What Your Camera’s Auto Bracketing Feature Can Do and How to Use It

By Jason Row / August 14, 2013

Cameras today are a marvel of modern technology, giving us beautifully exposed, wonderfully sharp images much of the time. There are times however when what the camera is saying is the correct exposure, may not be the best option. There are also times, such as when you want to produce an HDR image, that you need a range of exposures. It is for such just occasions that auto bracketing becomes a vital tool.

So What is Exposure Bracketing?

Well in it’s simplest form, it is a range of images taken at various exposures around the suggested, metered exposure. Whilst you can do this manually, using manual exposure, most cameras today have a built in exposure bracketing mode, usually known as Auto Bracketing.

So Where Do you Find Auto Bracketing?

Well for different cameras it can be in different places, upper end, professional equipment often has it built into a dial or button and switch combination. In others it can be found in the menu system.

When you set your camera to Auto Bracketing and your exposure mode to either Aperture or Shutter Priority, the camera will take a sequence of shots, each with a slight variation in exposure. For more basic level cameras, this may be a fixed value, for example one shot at -1 stop, one at metered exposure and one at +1 stop, however, most DSLR’s and some compacts allow you to define your bracket range by changing both the number of shots either side of the metered exposure and the exposure increments between shots. This is can often be 1/3 1/2 or 1 full stop difference in the exposure. In most professional level cameras you could set a range of up to 9 different images, four over the metered exposure and four under.

HDR – One use for auto bracketing by Sri Dhanush, on Flickr

How to Shoot With Auto Bracketing On

So having set your auto bracket up, the next stage is to shoot. Here you can decide whether to shoot in single shot or continuous mode.

The single shot mode will automatically change the exposure every time you take a shot, so for example if your auto bracket is set to 3 shots at 1/2 stop increments, the first shot will be taken at 1/2 stop under the metered exposure, the second shot will be the metered exposure and the final shot will be 1/2 stop over.

Most cameras however have one or more continuous modes and these are an ideal companion to auto bracketing. When you use a continuous mode, the camera will shoot the images in order as a burst of shots, then stop until you press the shutter again. In the below example, the camera will shoot all three exposures consecutively before stopping. Pressing the shutter again will repeat this action until you cancel the auto bracketing.

Three Shot Bracket by Jason Row Photography, on Flickr

There are certain advantages to using continuous mode with auto bracketing, among them is the fact that because the images were shot so close together time-wise, the scene will not have dramatically altered and also the possibility of better results if shooting HDR without a tripod.

Stormy weather can be tamed with auto bracketing  by Steven R. Higgins, on Flickr

Auto Bracketing is an often overlooked and powerful feature of most modern cameras. By shooting through a range of exposures, you can find images that may well look better creatively and exposure wise than the value that your camera meter may have suggested. It is an ideal mode to use particularly in highly variable lighting conditions for example an oncoming storm or the changing light of dawn or dusk, giving you a range of different exposures to choose from to get the best final result.


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About the author

Jason Row

Jason has been writing for Light Stalking for over six years now and has 35 years of experience as a professional photographer. He now concentrates on producing travel stock photography and video from around the world. You can find his portfolio here. His work has been featured in numerous publications, both online and in print, as well as for major companies such as Virgin, Etihad, Tripadvisor and Booking.com. Jason has also produced a number of video tutorials for Light Stalking and Photzy. Born in London he now lives in the beautiful city of Odessa, Ukraine.

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