Advanced Techniques

Exposure bracketing

Written by Gail Bjork

When lighting and metering is difficult, take a series of lighter and darker exposures of the same scene. Bracketing helps ensure adequate exposure.

Extremes in light can trick a camera meter to improperly expose a photo. Bracketing overrides the exposure settings of a camera. You bracket by taking a series of shots of the same scene at lighter and darker exposures.

Many digital cameras can be set to bracket automatically. When auto exposure bracketing is enabled, the camera takes a short series of consecutive pictures of the same scene. Exposure Values automatically change in plus and minus incremental steps.

Some digital cameras not only have a bracket setting, but can automatically merge the bracketed images in-camera for better dynamic range.

BacklightingFront lightingBack-lighting

The first three shots, on the left, were taken with the source of light coming from behind the subject. This is known as back-lighting.

Without changing the Exposure Value from the default exposure reading, back-lighting causes the main subject to be under exposed, ie. dark.

Front-lighting

The next three shots, on the right, were taken when the main source of light fell on the front of the subject. The strongest light came from behind the person taking the picture.

Without adjusting the Exposure Value when light falls too strong on a subject, the image becomes overexposed. What results is an photo with washed out, blown out areas.

Better to under than overexpose

It is generally better to under- rather than overexpose an photo. When editing, it is often possible to pull out detail from the darker, underexposed areas. When portions of an image are washed out due to overexposure, there remains little or no detail to pull out in the blown-out area.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.

2 Comments

  • Joesph, whether you set your camera to bracket a minus or plus, depends on the scene. If, for example, something is backlit, try setting the camera to plus, so the subject is not in the shadows (or use fill-flash). For a subject that has a lot of contrast, set it to minus so you avoid blown highlights. Detail is typically saved in darker areas and they can be brought out when editing. However, you can not recover detail in blown highlight. If you have photo editing software with layers, you can combine the bracketed images for a high dynamic range photo. Some programs like Photoshop have a feature to merge photos for high dynamic range.

  • I have a fuji 1800 that allows braceting and has three different bracket settings. Which do you think would give the best results; plus minus 1/3, 2/3 and 1?