Here's Why You Should Always Bracket Your Photos

For many years now, I have religiously bracketed all my landscape images and macro images of flowers. This is why you should give serious consideration to always doing the same. 

Bracketing your images involves setting your camera to taking a number of shots of the same image, simply at different exposure levels. If you take three shots at a time, for example, you might take one at normal exposure, one underexposed by one stop, and one overexposed by one stop. You can also tell your camera to take five images, or seven, or however many you think you might need. Typically, I stick with three, because that's all I ever find I really need. I have done this for years now and will continue to do so, regardless of how good the dynamic range of cameras might be or become in the future. Why do I do this? For one simple reason: options.

And in this video from James Popsys, he also explains that it's the options you get from bracketing that are such a big attraction. What's most interesting in this video is that the reason Popsys gives for steadfastly using bracketing is quite different from the reason I use bracketing and why others might use bracketing. But that's the exact point he's making: bracketing gives you so much added leeway with a single image that there's really no reason not to do it, especially when the bracketing happens barely in the blink of an eye. Of course, if you're a wedding photographer or shooting fast-paced, high-action sports images, then this might not apply to you.

Do you use bracketing? Give the video a look, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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6 Comments

Alan Klughammer's picture

why bracket then? why not take a short burst at the correct exposure?

Iain Stanley's picture

What is correct exposure? Exposure for the highlights? The shadows? The midtones? Using spot metering? Evaluative metering? I think the point here is that by bracketing, you can largely account for the nuances in all the above scenarios

I hope many give your thoughts a try Ian . It's really good insurance and certainly nothing new. Was used a lot in film days when the happy snapper couldn't look at the image on the camera screen straight away, or even before taking the photo when using a wonderful mirrorless camera. Gotta love modern EVFs!!

"correct exposure?" is there really such a thing ?. I have used bracketing for years, even with fully manual film cameras.

My main use for bracketing today is to get whites as bright possible without getting blow outs.

Bracketing for exposure is one thing, however those using jpeg capture could or should consider white balance bracketing as wb can be the one adjustment not easily made PP --- yep; should use raw but many don't. Was not all that long ago raw capture was not really available or usable. My first dslr , a nikon D1 could record only four raw files at a time . [not very useful when doing aerial photo]
I had read of an early digital days pro landscaper doing exposure bracketing and white balance bracketing for most scenes he recorded . That would be a big insurance policy but that's how is was .

Another pet of mine is exposure compensation --- perhaps you could do/do a refresher on that subject .

I will bracket sometimes if the light is too harsh...however, I've found in backlit situations, even if I bracket intending for HDR or the like, I almost always end up using the one exposed for the highlights, and then bring up the shadows where they need to be. Almost always looks better than the HDR. Not a lot of point to bracketing in soft light when I can simply get it right in camera. You make a point of 'What is correct exposure' in another comment...and if you can't figure that out, then I think that's a skill set you should work on. Of course it's different for each person, but the 'correct exposure' is the one that gives you the tonality for the mood you want in the image. In challenging lighting situations, you may not be able to truly gather the information needed until you're in front of the computer, but for typical lighting, it's really not all that hard.

However, looking at your images, I certainly don't think you have a problem with that...your images are excellent. Perhaps you're finding it more necessary due to the lower malleability of Micro 4/3 in comparison to larger formats, but it seems more like a habit you got into due to sort of paranoia about making an error somewhere. The storage issues may be somewhat minimal for you, but my A7R IV files are 120MB each when shooting uncompressed (and 55MB or so compressed). Bracketing all of my shots would increase my storage demands dramatically.

Iain Stanley's picture

thanks for your comments. You said "the 'correct exposure' is the one that gives you the tonality for the mood you want in the image...." That's exactly my point: correct exposure is dependent on what you want from the image, not necessarily what the camera is telling you. You might be underexposing by a stop or two, or overexposing. You might be using partial metering, or spot metering.....the idea that there's a universally accepted "correct exposure" doesn't really exist, for me at least. Hence my comment above

Matt Campbell's picture

Good video but it shouldn't take you 5 minutes to answer the question.