Exposure Bracketing

Exposure Bracketing

Written 13 years ago by Mark Evans

Most professional photographers of today will use Exposure Bracketing in their day to day work, and for the uninitiated it may sound a little scary, but with a little knowledge, this camera function can be very useful for most photographers.

What is Exposure Bracketing?

Setting the Exposure Bracketing on a Canon EOS 30

Setting the Exposure Bracketing on a Canon EOS 30

Essentially Exposure Bracketing (EB) is when a number of exposures are taken at a set interval above and below a base exposure. Say, for example, you want to take a photo of a particular scene; you set your camera to AV mode (or Auto, or whatever mode you use,) you look through your cameras view finder, frame up your photo and push the shutter release half way before pressing it fully to take the photo. Now, for most cameras when you hold your shutter release button half way down, the camera will focus on the scene (or what focus point you selected,) and decide what shutter speed and aperture it is going to use. For some reason, this does not always result in the picture you had in mind! Different situations can cause a camera to be fooled into deciding on the wrong aperture/shutter speed combination (like snow scenes or bright sandy beaches.) This is where EB comes in.

What Exactly is EB Used For?

Setting the EB on your camera before you take that photo would mean that when you pressed the button fully, the camera would take the photo, plus one over-exposed image, and one under-exposed image. Say it was a bright sunny day, your camera is set to ISO 100 (or you’re using ISO 100 film) the camera selects an aperture of f/16 and a shutter speed of 1/125s (according to the sunny f/16 rule.)Â If the EB was set to 1 stop then you would end up with a picture taken at f/16, 1/125s, another taken at f/16, 1/60s (over-exposure) and another at f/16, 1/250s (under-exposure.)

In a snow scene, it may be so that the over-exposed picture comes out the best, and you’ve saved yourself the disappointment of a dud photo when you’re reviewing them later on!

An example where bracketing saved the day, Base exposure, -1 stop, +1 stop (Best exposure)

Its important to note here, that different cameras have different EB modes. You may be able to bracket 1/2 stop or even 1/3 stop. You may even be able to take more than one image either side of your ‘normal’ exposure. If your camera doesnt have an EB function or doesnt have the size bracket you need, then it may be possible to manually bracket exposures by setting your camera to Manual mode then setting the relevant shutter speed/aperture combinations before each photo. In any case, it pays to read your cameras manual to find out how to work it properly!

What Size Exposure Bracket to Use?

Well there’s no easy answer there. It will depend on the scene you are photographing (brightness range,) and the camera (film/digital) you are using. Try starting out bracketing with 1/2 stop then try 1 stop and see how you go, but the best way to find out is to get some experience under your belt and go out and experiment! I find that sometimes, trial and error is the best way to learn in photography.

Exposure Bracketing Summary

  • Is a series of images taken at a set interval above and below a base exposure
  • Is useful when starting out in taking HDR images
  • Can be very useful in ensuring correct exposure in scenes with difficult lighting
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