Bracketing, in and of itself, is not an exciting subject; however it can produce some excellent results. So what is it? Well, very simply it’s when you take the same photograph multiple times with different exposures and then combine them later using software.
Sounds simple, and it is!
The key to good bracketing is to not let the camera move between each exposure. In other words this works best using a tripod. Having said that, a lot of cameras have a setting called Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) which will do the hard work for you – making it easy to take the 3 or more (bracketed) shots in quick succession without having to go to the hassle of using a tripod.
Why on earth would you want to take all these photos and stick them together? If you have a really contrasty scene, say with bright highlights and deep shadows, then this can be a way to bring out more detail in both the highs and lows, making an otherwise unachievable shot, achievable.
The idea is to take 3 or more photos with 3 (or more) different exposures e.g. one exposure is ‘normal’ and this is the one that the camera thinks is how to expose the scene, one is darker and one is lighter. It might come as a bit of a shock but the camera can, and does, make mistakes when it comes to exposure especially if there are a lot of extremes in the scene i.e. bright and dark.
Something like this.
This is the ‘normal’ exposure. You may think that this is perfectly acceptable and what’s all the fuss about? It is pretty good but I wanted more detail in the shadow area.
So I shot a couple of more frames. This next one is ‘lighter’.
It brings up the darker shadow area really well but has blown the highlights somewhat.
Then there’s the dark one.
The highlights are much better controlled but the shadows are way to dark.
Now for a little magic in Photoshop to combine these 3 shots into, hopefully, something that is nicely exposed throughout. For those of you interested I used the HDR function in Photoshop.
The end result:
I hope that you can see that there is more detail in the shadow area and the highlights aren’t blown making for a much more balanced exposure.
These were all taken using a tripod and wellies and the site is St Nectan’s Glen in Cornwall.
Hope this makes sense and can become a useful tool in your photographic arsenal for some of those tricky exposure scenes that your camera can’t handle by itself.