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How to do exposure bracketing in digital photography?

Previously, we talked about various DSLR metering modes with examples and how they impact the output image.  In this post, we will focus on another important feature offered by modern day DSLR cameras known as automatic exposure bracketing. This feature is widely used by real estate and landscape photographers. Another major field of usage is HDR post-processing. 

Difference between AEB and Exposure Compensation:
Exposure bracketing is a technique used to take multiple different exposure photos of the same scene. The topic of exposure bracketing is very closely related to exposure compensation, but they are not the same. Exposure compensation is when we tell the camera to expose a little less or little more than what the green exposure meter needle says. In more simple terms, we know how the output exposure would look like so we tell the camera to not follow the camera metering and do what the user says. The exposure is varied by the user in every shot. In automatic exposure bracketing, the camera takes 3-5 shots by varying the exposure for every shot by itself. That's why it is called automatic. This mode is useful if you are unsure of what the output exposure might look like, so we play it safe by choosing a photo later out of the 3-5 shots. 

How it works?
Most of the DSLR cameras have this option under the 2nd or 3rd tab of camera settings. The image below shows AEB settings on a Canon camera. The three red vertical lines show that the camera will take three shots at different exposure settings. The exposure difference between each shot will be of 2 stops. One will be underexposed, one will be overexposed and one will be according to the settings defined by the user. 
Shutter priority: DSLR changes aperture value to vary exposure between shots.
3 shots. One high, one low and one neutral
Aperture priority: DSLR changes the value of shutter speed to vary exposure between shots. 
3 shots. One high, one low and one neutral.
One quick tip, shooting mode does impact how the camera will take the exposure bracketed shots.
Single shot mode -> User has to press shutter 3 times one by one, the camera will vary exposure accordingly to the AEB settings.
Burst mode -> User has to keep the shutter pressed, the camera will take different exposure shots very fast and then will stop. It will not continue to take 10-20 burst shots if AEB setting is activated.

DSLR exposure bracketing settings
Automatic Exposure Bracketing

Image examples:
Let's see what it looks like in real life to use exposure bracketing using a DSLR. All 3 images below were taken at the exact same spot, using the same lens and camera body in full manual mode. As we can see, the first shot has underexposed shadows and third shot has overexposed highlights. The results are quite drastic because I used a 2 stop difference between each shot. 

Underexposed bracketed shot
Photo 1 AEB

automatic exposure bracketing
Photo 2 AEB
AEB shot
Photo 3 AEB

What would happen if I take these 3 images and merge them together in Lightroom? It will create a high dynamic range (HDR) photograph. We will talk more in detail about HDR photos in a separate post. 

Most of the DSLR cameras these days have the capability to take 3 bracketed shots. Few of the high-end cameras do support 5 or more bracketed shots. If you need 5 bracketed shots for a given scene, a workaround is to take multiple shots at exact same location and settings by changing the AEB settings. 
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  1. great blog, would love to learn more about DSLR and look forward to more blogs.


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