10 Steps to Manual Mode: Bracketing Basics

man in plaid shirt taking a picture
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This is the last part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this tenth part of the series, we are going to talk about bracketing.

What is Bracketing?

Bracketing involves taking multiple images of the same scene, usually in 1/3, 1/2, or full-stop increments, to create a choice of exposure options.

How do we use it to take better photos?

When you add bracketing in your camera, you increase your likelihood that you will get the proper exposure on your photo.

To use bracketing, you stand very still and hold down the shutter for 3 photos that are taken one right after the other.

So you will end up with 3 exposures of the same photo. One will be the exposure you set, one will be darker and the third one will be lighter.

Look at the photos below:

These pictures were taken one right after the other with bracketing set to 1.0.

These are straight from the RAW file, so there is no editing, sharpening or anything.

But look at the light in each photo.

a river in the wilderness

The first photo is shot with what I thought was proper exposure. Since it was bright outside, I decided to use bracketing to get several exposures, just in case.

a river in the wilderness

The second is a darker version of the same photo.

a river in the wilderness

The third is brighter than the first photo. The highlights are definitely blown here, so it is too bright.

You can see that if I had chosen the wrong exposure for the first photo, the second or third photo would have been a better option to save the exposure.

3 Tricks to Bracketing:

  1. Learn when to use it-You won’t need to use bracketing all the time, just when you are unsure of the exposure. If it is really bright outside and it is hard to see the back of the camera, you might want to use it as insurance to make sure you got the shot.
  2. Stand very still to get the same exact picture-To properly compare the 3 photos, you should stand exactly in the same spot and take the same picture so you can choose from identical scenes.
  3. Learn how to use it for HDR photography-If you have a scene that could benefit from multiple exposures, check out the link below to try weave the exposures together in an HDR shot.

Bracketing is a trick you can use when your first start shooting in manual mode to help you get the perfect exposure every time.

It will add more pictures to your memory card and workflow, but it will be worth it to help you nail the shot you want.

Bracketing for HDR:

You can use bracketing to produce a high dynamic resolution (HDR) image.

I am not going to go into great detail in this post, because HDR is an advanced photography skill. I enjoy using it when I have great variation from light to dark in a photo and I want to get the whole range.

A good example is when you are standing inside a building, and you want a photo that properly exposes things inside the room and outside the window. This can’t be done with just one exposure.

So you can use bracketing to take 3 exposures of the same scene and then put them together in Lightroom or Photoshop for a more dynamic photo.

But you have to do it right, with subtlety, or it will look like a digital drawing instead of a real life image.

To find out more about HDR, go here: A Beginners Guide to HDR Photography @ Digital Photography School

Action Steps:

  1. Learn how to set up bracketing on your camera.
  2. Practice using bracketing to get the proper exposure in difficult situations.
  3. Analyze your photos in post processing. Are you picking the right exposure or are you always choosing the lighter or darker photo?

This is the last post in the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

I hope this series has given you actionable to tips to increase your knowledge and confidence while shooting in manual mode.

Shooting in manual mode helps you become a better photographer by allowing you to communicate the vision in your head to the camera. It allows you more control over your images and gives you more leeway to take pictures in less than ideal situations.

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Do you use bracketing when you shoot manual? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks!

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