A Beginner’s Guide To Exposure Bracketing

A Beginner's Guide to Exposure Bracketing
William Bayreuther

As a professional photographer, achieving the correct exposure is vital to creating high quality images. Since we know that exposure is created through the combined use of shutter speed, aperture and ISO – it can often be a challenge to achieve this when shooting in variable lighting conditions.

In order to create the correct exposure for both the foreground and background of your images – photographers will use a specific technique to fix these lighting imperfections. Let’s discuss the process of exposure bracketing.

What is Exposure Bracketing?

The technique of exposure bracketing is used by photographers to make sure that their images have been properly exposed.

It is the process of taking the same photograph at different exposures in order to achieve the best lighting in both the foreground and the background. Exposure bracketing is often used in varying degrees of lighting conditions and most commonly for landscape photographs.

How to Use Exposure Bracketing

To utilize exposure bracketing, you will need to start by photographing your scene.

In a scenario where the lighting is shifting and your camera cannot seem to compensate, you will need to create three images of the same, exact scene to then blend together with the exposure bracketing technique.

The three images you will create are:

  • An image with the correct exposure
  • An image that is overexposed
  • An image that is underexposed

There are two ways to create exposure bracketing when shooting with a DSLR camera – in Automatic Exposure Bracketing Mode or through Manual adjustments.

Automatic Exposure Bracketing

Most DSLR and advanced cameras have an automatic exposure bracketing setting. The way that this process works is that your camera will automatically capture your three images without having to change the settings between your shots.

The camera will use its light meter to determine the proper exposure and then create two additional images with one being overexposed and the other underexposed. You will now have three identical images at varying levels of exposure.

Depending on what type of camera you use, the AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) button may be on the back of your camera body or found within the settings menu.

These settings are often found in the drive mode menu of your camera. Here, you should be able to choose from several options such as how many shots will be taken, if you want the camera to shoot in continuous or single mode and the exposure difference between the images such as a 1 or 2 stop change in exposure.

Manual Exposure Bracketing

Manual Exposure Bracketing employs the same method as discussed above, with the main difference being that the photographer changes the camera’s settings between each shot.

In order to capture different levels of exposure, you will need to make adjustments to your shutter speed. This is important to remember because for these images you will want to keep your other settings, aperture and ISO, the same. In relation to exposure, only your shutter speed should be increased or decreased.

When using the manual settings, it is recommended that you use a tripod in order to be able to capture the scene in three identical shots.

Just like the automatic exposure bracketing, once you have captured three images by manually adjusting your settings, you will have three identical photographs with varying levels of exposure.

The Final Image 

Once you have captured your different exposure scenarios, your final image can be created by merging the photographs together either within your camera system or by using editing software such as Lightroom.

Since exposure bracketing is used to compensate for various lighting conditions, your final image should result in a balanced range of highlights, shadows and a high quality tonal perception.

Practice using both automatic and manual techniques of exposure bracketing for your next photographic shoot and discover the composition and detail that can be created from merging these images together.