What is Bracketing? Everything You Need to Know

This is a guide covering bracketing.

In this glossary definition you’ll learn about:

It’s fine if you forgot what bracketing was. Not every photographer even talks about this handy method.

In this article, we’ll explain the bracketing definition, and its use in photography.

Let’s just start, shall we?

bracketing photography

What is Bracketing?

In a nutshell, bracketing is taking photos multiple times using different setting to get the right amount of exposure. This might sound unnecessary and useless, but hear me out.

As a landscape photographer, you will be delighted that your photo is properly exposed right? Mountains look perfectly sharp, grasses giving an eye-popping color, and background looking perfectly natural.

Sadly, fulfilling this high expectation of you have isn’t easy. It may even sound impossible without….

You guessed it, bracketing and using HDR to combine them.

ISO, Shutter-speed, Aperture, all of these settings will manipulate your photo and sacrifices an element that you’d want. Having a sharp and perfectly exposed photo is easier said than done.

This led to photographers taking multiple shots using different settings to cover a more dynamic range. Thus the methods such as focus bracketing, focus stacking, and HDR was introduced to make the dream come to life.

You could do this manually too. Take a shot, adjust the exposure and various settings, and take another shot then rinse and repeat. Sadly, the slightest camera movements would make everything unnecessarily harder.

Which is why most landscape photographers bring a great quality tripod with them.

Let’s briefly talk about AEB the leading technology that relieves the stress from landscape photographers. . Auto Exposure Bracketing/AEB makes your camera automatically bracket shots for you. Press the shutter, wait, and voila.

bracketing landscape
Photo by Taryn Elliott

What is the Purpose of Bracketing?

Bracketing essentially helps photographers take pretty pictures at different settings. New landscape photographers often face the challenge of taking an astonishing view without ruining it.

Photos could just come out not as expected, they look unnatural and unbalanced. You could pretty much blame your camera and eyes for this since cameras aren’t as advanced as our eyes. At least for now.

Modern cameras know the correct amount of exposure, but they’re not always right. It’s because our eyes can automatically adjust when exposed to scenes with extreme contrast. Sadly, cameras can only use one type of setting every time.

The settings that you can change include the aperture, the exposure and the shutter speed. You can even use your flash to add more exposure to your photo.

Bracketing accepts the camera’s limit and takes multiple images of your stunning view. Most professionals will use an AEB for 3, 5, 7 and 9 images. Of course, you could take even more brackets if you know what you’re doing.

Let’s say that you’re using three photos as your bracketing material, the first image will take a shot with mid-range exposure. The second photo will be used for highlights, while the third is there for the shadows.

Yes, three photos are the minimum amount of bracketing photos to process using an HDR algorithm. This HDR will then give you the blended images, resulting in this aesthetic look while also being natural.

Take this bracketing and HDR method as your safety net if you miss a correct exposure and white balance. You don’t need to go back to get a better photo, just merge them into one!

So, is this method good? Well of course! As long as you don’t overdo it like some HDR users.

Is Bracketing Good to Do?

I personally think that everything should be done in moderation. Practicing photography is certainly fun, but overdoing it without taking some rest is just bad.

This also goes well with what some photographers did while using HDR for bracketing their photos. They did a good job giving HDR a bad reputation, but you can’t really blame them for it.

Everyone tried to use HDR because of its ease and efficiency. There was an abundance of presets available in the software required to process HDR, there were even HDR filters.

Moments later, the internet was bombarded with over-the-top surreal HDR pictures. Some were magnificent amongst the crowd, but it was just flooded with unappealing images. There’s no need to remove the contrast, but they did it anyway.

Quality HDR photos are supposed to make an image look natural and subtle. It expands your pictures dynamic range as a tool. Eventually, it’s your decision to make a realistic or fantasy-ish image, go wild and have fun!

It’s in your best interest to know the perfect opportunity to use HDR photography. HDR photography always works when shooting at sunrise or sunset.

Scenes that present you a black foreground, but an amazing sky is perfect for HDR photography. Basically when a part of your photography is too dark, bright, or “washed-out.”

Bracketing will give you more control over your final results, although they may not be instant. It also doesn’t give you a preview of the stacked image.

The inability to see the end result when stacked does become one of its weakness. It will take you some time and some experimenting before you’re able to predict the results.

Well to answer the question, I will say that it’s pretty decent.

landscape hdr
Photo by James Wheeler

How Do You Use Bracketing?

