What is exposure bracketing

What is exposure bracketing

Hello, my awesome readers, how are you today? In this article, I will explain what is exposure bracketing and how you can improve your photos by using this technique.

Back in the days when photos were taken with film cameras, professional photographers used the bracketing method to ensure that they nail at least one of the photographs.

As film cameras didn’t have an LCD screen to see the photo immediately, you had to wait until the film was developed to see the taken pictures. And if one or several pictures were ruined because of bad exposure, you had to repeat the process with another film. And this was an awkward situation if you needed to take pictures on events or special occasions. So, this is why photographers decided to use the exposure bracketing technique.

What is exposure bracketing?

Exposure bracketing is taking 3 to7 photos of a certain subject, each with different exposure settings. One image will come out overexposed, one underexposed and the other one properly exposed.

what is exposure bracketing
Exposure bracketing: one stop underexposed and one stop overexposed

This technique is often used in landscape or real estate photography in our days, where the camera ‘sees’ the image differently from our eyes. Photographers take three pictures, and later, they merge them in editors like Lightroom to create one detailed and perfectly exposed image, an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image for short. Just like when you focus stack your images. Also, you can edit the images separately and choose the best one, but the fastest and easiest way is, by merging them into one.

Of course, you can apply exposure bracketing in macro photography too. This way you can save time when you edit your images. You only merge them and if needed, increase sharpness or reduce noise. You don’t have to tweak vibrance, saturation or color, or other contrast options anymore.

There are two ways you can set bracketing, manual, and auto. Most of the DSLR and mirrorless cameras have auto exposure bracketing. You can recognize it by “Expo. comp, AEB, BKT”. But, to be sure of the correct setting for bracketing, read the manual from your camera.

Note: Exposure bracketing only works when you turn the dial on your camera to manual, aperture priority, or shutter priority mode, and without flash in manual mode. If you shoot with an ISO of 100 or 200 in manual mode, put a little light on your subjects, don’t increase ISO, to avoid noise.

How to manually set exposure bracketing

To set exposure bracketing manually, first, put your camera in aperture priority or shutter priority mode. From here, select the exposure balance option, you either press the exposure button or select it on the display. Should look something like this.

what is exposure bracketing

Note the yellow line under zero. From here you can select one stop brighter or one-stop darker exposures, for instance.

So, to take one stop overexposed images, move the yellow line to +1 and press the shutter button to take the picture.

what is exposure bracketing

After you are done, move the yellow line two stops down -1, to take underexposed images. Press the shutter button.

what is exposure bracketing

Now to take the third and properly exposed images, move the yellow line to zero. Press the shutter button.

Now you have three same images with different exposure settings. It is best to put your camera on a tripod when you do manual exposure bracketing to avoid shakes.

The advantage of manual exposure bracketing is that you can go further in exposure than in auto. In auto exposure, you are limited to 5 or 7 frames.

How to automatically set exposure bracketing

As I said above, most modern cameras have the option of auto exposure bracketing. You can take a series of three, five, or seven images with different exposure settings in a single shot.

To set auto exposure bracketing, put your camera in manual mode and select the exposure balance option on the screen or in the menu of your camera. Now you should have something like this.

what is exposure bracketing

If you have the canon camera, turn the gear dial near the shutter button to select how many frames you want to shoot. Should look like this.

what is exposure bracketing

I set auto exposure to three frames. The three yellow lines show how many exposures frame your camera will take.

You can either take the pictures by pressing the shutter button each time or, set your camera to continuous shot or timer shot to take the images. You will only need to press the shutter button once and the camera will do the rest of the job by taking the images.

Now that you have your images with different exposure settings, let’s head over to Photoshop to merge the images to create one HDR image.

If you don’t have Photoshop, you can download the trial from here Photoshop and Lightroom Trial. The plan includes Lightroom Classic, Lightroom and Photoshop, and of course, other great editors.

Merging the images

There are two way you can merge your images, HDR and Composite.

The HDR (High Dynamic Range) process is faster and creates images with complex tonal range and gives a realistic look. This technique is more preferred by professional photographers, because of the fast and automatically applied process. As we know, everything needs practice at first, so does merging your images into HDR.

If you want to create realistic macro images without too much editing, you should repeat the HDR process with different tweaks to get familiar with it.

The Composite process is a little bit time-consuming because you have to apply everything manually, but, provides better quality to your images. Now let’s merge our images to HDR in Photoshop.


Open Photoshop, and instead of clicking on Open, click on File at the upper left corner. Click on Automate, then, Merge to HDR Pro. A window will pop up where you have to select your images to be able to merge them.

what is exposure bracketing

After you uploaded your images, click on OK. Now, Photoshop will merge your images and another window will pop up with several options.

what is exposure bracketing

Play with the options to get familiar with them and create your awesome HDR image. Click on Enter to save the applied options.

My final process of merging is this:

what is exposure bracketing

As you can see the image looks realistic and detailed.

Composite images

Open Photoshop, click on File, then, Scripts, in the drop-down, click on Load Files into Stack. A pop-up window will appear, where you select your images, tick Attempt to automatically align source images to align any slight movements in your images. Click OK.

Now you will have all of your images as layers on the right side of the screen.

Now create a Layer Mask by clicking on the square with a circle inside at the bottom of the layers for the properly exposed image.

From here you can play with the Gradient tool or other highlight and contrast tools until you achieve your desired image. After you are done, select the three layers by holding CTRL and clicking on each layer. Then, right-click on the selected layers and click on Merge layers. Now you have one composite image.

Final words

Exposure bracketing is a great process if you want bits of details from several images with different exposure settings. You can blend the shadows and other underexposed areas in your image and emphasize parts of your subjects.

Tell me, in the comments section below, how was your first experience with creating HDR and Composite images, I would love to hear your opinions. And also, if you have any questions, please let me know, and I will help you as soon as possible. Be safe and take.

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  1. This is a very informative post on exposure bracketing. I certainly remember the days of taking the camera film to be developed, only to find that some had too much light, or too little light, or were out of focus. I found the detailed way in which you explained how to do exposure bracketing very helpful, and then the use of Photoshop. It is awesome what can be achieved with modern technology. 

    1. Thank you Line for finding my article helpful. Technology nowadays is advancing fast, I remember back in the days when I had a film camera, I had to wait a week or so to see the results and some of the photos were ruined because of bad exposure. I was too young and not well informed.

  2. I just loved the way you explained in detail the right way of doing exposure.  It’s going to grately help and I also love the way you talked about the merging of images.  Quite thoughtful of you. Sometimes when I take pictures.  It’s either too bright or too dull. I bet this will affect my pictures in a positive way.  Thanks.  

    1. Thank you Babakes for stopping by. And I’m happy that you found my article helpful, hope that you learned something from it.

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