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Exposure bracketing is a technique and camera feature that allows photographers to expose their photos correctly in challenging light situations. I’m going to give you an intro to Exposure Bracketing so that you can add it to your arsenal of knowledge.
Exposure Bracketing is a technique used by professional photographers to manipulate contrast in a photo. By taking multiple pictures of the same subject and combine them together it is possible to obtain a correct exposure in all parts of the photo. Let’s see more in detail what is exposure bracketing and how to use it.
How Does Exposure Bracketing Work?
By using the AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) function of your camera, you will pre-program it to take three photos of the same subject (some cameras allow you to take five images), one with the settings you choose, one intentionally underexposed and one intentionally overexposed image.
This way you’re capturing the highest lighting information possible.
You might find that one of the three images you’ve obtained is the right one since Ii has the proper exposure in all areas. In that case, you’ve done no need to do anything else.
Otherwise, you can take it a step further and decide to use a Photoshop technique called exposure blending to merge multiple images together and have an extended Dynamic Range.
I’m not touching the Photoshop editing technique in this article, but let me know in the comments below if you are interested in knowing more about it!
Obviously, using the Auto Exposure Bracketing setting is not the only way to bracket your images. You can also do it manually. By manipulating the exposure triangle, changing the shutter speed, or the ISO or the aperture to affect your exposure you can take multiple photos to get the most out of the lighting condition of a scene and then blend the images together if needed.
Learn more about the exposure triangle in my article The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Landscape Photography and The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Camera Settings
Honestly this is something I always do. It’s very useful to have multiple images of the same subject with different brightness settings in order to get the best out of it each time.
When to Use Exposure Bracketing?
It’s fundamental to be in the right spot at the right time and be able to capture the better light. But often despite all the effort, you’ll end up with images that can have perfect colors and contrast in the foreground and an overexposed sky or vice versa, perfect exposure for the sky and an underexposed foreground.
Exposure bracketing can be used in any type of situation, when you shoot still or moving subjects, landscapes or portrait photos.
What is Dynamic Range?
To understand what dynamic range is you need to understand how a camera sees is different from how we see and perceive contrast.
Cameras are more limited than the human eye in recording a wide range of light values all at once.
The Dynamic Range is the difference between the darkest and lightest values of an image. The greater the difference in light intensity between darks and whites the greater the dynamic range in that scene.
As I’ve said the human eye can record a much higher dynamic range than a camera. Without going deep into the numbers, I’ll show you an example.
Sometimes what happens is that this is what your eyes can see:
But your camera will only be able to capture this:
Difference Between Exposure Bracketing and HDR
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and it’s a function you would use to obtain instant results. If using the Auto Exposure Bracketing your camera will blend multiple images together for you without the need of using Photoshop, the result is an HDR image.
Using Bracketing manually instead, you will do the job of blending images together in Photoshop or any other photo editing tool. Technically speaking, when you blend three (or more) image taken with different exposures you are obtaining an HDR image. The term HDR though is commonly used to refer to automatically blended image on camera.
I’ve personally never used HDR since I find that more often than not the final image will look unnatural and I prefer to edit manually.
I hope you have a good grasp of what exposure bracketing is and why it’s important to achieve good results by giving you great control over the dynamic range of your photographs.
Stay tuned for a complete guide to exposure bracketing and exposure blending in Photoshop and I’d really appreciate if you can share this article on your social media to help me expand this website!