It’s actually not really complicated to learn bracketing in photography. As long as you have a good tripod, it should go smoothly. Here’s a simple guide for bracketing:

  1. Prepare your tripod and set the camera. If you don’t have a tripod then go home I highly recommend you get one.
  2. Select your preferred bracketing mode in the camera settings. For more information, you could refer to the user manual or search it online.
  3. Choose how many brackets you want to use.
  4. Set the delayed shutter speed on two seconds. I also recommend you to use a timer, this prevents the camera from moving. Less movement equals easier (and better) blending.
  5. Click the shutter and watch your camera automatically take photos for you.

Test the winds, if it’s a bit windy and there are moving objects, maybe bump your ISO a bit. After raising your ISO, set the camera into the series mode. You can do this by holding the button a bit longer.

Scenes that have extreme dynamic range and sharp contrast are suitable for merging. Studying the elements around you would help you too.

Did you know that clouds can help you by becoming natural soft boxes? These soft boxes help photographers achieve a softer light, plus it’s free! There are also other city elements that have their own effect on lighting such as sidewalks, glass panels, etc.

Now let’s enter the merging phase. Remembering the many applications that are able to merge bracketed images, let’s use the most common one as an example.

hdr beach landscape photo
Photo by Pixabay

Adobe Lightroom

Follow these steps to merge your brackets into a single image:

  1. Carefully select the brackets you want to use.
  2. Select “Merge to HDR”
  3. Wait for a few seconds and Voila!
  4. Yes, it is that easy to make HDR photos.

If you have moving objects in your photos, it may be a bit harder to merge. Try the “de-ghosting” option and it should help your image look better. Maybe set it into low or medium, use it depending on the scene.

Check the photo again by zooming in on the parts with moving objects. Take a good look for any artefacts left around. If the job looks satisfying, congratulations! You just created a HDR photo.

hdr landscape
Photo by Pixabay

Is HDR the Same as Bracketing?

To begin with, bracketing is just taking multiple pictures with different settings. If you were told to take an exposure bracketing, you will hand them three, five, or nine shots at different exposures.

That is all there is to bracketing, it’s merely the act of taking multiple pictures. But HDR is where bracketing in photography is taken to a new form.

HDR/High Dynamic Range is a method to fuse bracketed photos, it’s kind of cool and a bit controversial. The HDR method creates photos that contain extreme lights and extreme darks, then blends them together.

You must use at least three images, but the pros usually take five or more images with different exposures. This results in a stunning HDR image that appeals to the eye.

But, not all photographers are a fan of this method. The controversy was simply caused by people overdoing HDR. Other photographers think that the overdoing of HDR made it look like a cheap trick.

Some people agree with HDR while others don’t, it’s deemed to happen anyway. If you choose the HDR, well go for it friend. Photography should be a contest of putting concepts into life, not just the judging other people’s preferred methods.

I recommend using the Photo Merge feature on Adobe Lightroom or maybe use EasyHDR. They’re both easy to use, has multiple guides online and pretty powerful.

hdr water photo
Photo by Pixabay

What is the Difference between Focus Stacking and Focus Bracketing?

Cameras don’t always have a focus stacking system built-in them. Currently, photographers create these stacked photos via focus bracketing.

You just need to load that stack of photos and blend them in. This “stack” will eventually blend all of the focused sections into one photo. Resulting in a photo with amazing properties.

Focus bracketing provides you with a wider depth of field better than your aperture can. You take multiple photos at different apertures/focus distances.

The act of blending all of them together is called focus stacking. This method basically takes multiple photos (brackets) with different focuses and blends them all together.

So why do photographers want the maximum depth of field? First of all, every photographer has their own concept when setting up their shots.

Macro photographers take the most advantage from this method to give the photo an overall sharp look. This is caused by their camera lenses particularly shallow depth of field. They need to give an overall sharpness, but all that can’t happen in one shot.

Photographers that exploit this method deliver satisfying images that just guide the viewer’s eyes as they please.

Only cameras from Panasonic and modern Olympus have access to built-in focus stacking. Luckily, the world is developing at a rapid pace. It’s practically a waiting game for better cameras that offer focus stacking at a better price.

Final Remarks

Hope you enjoyed this guide on bracketing.

Bracketing helps you to combine desirable properties from different images. Taking images at different exposures or focuses to achieve the best photo.

It provides an astounding depth of field and perfect exposure throughout the view, just as any landscape photographer would want.

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