Exposure bracketing in photography – How to use it

Exposure bracketing in photography, put it bluntly, it’s shooting the same frame several times with different settings of the main parameters, primarily the exposure. What is it for? Suppose you are shooting a lunar landscape or a sunset in the mountains. At the same time, for qualitative drawing of the sky, only one exposure setting is required, for the grass others, and for mountains the third. You can, of course, glue these three images together into one perfect one, using photo editing service, but for one snapshot you can set only one, certain settings. It is here that bracketing comes to the rescue.

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Do you get a lot of too dark photos? So there is not enough light. And in the street? There’s enough light on the street, but… the photos turn out to be too light… Do you have an inexpensive camera? So you need to buy a DSLR camera? But with DSLR cameras there are often the same problems… Before you throw your camera up, let’s see why the photos turn out to be dark, then light, because it’s all about bracketed exposures.

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Before we go into the details of setting the light indicator on your camera, let’s see the video “Exposure Bracketing (AEB) for Better HDR with Canon DSLRs”, in which the author demonstrates the essence of exposure bracketing.

What is bracketing in photography?

The very idea of bracketing originated in the era of the existence of film cameras. Despite the fact that underexposed or overexposed photos were able to be adjusted during development, the bracketing function was quite in demand, especially when taking color photographs, since the color film is very sensitive to correct exposure. At that time, the bracketing was done with the help of a motor drawing of the film. With the advent of digital cameras, this function was adapted to digital matrices, but its essence remained identical. And although the metering systems in modern devices are highly accurate, sometimes the possibility of exposure bracketing is very useful. Most often, bracketing is used to take pictures with a deep dynamic range.

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Photographing with mixed light artificial and natural light at the same time it’s quite a delicate matter. It’s easy to make mistakes with the exposition. If you want to get properly exposed shots in mixed lighting, we recommend testing a simple, but nevertheless very effective exposure bracketing technique. It will help you to gain insight the niceties of bright areas of the picture and of the shadows.
What does the exposure bracketing represent? Bracketing is a technique of shooting, in which three or more pictures of the identical scene are taken with the minimum possible time interval. Therefore all these pictures are taken with various exposures. Bracketing is done in order to choose one from the whole of this series of pictures, the best one on exposure. This approach is desirable for shooting in difficult lighting conditions, if you are not completely sure of the correctness of the exposed exposure.

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Of course, when operating with a digital camera, not with a film camera, there are many ways to correct the resulting image in various graphic editors. But, nevertheless, it is always better to get a high-quality image directly from the camera, than later to fix it in the Photoshop. But one way or another, the photo will be processed. For commercial processing, you need to have a specialized computer or laptop or calibrate the monitor, see here “How to calibrate monitor for photo editing”.
After making several cadres in bracketing, by viewing the footage directly on the camera screen, you will be able to select the optimal picture and in the same mode to shoot further. Under extreme conditions, HDR bracketing can be invaluable if you want to take a picture with a high dynamic range (HDR).

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What is auto bracketing in photography?

Modern digital camera devices have an automatic exposure control function AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing). This means that if you set AEB mode before shooting a picture, your camera will automatically make three cadres with different exposures: the first one with the exposure averaged throughout the frame; the second with a small underexposure; the third with a slight overexposure from the first frame.

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Normally, by default, the exposure bracketing value in AEB mode is ± 1/3EV (Exposure Value). Most modern cameras allow you to manually set the exposure value in AEB mode in the range of ± 1/2 to ± 2, and some cameras to ± 5.

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If your camera does not have the function of automatic exposure bracketing AEB, then when shooting a landscape, you can apply the exposure in manual exposure setting mode (M mode) or by using the exposure compensation (+/- button) in automatic and semi-automatic modes. In this instance, without shifting the camera, which stably stands on a hard surface (preferably on a tripod), take as many pictures as you need, each time slightly changing the exposure in either direction from the value measured by the camera’s exposure meter.

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If you know what an exposition is, you probably know that there are different ways to change its settings. The first thing you can change in the settings is the aperture; the second is the shutter speed. In principle, three pictures with different exposures can be made manually, each time changing the settings in the menu of the device. But to do this is inconvenient, at least for the reason that during the adjustment the camera will move, and it will be difficult even to get absolutely identical pictures even with the use of a tripod. To solve this problem, most modern digital devices have an automatic bracketing (AEB) function, which is also called an auto-lock. Using DSLR bracketing, you can get several images at once (usually three, sometimes five) with a single press of the shutter button.

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So, we found out that the function of the bracketed exposures in digital cameras allows shooting several frames with random exposure settings. But the parameters of exposure, as we know, can be changed in many ways. Depending on this, two basic types of bracketing are distinguished:
• Exposure Bracketing. First, the camera takes a picture with the shutter speed value that was set manually by the photographer or determined automatically by the camera as optimal. The second frame is produced with a shutter speed value one step longer, and the third, with a shutter speed value one step smaller.
• Diaphragm Bracketing. The first picture is taken with the given aperture, the second and the third with the aperture are one step larger and one step smaller, respectively.

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However, the very concept of bracketing is somewhat wider; it is not limited only to the AEB function in the camera. After all, you can change not only the value of exposure, but also any other parameters. Often in order to get a good shot, you have to make several identical cadres with different values of such parameters as white balance, focusing, and light sensitivity. Furthermore you can try to shoot the same object or scene with a flash and without it. Thus, we can distinguish several more types of bracketing:
• Focus Bracketing. In this case, the focusing distance varies. This technique is successfully used in macro photography, when it is difficult to define the optimal focus value because the depth of field is not large enough in comparison with the subject.

