If you’re struggling to get well-exposed images in mixed light, try these simple exposure bracketing techniques to help preserve shadow and highlight detail. In this post we show you how to bracket both manually and using your cameras Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) feature.
Exposure bracketing is a term used to describe the technique of taking three or more shots of exactly the same scene using a different exposure setting for each one.
The idea when using the exposure bracketing technique is to make sure you have one shot that is correctly exposed – a fail-safe method, if you like. It was common practice when shooting film, when exposure had to be very precise.
With digital it could be argued it’s less important, as there are ways of rescuing poorly exposed shots. However, it’s far better to produce a correctly exposed image in camera.
Exposure bracketing is especially worthwhile in difficult lighting situations when it’s hard to be sure of the ‘correct’ exposure.
By taking several shots at different settings you can then decide which one works best on later viewing. In extreme lighting situations it can be invaluable if you want to create high dynamic range (HDR) images by taking a series of exposures to record detail in highlights and shadows and then using software to seamlessly combine the images.
The usual method for exposure bracketing is to keep the aperture setting constant (f/16 for landscapes, for example) and then make changes to the shutter speed, which can be done easily in Manual (M) mode.
The difference between exposures can be a full ‘stop’ (1/15, 1/30, 1/60 sec); half stop (1/30, 1/45, 1/60) or even a third stop (1/30, 1/40, 1/50, 1/60) for careful fine-tuning of the exposure.
Manual exposure bracketing step-by-step
Select Manual (M) mode, compose the shot and set the aperture to f/16. To take an exposure reading, use the Average/Evaluative metering mode and then align the indicator bar with the centre mark or ‘0’ on the exposure indicator scale.
Adjust the shutter speed
Take the first shot using the settings the camera has calculated to be correct. With the same aperture, manually change the shutter speed so the indicator bar is aligned with +1 on the scale and take the shot. Do the same with the indicator aligned with -1.
Tweaking the technique
If the lighting is more extreme (or for an HDR image) take two further shots at +2 and -2. Conversely, if you wish to only alter the exposure by a small amount, take three shots at 0, +0.5 and -0.5. You can chose 0, +1 and +2 if you only want to brighten the shot.
Histogram: photography cheat sheets for achieving perfect exposure
Dynamic Range: what you need to know about capturing all the tones in a scene
Expose to the right: the camera technique every landscape photographer must know
Conquer underexposure: how to rescue shadow detail and how to deal with the noise
Famous photographers: 100 things we wish we knew starting out
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