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In short, bracketing is taking the same photo more than once using different settings for different exposures. Why would you do this? Say you’re photographing a mountain landscape. The grass would require one setting to be properly exposed, the mountains would require another and the sky yet another. But you can only choose one setting for one photo. Shoot! Now what? Try bracketing!
If you know about exposure, you’ll know the different ways to adjust your camera settings to manipulate your exposure. One is to change the aperture, another is the shutter speed and the third is ISO.
What I’ve just suggested poses a problem. How are you going to take three different photos exactly the same if you’re moving your camera to change your settings? A tripod? Yea, but what if it’s your kids on the beach and you want to bracket to get your kids, the sand, the sea and the sky all exposed properly? Your DSLR has the answer!
Automatic Exposure Bracketing is a function most DSLRs have to take three photos with only one click of the shutter, each in different exposures. The result will be one photo a bit too bright, one just right (depending on which part you’re looking to expose properly) and one a bit darker.
You will have to consult your camera’s manual (or just Google it exe: “AEB Canon 7D”) to discover how to access this function.
So now you have three of the same photo. What do you do with it? Well, you may just discover that one of them was just right even though it wasn’t the settings you would have normally used and you’re thankful that you used AEB to help you out. Another way is to do something like in this tutorial for PS where the author shows you how to combine more than one photo to use the best bits from each one to create a perfectly exposed shot. Btw – for us PSE users, a little tweaking of the method will be required since we don’t have layer masks but that’s really not a problem here.
Another method for using bracketed images is called ‘exposure fusing‘ . It’s really unfortunate that this is such a new technique that there isn’t yet a very easy way of doing it but keep your eye out because I think it’s going to be big news very soon.
A very popular method for blending bracketed photos is called HDR and it’s all the rage. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and it’s purpose is to take an image where there are extreme lights and extreme darks and properly blend the two together to create an image with a…well…high dynamic range! But HDR doesn’t come without a bit of controversy. There’s a bigger battle over whether HDR is good or bad than the argument over Canon vs. Nikon. Why the controversy? Well, mostly (and simply) because many people who practise HDR overdo it to create images which are quickly identifiable as HDR images and many photographers judge that this is a cheap trick.
Sure, lots of HDR is ‘overdone’ and bizarre, but if that’s the photographer’s vision and goal, then it doesn’t matter. I feel very strongly that photography can only be liked or disliked but cannot be judged in the ways people try to judge it.