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• White balance bracketing. Here, in the same way, three shots are taken: the first with the set WB value, the second one with the “warmer” settings (yellowish tint), the third one with the “colder” shade. It is actually when using devices that do not support shooting in raw-format.

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• Flash bracketing. Here everything is simple: for the shooting of the first frame, the built-in flash is used; the second frame is taken without a flash.

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Despite the vague notion, exposure bracketing is just an automated correction of the exposure in two directions at once: both in plus and minus. Incidentally, even now, in the digital age, there is a bunch of photographers who shoot with bracketing constantly, they can be treated like freaks, although it’s safe to say that 50 % of them realize what they are doing and certainly see the difference between the “stretched” shot and exposed correctly the first time (the rest just indulge).
It should be noted that bracketing, for all its rarity, is applicable only in some genres mainly when shooting static subjects, because, shooting such series, it would be unpleasant to notice that the cadre with the eyes closed was correctly exposed, the frames “in plus” smeared, and “in minus” were not bad, but dark. Moreover, statics can generally be taken with correction “on-the-fly”, because all results can be viewed on the camera screen.

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With the arrival of the digital era, bracketing has become the standard tool for creating frames using HDR bracketing technology it takes 3 or 5 frames, which are then glued together into one using special software.
Let’s look at the established parameters of DSLR bracketing on the most famous and used cameras:

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1. Many Canon cameras have 18 Max EV range in AEB and make from 2 to 7 automatic frames. Some models can only make 3 automatic frames.

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2. Fuji camera makes 3 automatic frames, and their Max EV range in AEB is only 2 frames. By the way, some professional Fuji cameras can do up to 9 automatic frames.
3. Kodak brand cameras cannot boast of such values as the previous 2 camera companies, they make (like all) 3 automatic frames, and their maximum exponential factor is 4-6.
4. German Leica makes 3 frames, but individual models can make even 7 frames.
5. Nikon’s hand was in play. Depending on the model, the type of the camera and the level of professionalism of the photographer, any photographer can find a camera that meets all his requirements.
6. Olympus cameras do the same 3 frames, some can do 5 or 7, and their Max EV step increment makes only 1 frame.
7. Japanese Panasonic can do from 3 to 7 frames, and the maximum exponential factor is 6.
8. Another Asian concern of electrical engineering Samsung with its wide range of models can meet the demands of photographers, who are obsessed with exponentials.
9. And Sony camera devices can compete further with their compatriots Nikon and Canon, since their indicators DSLR bracketing are practically the similar.

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Bracketed exposures facts you should know

Technically, exposure bracketing involves photographing the identic frame with random exposure parameters. Case in point, if you took a picture, but you are not sure that the exposure (automatically or manually) set to the correct result will be guaranteed, you make two more frames: one frame with underexposure from the originally set exposure and one frame with an exposure from the original exposure. That’s the whole trick of exposure bracketing.
When should you apply an exposition or turn on AEB mode? Always when the lighting is different from the usual ones or when there are a lot of shadows or lights in the frame… All the cases when it would be possible to use exposure bracketing are not listed just look at the histogram of brightness and if you are not sure of the correct exposure, use bracketed exposures.

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Use exposure bracketing and when you know that you cannot return to the place where you shoot a rare in beauty cadre. For example, the sunset will be more expressive when the picture is a little overexposed use exposure bracketing and at home select the best picture.
Do not forget that in digital photography you are unlimited in the amount of film, and the captured additional images will not be an undesirable loss of money. Of course, if you do not have a memory card that is too small.
Using the capabilities of layered processing of digital images in Adobe Photoshop (or in another program for processing photos), you can place several photographs obtained using exposure bracketing on different layers. After that, gently erase the overexposed and underexposed parts of the layers, and, as a result, get a photo, where the main subject and its surroundings are exposed correctly! This is the easiest way to get photos with an extended dynamic range, which can be automated with Adobe Photoshop. Also very popular is HDR processing, which is best suited for nature photography.

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By the way, speaking about the image post processing, in addition to the usual Photoshop program, other online services are gaining popularity as well, for example Google launched its program, for details you can find here “Google photo editing future has already come”.
Another or alternative way of editing is to apply exposure fusion to the received three photos. This command balances several pictures with variant views of one scene, shooting the full dynamic range in one HDR picture. The combined image can be output to a file with a color depth of 32, 16 or 8 bits. However, the HDR image data is fully preserved only in files with a color depth of 32 bits. Joining in HDR gives the best results when photos are specially prepared for such processing. Some digital cameras, for example Nikon D5100, D5200, etc. allow you to take shots with advanced HDR bracketing (HDR photos) directly into the camera.

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But, even if you have not guessed the ideal exposure, do not rush to remove additional frames obtained with the help of exposure bracketing from the memory card of your camera they will be useful to you, because from several shots with exposure bracketing, you can make wonderful photos using post-alignment exposure. Luckily you have a lot of various image processing utilities. Or you can send your initial shots to us, and then our masters will do everything for you. Our photo editing prices only motivate you to do it faster to save your time. So you can always lean on our assistance.

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