Get Better Exposure with Bracketing

November 03, 2013

Get Better Exposure with Bracketing

Getting the exposure spot on can be difficult sometimes.

Scenes that include large areas of either darkness or brightness can fool your camera’s meter, making exposure tough. If you have ever tried to photograph a snow scene, you’ve probably noticed this as your snow is often underexposed, leaving it a dull gray. The same kind of thing can happen if you are try to shoot a picture of the moon against a clear, dark nighttime sky. The moon will often be overexposed as your camera’s meter tries to compensate for the large area of darkness in the scene.

You can also run into exposure problems when you try to photograph a scene that’s very high in contrast. In these cases, the camera’s sensor isn’t able to capture the full tonal range of the scene. So you’ll either end up with blown out highlights or areas of darkness with little or no detail. There is no single exposure that works for both the bright and the dark areas of the scene.

Exposure bracketing can help in these situations.

First, the term “bracketing” refers to the process of shooting the same scene multiple times, each at different camera settings.

With exposure bracketing, that setting is exposure. So, when you bracket for exposure, you take multiple photos, usually three, of the same scene, each at different exposure values. One picture is taken at the camera’s suggested exposure value, another is taken at a higher exposure value and a third photo is taken at a lower exposure value.

exposure bracketing

But bracketing for exposure manually can be time consuming.

For that reason, many cameras—most DSLRs and many of the more advanced compact cameras—offer a feature called Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB). AEB automates the process, with the camera automatically set up to take multiple exposures of your scene—one at the suggested exposure, another slightly overexposing the scene and another underexposing the scene. The amount of under- and over-exposure can be set within the camera’s menu options.

One advantage of exposure bracketing is that it improves your chances to getting a correctly exposed shot in situations where your camera meter is likely to get it wrong.

But another advantage comes when you are photographing the scene with a high range of contrast. Exposure bracketing can help with these shots because it allows you to get a shot of the scene that correctly exposes for the brightest areas and another shot that correctly exposes for the darkest areas. You can then take these multiple exposures and blend them together using photo editing software. The result is an image that is correctly exposed for the entire range of contrast in the scene.

This may sound complicated, but it’s actually a pretty easy process. We’ll step through it using Photoshop and Photoshop Elements in our next post…

In the meantime, get out those manuals and read up on how to use Automatic Exposure Bracketing on your camera.

Happy shooting…

P.S. Shooting in RAW gives you a bit more latitude on the exposure front since the RAW format is able to capture a larger dynamic range than JPEGs. Just saying….

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