the pictures

Compared to other camera brands, the D5100 does not Auto Bracket as most would expect and the owner's manual does not fully explain the feature; many think the camera is in error.  When Auto Bracketing, you must manually fire the shutter 3 times.

Once the bracketing width is set (AE0.7, AE1.0, etc.), press the shutter 3 times, firing three separate exposures. 
  • The first will be taken at the camera's indicated meter reading.  
  • The second will be one stop (AE-1.0) under exposed (or as set) and 
  • The third will be one stop (AE+1.0) over exposed (or as set). 

When Auto Bracketing is turned on, it remains on.  
All subsequent photos are shot in groups of 3 (+0EV, -1EV, +1EV).  You must complete the sequence by manually pressing the shutter 3 times.

Quickly Setting Auto Bracketing with the Fn button:

The Nikon 5100 has a user-assignable Fn button, which can be assigned to any function.  Because HDR is becoming so common, I like to assign Fn to Auto Bracketing. By pressing Fn and spinning the dial, I can adjust the bracketing width on-the-fly, from 0 to 3 stops.  This is faster than either the "i" or regular menu.

Follow these one-time steps to program the Fn button:

A.  Press MENU
B.  Open the Controls Menu (the Pencil)
C.  Choose f1 "Assign timer/Fn button"
D.  Select Bracketing (last item in the scroll list)
E.  Press MENU, MENU to return

Using the Fn button:

1.  Press and hold Fn
2.  Spin the thumb-wheel to set the spread (+/- EV)

Set to 0 to turn off Bracketing

Visual Indicators for Auto Bracketing:

With Auto Bracketing ON, there are several subtle indicators.

* In the View Finder, note the "BKT" indicator near the ISO setting.  Note: This does not show you which exposure you are at, nor does it show if you are in the middle of a series.

* The LCD Panel shows "BKT" in the lower-right corner. 
Illustrated, "BKT Off" or BKT AE0.7, etc.

* The LCD panel shows an Exposure Compensation bar-graph, telling you which exposure in the series you are on. 

The graph shows 3 markers at the beginning of the sequence; each marker represents where the next photo will be taken.  In the illustration, the center marker is at "0".  Marker 2 is at -AE0.7 (EV -0.7 stops) and marker 3 is at +AE0.7.  Widths are adjustable.

The markers show the remaining exposures and they disappear as each photo is taken.  The second-half of the illustration shows one exposure remaining of the original three.

Note how the Information Display shows the horizontal graph, but the internal View Finder does not show +/- Exposure Compensation is active (this is inconsistent with the normal +/- functionality).

Release Modes

The three line segments, illustrated above, indicate 3 exposures are remaining in the sequence, and in this case, each exposure is 0.7EV units  (2/3's of a stop).  The width is adjustable.

Each time the shutter fires, one less segment displays. 
The first exposure is always at "0",
the second is at "-1" (or at your set interval), and
the third is at "+1". 

If the camera's Shutter Release Mode is set to "Single", you will need to manually press the shutter 3 times. (Contrast this with other brands of cameras: Pentax fires three shots automatically with one shutter press.)

If the Shutter Release Mode is set to "Continuous," press and hold the shutter and all three shots fire in sequence.  At the third shot, the shutter quits firing.  Re-press the shutter to start a new 3-shot sequence.  Note: In Continuous mode, it is possible to lightly press the shutter and only fire one or two shots -- it does not automatically fire all three shots.  If in this mode, press and hold the shutter until the sequence is complete.

I recommend using the Single release mode and pressing the shutter three times.

Stopping a Mid-stream Auto Bracket Sequence:

To stop an Auto Bracket in mid-sequence, do one of the following:
A.  Press Info to enter the Video Information Panel
B.  Scroll to the lower-right "BKT" menu; set to Off

If using the Fn menu, described above, follow this alternate path:
A.  Press and hold Fn
B.  Spin the thumbwheel to zero (0)

Picture Preview Mode:

Once the exposures are taken, you can see which frames have exposure compensation (aka Auto Bracketing).  Click the Preview button, then Up-Arrow to view the picture's statistics.  Note the +/- Exposure area, illustrated below.  The first frame is taken at the metered reading and displays as blank (+0).  The next frame is -1, the third frame is +1 (or at the increment set).

