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This week’s question is about bracketing!

First, what is bracketing?

Bracketing is the act of taking several exposures of the same scene/subject at different exposure values.

When bracketing, the standard practice is to take one exposure dead on, one over exposed, and one under exposed.

The idea is to make absolutely sure you’ve got a good exposure of the subject/scene you’re photographing.

This practice was developed and used pretty regularly during the film photography era, when you had no idea what the photo looked like until you got your film developed.

For example, on your once in a lifetime trip, taking a once in a lifetime photo with your film SLR. To be sure you’ve got a good exposure, you take a photo with an exposure value of 0 (EV 0), one overexposed by one stop (EV +1), and one underexposed by one stop (EV -1).

Then you return from your trip, develop your film and find that the EV 0 image is no good because the sky in the scene was super bright and it went over exposed. The EV +1 image is no good for the same reason, but the EV -1 image is perfect. Now you have no regrets because you bracketed your shot.

However, with the advent of digital photography, the use of bracketing shifted. You no longer need to bracket because you can immediately see the results of that once in a lifetime shot, you can adjust your exposure in real time and by adjusting you can insure that you have exactly the exposure you want.

But then bracketing rose up again with the advent of High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography.

HDR photography is a technique to combat the limitations capturing dynamic range in your photos. (learn more about dynamic range here)

Dynamic range is the difference between the brightest and the darkest areas in your image, measured in stops. (learn more about stops here)

Every camera has a limit as to how many stops brighter the brightest thing in a scene can be, while still capturing detail in the highlights and in the shadows of an image.

This most commonly manifests in images you photograph with the sun or a very bright sky. We’ve all taken photos of a scene where the sky is completely over exposed in the final image. That is a situation where the dynamic range of the scene exceeded the camera’s ability to render detail in the shadows and in the highlights at the same time.

With digital photography, people realized that we could combat the camera’s dynamic range limits by bracketing a scene, and then using software to combine the images and keep the best parts of the images at the various exposures.

For example, you’d take a photograph of the scene at EV 0 for all the mid tone data, and then take a photo at EV +1 to get all the detail in the shadows, and then take photo at EV -1 to get all of the detail in the highlights.

Then you use software to combine the images, keeping only the best parts of each image, merging them into one, High Dynamic Range image.

I linked them above, but I’ll link them here again, I have a series of three videos that explain dynamic range in detail, as well as how to shoot to take advantage of dynamic range, and how to edit to take advantage of dynamic range.