Want to Achieve Proper Exposure? Try Bracketing

by | Feb 5, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

There’s an old joke that goes: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer is practice, practice, practice. Pianists have to practice their scales every day and photographers should practice capturing the correct exposure. Under tricky lighting conditions, sometimes the best solution is to shoot a series of images varying your exposures with each one from what would be considered underexposure to normal and then overexposure.

menuThe “bracketing” technique has been around since film days and these days most cameras have an automatic bracket option, so in continuous mode, you can shoot of three (or more) frames fast. It’s a time honored photo technique in which multiple images of the same subject are made at different exposure settings. The idea is that one of them will be best and some others may be acceptable.

Above left is typically what a typical auto bracket menu item looks like and clicking the control (it varies from camera to camera so check your User’s Guide) lets you set bracketing parameters. When using most cameras Auto Bracket mode the first frame is exposed at what would be typically considered the “normal” exposure, the second is underexposed by a predetermined amount and the third is overexposed by the same amount, although some cameras give you the option of changing the order in which these frames are shot to suite your workflow. You can change the order in which the exposures are made from – 0 + for traditionalists and my personal favorite or + 0 – with variations on that theme. Typically the amount is in fractions of a stop—I prefer 1/3rd stop—but in extreme examples, full stops can be used too.

Here’s a bracketed series of three exposures made in the classic order of underexposed, normal and overexposed. I typically make an exposure using whatever manual or automatic mode that I think is correct for the situation and adjust exposure compensation accordingly but when in doubt you can always do what photographers have done since the invention of 35mm film—bracket.

Tip: Because the LCD preview screen on most digital cameras may exaggerate an image’s contrast it’s easy to see what you think is a well-exposed image but it’s actually slightly underexposed. By practicing bracketing you will gradually learn how to evaluate the image on your LCD screen and be make the proper adjustments.

Barry Staver and Joe are co-authors of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s currently out-of-print but new copies are available for $21.88 at Amazon, with used copies at giveaway prices—less than two bucks—as I write this. For some reason, the Kindle price is extremely high.