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Quick Tip: How To Use Exposure Bracketing

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This post is part of a series called HDR Photography.
HDR: Love it or Leave It?
Light & Photography: Exposure and Tonal Range Considerations

Today we're taking a look at a feature present on most Digital SLR cameras: Exposure Bracketing. This allows you to automatically take multiple photos when pressing the shutter - each at a different exposure. Along with explaining how it's done, we'll be sharing a few important uses for this technique.

What is Exposure Bracketing?

Although the term sounds slightly daunting, the idea of exposure bracketing is very simple. It simply makes it easier to take more than one exposure when you're in difficult light conditions - to maximise the chance of capturing a well-exposed shot. One image is taken that the camera (or you) think will be correct, then usually two more; one slightly over-exposed, and one under-exposed.

It results in a series of images like the following:

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exposure bracketingexposure bracketingexposure bracketing
exposure bracketingexposure bracketingexposure bracketing

Photos by deborah.soltesz

How is it Done?

Most Digital SLRs, with the exception of a few entry-level models, have an automatic Exposure Bracketing mode. We'll be giving brief instructions that apply generally to most DSLRs, but you can usually find a specific guide in your camera manual. A quick summary table is available here if you'd like to see the type of bracketing supported by different cameras.

  1. Go to your main camera menu
  2. Select the item entitled "AEB", or "Exposure Bracketing"
  3. Here, you can adjust the level of exposure variation between each shot - this will take experimentation to get right, but you can try it out initially with a fairly extreme gap between images - +2EV or -2EV.
  4. Take three shots, review the results, and adjust the settings as necessary.

If you feel that this is a feature you'll use on a regular basis, it's worth looking for a camera that offers a dedicated button to set exposure bracketing, without being required to delve into the device's menu. This is far quicker, and more natural.

When is it Useful?

This process comes in most useful when you are in a situation where the lighting condition is difficult to read, and where you might not have time to manually check exposure prior to taking the shot. It can also come in handy for capturing a series of images to merge together into a HDR composite.

Essentially, bracketing offers you a reliable safety net to ensure that you don't get home to find an otherwise beautiful image is incorrectly exposed. If it's available on your camera, it is worth familiarising yourself with!

There are a few situations when this feature doesn't work well - when shooting fast action, or sports for instance. Also, it's worth remembering that taking three images for every single photo opportunity will use up your memory card storage three times faster!

Preview image by airgap

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