The Ultimate Guide to Bracketing in Photography

What is bracketing?

Bracketing is a technique that allows you to capture multiple exposures from the same scene. You capture a standard image (below) and a darker/underexposed one (below, left). Then you take a brighter/overexposed picture (below), top).

Although each composition is the same, the exposure level can vary from one shot to another. This is usually done with a tripod to avoid camera movement between images. However, some photographers bracket handheld. I will discuss this option further below. ).

What is the purpose of bracketing?

In its simplest form, bracketing can increase your chances of securing difficult exposures.

Every modern camera comes with a Meter that analyzes the scene and determines the correct exposure settings to render beautiful detail. Camera meters are very powerful, but they can often expose the wrong. Cameras are known to overexpose dark scenes (over-brighten them, for example, a nighttime photo of the city skyline at night) and underexpose bright scenes (over-darken, for instance, a snowy stand of white aspen tree trunks).

This is a great way to protect yourself from very bright or dark scenes. It also helps you avoid photographing areas with lots of tonal variation. For safety, beginners may opt to bracket in typical exposure situations.

High dynamic range and bracketing photography

The dynamic range refers to the difference in lightness and darkness of a scene.

Grey walls have a low dynamic range because they are full of mid-tones. A sunset with a bright sky and dark background has a large dynamic range. So does a white cat against a black background or mound snow against a tree.

Although it may seem difficult, it is not. The bracketing process works the same way as I have described previously. Post-processing software often includes an auto-merge function that allows you to select multiple images and quickly merge them for the best results (HDR!). Result.

Camera settings and bracketing

Three variables determine the exposure of an image: aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

You can adjust any of these variables to get a lighter or darker shot. Each variable can also have an impact on your photo in different ways.

  1. The aperture affects the size of the scene in focus. Also known as the height of the field
  2. Particularly when you photograph moving subjects, the shutter speed can affect how sharp your image is.
  3. The ISO will impact the noisiness (sometimes referred to as the graininess) of your image.

A step-by-step guide on how to bracket photos

Once you are familiar with the basics, I will share a simple method for bracketing your photos that you can use regardless of your camera equipment.

Step 1: Choose Manual mode or Aperture Priority Mode

Bracketing works only if you have full control over your camera settings. This is why bracketing is not possible in Auto mode.

You can instead set your camera to Manual mode. This will allow you to adjust your shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and shutter speed individually. Aperture priority mode will also set the aperture while the camera controls the shutter speed.

Step 2: Use the recommended exposure settings on your camera to take a photograph

Aperture Priority mode can be used to set your preferred aperture, ISO and then your camera will select the appropriate shutter speed.

If you are using Manual mode, adjust your exposure variables so that the exposure bar is at the zero mark in the viewfinder.

Step 3: Create a bracketed photo of an “overexposed” and an “underexposed”.

Next, take your darker and lighter images.

You can reduce your shutter speed to Manual mode by one stop for the overexposed image. For the underexposed image, increase your shutter speed by one stop.

Dial in Aperture Priority mode and dial in +1 exposure compensation to overexposed images, then dial in 1 exposure compensation to underexposed images. This will adjust your shutter speed automatically in either direction.

Step 4: Take additional photos

You will now need to look at your scene. Check the histogram of the photos you have taken to see if there are any areas of overexposure in the darkest and shadow clipping in the lightest images.

You can capture additional images at +2/-2, +3/-3 stops and so on if your scene exhibits a large dynamic range that is not captured by your bracketed shots.

Bracketing for Auto Exposure

Modern cameras often offer an Automatic Exposition Bracketing (AEB).

Dial-in the number bracketed shots that you require, then indicate an increment (e.g. two stops) and fire off multiple images. The camera will adjust the exposure to create bracketed files.

Auto Exposure Bracketing is not available in Manual mode. You will need to use Aperture Priority.

What is the best time to bracket images?

Bracketing can be a wonderful technique, but it doesn’t have to be done all the time. In certain circumstances, it can prove harmful and even dangerous.

First, I recommend using a bracket if you shoot high-dynamic-range scenes, regardless of whether you intend to merge the images in post-processing. This will ensure that you get the exposure right, crucial when shooting HDR scenes. Particularly bracket sunrise and sunset landscape photos and any cityscape shots taken at sunrise or sunset.

Processing bracketed photos for HDR imaging

This article will not cover the details of high dynamic range blending. However, if you have a set of sufficiently detailed images, you will get an excellent HDR result in Lightroom.

Final words on bracketing in photography

You now know the basics of bracketing and how to use it.

Go out with your camera to practice. You can find high-dynamic-range scenes and do some bracketing. Then, process the results. You can also capture very dark or light scenes and then use bracketing to ensure that you get the best exposure.

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