Auto Bracket vs Exposure Compensation:

Discounting the special needs of HDR, in practice most photographers know which way they want to bracket (over exposing or under exposing).  As you will see, auto-bracketing wastes a frame by going in the wrong direction for one of the three photos.  If you are unsure of your exposure, the "Exposure Compensation" control may be a better feature to use.  Examples are described below.

When to use Auto Bracketing vs a simpler +/- Exposure Compensation comes with some experience.  

Photo: Nancy A. Henry
Consider Auto Bracketing when the light source is in the photo and you are unsure whether to capture shadow or highlight details.

For example, with sun-beams streaming through the trees, the camera will likely meter the scene incorrectly -- and a correct meter reading is up for interpretation.  If over-exposed (from the meter's point of view), shadow-details will be better.  If under-exposed, the shadows may be more interesting and ominous and more details would be visible in the sunlight.  It could go either way.

Auto Bracketing is somewhat pointless if the subject against a bright window (strong backlighting) or against a bright (snowy) background.  Because you are after foreground detail (the person standing against the window/snow).  Use a simpler +/- Exposure Compensation and over-expose by +1.5 or +2 stops.  The -1.0 auto-bracketed exposure will be a wasted frame, with even darker shadows, and you would have been better served by multiple exposures in the other (+) direction.

Colorful sunsets may benefit from Auto Bracketing, but likely, the over-exposed frame will be wasted.  In this instance, using +/- Exposure Compensation and under exposing by -0.5, -1.0 or -1.5 emphasizes the colors while deepening the shadows, giving a more dramatic effect.

High Dynamic Range photographs (HDR) are different and they must have three (or more) bracketed exposures to work properly.  In some photographs, especially landscapes, where there are large contrasts between the highlights and shadows, the camera or software can blend the three images into one properly exposed photograph.  See this article:  HDR Photo Techniques.

A decision needs to be made.  If you intend on using your computer photo editor to build the HDR, then you must shoot (three) bracketed exposures, using either the bracketing discussed here or using manual exposure compensation.  If you are using the camera's built-in HDR function (using only the camera and not a computer), then the HDR function automatically brackets with no action on your part, except to set the bracket width.

Because Nikon's Auto-Bracket is limited to 3 frames, I seldom use Auto-Bracketing and instead choose to manually set Exposure Compensation and I shoot 5 exposures at +2, +1, 0, -1 and -2.  Then using software (Paintshop Pro, Photoshop, etc.,), I build the HDR manually, with better results than the camera.  See related articles, below, for details.

Nikon Auto Bracket Issues:
With Auto Bracketing turned on, be aware of these important issues:
  • For normally contrasted scenes, those with normal highlights and shadows, I like to set the camera's auto-bracketing range at +/- 0.7 stops  (2/3rds of a stop, either direction).

    For night-shots, such as cityscapes, with a mixture of deep, dark blacks and bright street and building lights, consider +/- 1.0 or 1.3 stops.  This gives you more to play with when using HDR but can result in a stylized photograph.

  • The frames/exposures do not "auto-advance."  You must fire the shutter 3 times for all 3 bracketed exposures.
  • The camera shutter behaves differently, depending on the "Release Mode" (Single-frame or Continuous).  If you are in "Single" mode, manually fire the shutter 3 times to advance through the sequence.  If in "Continuous," press and hold the shutter until all three frames are taken - the camera will automatically stop at the third exposure.
  • Auto Bracket does not "reset" when the camera is turned off -- you must take the three frames or manually turn off Bracketing.  The camera does not forget the bracketing sequence, even if you turn the camera off or change other exposure settings. 

