Bracketing is a method of taking multiple images of the same scene at different settings in order to capture more detail in your shot.
You might not be aware that there are actually a number of bracketing techniques besides the most common method which is exposure bracketing.
Exposure bracketing allows you to retain more dynamic range in your final image. However, other bracketing techniques which we’ll discuss in this article can help you capture more detail in different focus planes, different color temperatures, or even detail in the amount of noise or grain that is captured.
Let’s go ahead and begin with the bracketing technique that you’re most likely already familiar with – exposure bracketing.
#1 – Exposure Bracketing
In exposure bracketing, we take the same image several times at different exposure values or (EVs) in order to accommodate for the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows in the shot. The resulting images can be merged together either in camera or by using editing software. This produces an image with superior tonal range than what you’d have gotten if you had taken only a single shot.
Most cameras can do this automatically in HDR mode, however, the majority of them are only able to save the resulting image in a JPEG format. That is a huge limitation if you want to change some parameters in post-production like White Balance, Exposure, Saturation, etc.
Your camera will usually have a number of options for you to choose from, like the total number of shots to be taken, drive mode (continuous or single), and the exposure difference between each image (1EV or 2EV). ). The exposure bracketing settings can be found under the drive mode menu on most cameras.
#2 – Focus Bracketing (Stacking)
This bracketing technique is most useful when you have a limited depth of field giving you a narrow sliver of focus in your image. Several images are taken at different focal planes, from the nearest focus distance or plane to the furthest focus distance.
All the other in-camera settings must be constant, your exposure should remain untouched because none of the three pillars of exposure (shutter, aperture, ISO) are changed. Really all that’s changing is the focus point.
In macro photography, this can be very useful because the images can be stacked in order to produce one where the subject is fully in focus as opposed to just a certain part. You can think of this method as slightly widening the depth of field on your subject without losing any silky smooth bokeh you get at wider apertures.
Not many cameras will have a focus bracketing function or feature, however, if your camera does, I encourage you to read the manual to learn how it works. For those with cameras that don’t have this feature then it’s really simple to do it manually. You want to have your camera on a tripod and you also want to make sure you’re shooting a static subject.
All you have to do is take multiple images at the same settings (I advise the use of manual mode or aperture priority), between each image you want to adjust your focus plane manually from the closest to furthest. You can experiment with different distances between focus planes to get the results you want. In post-production, you the have the freedom to make the entire image sharp, or just all the parts of your subject, or even just select areas.
#3 – Flash Bracketing
In flash bracketing, multiple images are taken of the same scene with varying light intensities from your camera flash or speedlight especially a fill flash. The light intensity from the flash is varied in steps from low to high intensity as images are captured.
You then have a number of images all with different flash exposures from which you can pick the best one.
This can be very handy in low light situations or in general where you are unsure what flash intensity is going to correctly expose your image.
Flash exposure bracketing (FEB) can be found as a feature on many speedlights, you might want to read through the manual first to figure out how to find and activate it. For some cameras, it is in the camera menu. Once found it’s as simple as picking the number of photos to take, as well as the flash exposure compensation between them.
The final step is taking the images, it’s important to note that FEB can be very slow due to the limitation of the speedlight recycle rate (the time it takes your speed light to be ready to fire again after an actuation). So always keep that in mind when shooting.
Here’s another example which was done outdoors. Notice how the exposure changes on the girl (due to the amount of flash) but the background remained the same.
#4 – White Balance Bracketing
This is one of the more unusual bracketing techniques available in digital photography. As the name suggests, White Balance bracketing allows you to take several images of the same scene at different color temperatures.
This method mostly applies to photographers that only shoot JPEG since the White Balance of an image can always be changed in post-production if it’s recorded in RAW format. Images are taken at blueish color temperatures in stages all the way to reddish temperatures.
This bracketing technique is particularly useful in scenes where there is mixed lighting and it may be difficult for the Auto White Balance mode to correctly pick a color temperature.
You can then pick the image with the most accurate (or pleasing) color temperature afterward. You can manually set the color temperature range within your camera settings in degrees Kelvin.
White balance bracketing can be found in the camera settings, and you should be able to pick the number of photos to take as well as the white balance difference between them in degrees Kelvin. If your camera does not have the feature then you can individually take the photos manually, changing the white balance between them. Just make sure you shoot in RAW + JPEG so you have more creative freedom in post-production. Use the JPEGs for previewing so you can pick the image with the right color temperature, then match that to your RAW file and you can make all your other edits.
#5 – Depth of Field Bracketing
This is a bracketing technique that is very similar to the focus bracketing (stacking) method mentioned earlier. Multiple images are taken of the same scene at different apertures, your exposure must remain constant meaning that your shutter speed and ISO can change (Aperture Priority is recommended).
Just like in focus bracketing, you are able to get a varying depth of field in your shot when you stack the resulting images in post-production, effectively allowing you to get more in focus while not sacrificing any smooth bokeh you got at your widest aperture.
Depth of field bracketing is a technique that won’t be found on many cameras as a function or feature. You will have to do it manually, the good news is that it’s very easy to do. You want to make sure your camera is in Aperture Priority then take images of the same scene while changing your aperture between each image, it might be handy to use a tripod so that the frame is identical. In post-production, you have the freedom to stack your images and get everything in focus or just the subject in its entirety while keeping some satisfying bokeh.
#6 – ISO Bracketing
The final bracketing technique in digital photography is ISO bracketing. As the name suggests, this method involves taking several images of the same scene at different ISO or sensor gain values.
What might come as a surprise to you is that your aperture and shutter speed must stay constant which results in a number of images all with different signal to noise ratios and also different exposures.
ISO bracketing is useful because you get images with different amounts of noise. So you can pick the aesthetic that’s most pleasing to your eyes in that respect.
ISO bracketing can also be used for HDR in situations where your aperture is closed all the way down but you don’t want a shutter speed that’s too slow (in order to correctly expose) such that things in the scene change between images; like water, people or even marine traffic.
ISO bracketing is one of the less common bracketing methods that can be found as a function in your camera. I advise that you check your camera manual to make sure your camera has this feature. If it doesn’t, then you can put your camera in Manual Mode, then select Auto ISO and activate your exposure bracketing, you can also pick your exposure range as well as the number of pictures to take (note: this only works on some camera models).
If your camera isn’t able to do ISO bracketing via the method mentioned above then you can do it the old school way; manually! Put your camera in Manual Mode, make sure you select an aperture, shutter speed, and an ISO between 800 to 1000 that correctly exposes your image. Take your first image as your base at 0EV, the next step involves lowering and raising your ISO while taking images to get your shots at different exposures.
Most of the bracketing techniques mentioned here in this article are not actually available as built-in features or modes in a lot of the cameras that you and I can buy. However, with the power of full manual controls, you can always try them for yourself and see what kind of results you’re getting.