If you haven’t ventured into the world of manual exposure yet, then you may have noticed that auto exposure doesn’t always work too well. Sometimes changing your metering mode can help, but if that fails, what do you do?
Fortunately, there’s another method that can help you get that perfect exposure, while still avoiding the world of full manual. This method is known as bracketing exposures.
When you bracket exposures, you basically tell your camera to automatically take multiple exposures instead of just one (it’ll take one exposure lighter and one darker). All this does is increase the chances of you getting that perfect exposure. However, there’s no guarantee this lighter or darker exposure will be perfect.
The three photos at the beginning of this post are an example of bracketing exposures. The middle shot is the camera’s suggested exposure, and the two shots on the sides are the darker/lighter shots.
How to enable exposure bracketing
To enable bracketing, check your camera’s manual (it’ll be different on every camera). You’ll probably have to go into one of the menus and turn it on somewhere.
Your camera will likely give you the option of how much you want to bracket your shots (i.e. how much lighter or darker should the additional shots be from the suggested auto exposure?). There’s no one answer for what works best here, but most of the time a 1-stop difference works well.
When to use exposure bracketing
A lot of photographers say exposure bracketing should be avoided–that you should always know the perfect exposure when you look at a scene. But, I think bracketing can be useful in at least two cases:
- You’re still learning about exposure, and you’re not ready for manual, but you’re getting frustrated with the deficiencies of auto exposure
- You’re photographing a landscape at sunrise/sunset and with the light changing so quickly, it’s difficult to determine the perfect exposure instantly
So, don’t be afraid to bracket exposures! Remember your end goal: to capture that scene perfectly 🙂
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, computer scientist, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains or the Mojave Desert, both located in the beautiful state of California.