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Design & Style

How to Use Bracketing to Create Perfect Photos

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Mar 26, 2020 • 3 min read

Taking photographs using manual camera settings on your DSLR is exciting when you're out in the field. But what do you do when you get home and discover that your photos are underexposed or overexposed? Computer software can provide some exposure compensation, but it doesn't compare to getting the correct exposure to begin with. You can avoid problems with exposure by using a photography technique known as bracketing.

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What Is Bracketing?

Bracketing is a technique where a photographer takes shots of the same image using different camera settings. This gives the photographer multiple variations of the same image to choose from or combine to ensure that they get the perfect shot. The most common type of bracketing is exposure bracketing, where the same shot is captured with at least three different exposures.

5 Types of Bracketing in Photography

There are five principal types of bracketing in photography:

  1. Depth of field bracketing: This type of bracketing creates multiple photographs where different objects are in and out of focus.
  2. Focus bracketing: When the depth of field is limited, you can use focus bracketing by manually adjusting the focus of your lens to capture multiple images with a variety of foci. You can later combine these images into one single image where everything magically seems to be in focus. This technique is called “focus stacking.”
  3. Flash bracketing: Some photography requires a flash no matter what. But in outdoor photography (such as landscape photography or outdoor portraiture), you can use the flash to light different areas of your image and then compare the shots after the fact.
  4. White balance bracketing: Although rarely used on today's digital cameras, this technique involves adjusting a DSLR's white balance for a variety of color palettes.
  5. Exposure bracketing: Bracket exposures offer variation in either aperture, shutter speed, or ISO, thus granting a photographer more post-production options than they would have with a single exposure. Today's HDR photography relies on automated exposure bracketing to automatically create high contrast scenes using digital technology. HDR images can look manipulated, so some photographers steer clear of them, but the technology is a reliable way to get a usable image with one press of your camera's shutter button.
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How to Use Exposure Bracketing in Your Photography

It's easy to snap bracketed shots as part of your regular photography routine. The main principle is to alter the amount of light reaching your camera sensor, which in turn provides altered levels of exposure. If you want to try exposure bracketing, you have a number of options:

  • Manually alter your camera’s shutter speed: This means you keep your camera's aperture and ISO steady while you experiment with different shutter speeds. (Longer shutter speeds let in more light.) This is the most common way to create exposure bracketing.
  • Manually alter your camera’s aperture: In this version of exposure bracketing, you keep your shutter speed and ISO constant but vary your aperture. This produces variety in your images' depth of field.
  • Manually alter your camera’s ISO: In a nutshell, the higher your camera's ISO, the brighter your image will be. The downside to high ISO is that it can produce a grainy effect (called "noise" in the parlance of digital photography), so most professional photographers do what they can to keep their ISO as low as possible without creating overly dark photos.
  • Use automatic exposure bracketing: In today's market, many top DSLR cameras offer automatic exposure bracketing as a setting. In fact, many smartphones offer this function, often as part of an HDR mode. In auto-bracketing mode, the camera always provides three levels of exposure for a single shot. Automatic bracketing lets portrait photographers, landscape photographers, and abstract photographers all focus on capturing a single image without spending valuable time tweaking settings in their camera's manual mode.
  • Set shutter speed priority: This version of automatic exposure bracketing keeps shutter speed constant (you get to choose the speed) and automatically adjusts the aperture to create images with different exposures.
  • Set aperture priority: This type of automatic exposure bracketing keeps the aperture fixed on a setting that you choose and automatically adjusts shutter speed to create a range of short and long exposure shots.

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