    For example, you take 2 of the 3 shots, turn the camera off and go home.  The next day, you take a photo at the birthday party, and that shot will be the third in the auto-bracket sequence.
  • The View Finder does not show where in the 3-frame sequence you are, however, there is an "Bkt" indicator.  The View Finder does not show the exposure compensation of the current bracket.
  • If Auto-Bracketing is on, you cannot select the camera's built-in HDR mode: "This option is not available at the current settings or in the camera's current state."   To resolve this issue, set the Auto-Bracketing AE to zero.
  • If you are using the in-camera HDR, Auto-Bracketing is automatic, including advancing the frames; you do not fire the three frames.  The camera will assemble all three frames, combining them into one final image.  However, software-based HDR (PaintShop Pro, Photoshop, etc.), will give better HDR results.

Related articles:
White Balancing
Using an 18% Grey Card

HDR Techniques for Stanley Forest Burn
NewPort Bay (Yaquina Bay Bridge)
Highway 21 HDR


D5100 Checklist

D5100 Checklist

I use this checklist to confirm my camera is set properly and this keeps me from making dumb mistakes during a photo shoot.  I have this laminated and tied to my camera bag.

Printing Instructions:
1.  Highlight the graphic below, select Copy Image.
2.  Start MSPaint
3.  Paste
4.  File, Print, "Page Setup"
5.  Set Portrait, Scaling: Fit to 1 x 1 pages; Margins apx. 0"

Print on 8.5x11 paper.
Cut into a tall, vertical strip; Fold in half; Take it to Kinko's and laminate for $2.00


Fractional Shutter Speed and Aperture Chart

Reference:  Fractional Shutter Speed and Aperture Chart

A printable card showing traditional and fractional shutter speeds and apertures (f-stop) common in digital cameras.  Both 1/3 (one third stop) and 1/2 (one half stop) charts are displayed.  Both a large and small version of this chart is on this page.   This is printable (portrait) and suitable for lamination (apx $2.00) at a local copy center.

Most digital cameras have a menu which allows you to choose between 1/3 and 1/2 stop increments.  Set your camera as preferred.  I choose 1/3rd stops for more granular control. 

Below is the same chart, in a smaller size:

Related imageLiner Articles:
Using an 18% Grey Card for Perfect Exposures
Setting a Digital White Balance (color correction)
Auto-Bracketing with the Nikon D5100

Article keywords:
Fractional shutter speed chart.  Fractional f-stop chart.  Shutter speed chart.  Aperture list.  Common shutter speed increments.  shutter and aperture increments. 1/3 chart 1/2 chart  1/3rd table 1/2rd table, third and half speeds, f stops, f-stops

Color Temperature Reference Chart

Color Temperature Reference Chart

Digital cameras and film are sensitive to the temperature of light and are measured in Kelvin (K).  Daylight temperatures are about 5,000 to 5,500 degrees K and at this temperature, the light appears 'white.'  Warmer light sources, such as incandescent filament-light, is colored at a longer wavelength, usually about 3,000K.

Warmer Colors (Red)
2700K Sodium-Vapor
3000K Incandescent and Warm-white Fluorescent
3700K White fluorescent
5000K Day-white fluorescent

5200K Direct Sunlight (white)

5400K Electronic Flash
6000K Cloudy/overcast (trending Blue)
7200K Mercury Vapor, high-temp)
8000K Deep Shade (under a bright blue sky)
Cooler Colors (Blue)

In photography, color temperatures can be seen in the final prints.  For example, photographing under deep shade can give the photographs a distinct blue tint.  This can be corrected by using the digital camera's built-in white-balance (with film, use a warming filter).  Photographs can also be corrected in post-processing, using a photo-editor.

Note: Color temperature is not the wavelength of a specific color (measured in nanometers 600nm, etc.).

See this imageLiner.blogspot.com article on DSLR White Balancing / Color Correction
White Balance

In practice, older fluorescent lighting displays an unpredictable color spectrum that is hard to color-correct; often with simultaneous greens, yellows and blues.  Newer fluorescent lighting has a more predictable color spectrum and are often advertised with their color temperature.  However, some brands mistakenly show the color temperature as "Lumens"  (e.g. GE branded lamps report 2700 Lumens; should be 2700K).

Related articles:
White Balance
Setting Exposure with an 18% Grey Card