Bracket Your Exposure – Digital Photography Tip of the Week

Last week I discussed environmental portraits. We had one reader write asking us “What do you do to photograph an idle layabout?” You can read my answer when viewing the comments for the entry. Remember, if you have any questions or comments about any of the tips appearing here, please send me an email.

This week’s tip is about bracketing your exposures. Hopefully you are using either manual mode or one of the priority modes of your camera (aperture of shutter) for some of your more critical photography. Bracketing is the process of purposely under exposing and overexposing your subject while also taking a photo at the metered exposure. The reason is simply to be sure you can get a good exposure from a hard to meter subject. You may do this manually in manual mode by adjust either your shutter speed or aperture up and down one value from it’s proper exposure reading. For example, if your camera tells you that 1/60 at f8 is the proper exposure, then you could shoot 3 frames, 1/30 @ f8, 1/60 @ f8 and 1/120 @ f8. You may also have the ability to adjust exposure by adjust your EV (exposure value). For this, take your first shot, then make your second shot at an EV of -1, then your third of and EV of +1. Some camera also have an auto bracket mode that once set, will let you take three consecutive shots and the camera will automatically adjust the exposure for you.

As you become more aware of exposure, you can begin to bracket by smaller increments such as 1/2 or 1/3 stops.

Bracket Exposures

In this case, a Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper, I have bracketed my exposure in 1/3 stop increments. As this subject mostly filled the frame, I knew the lighting conditions were pretty easy to meter, however, the waxy texture of this particular orchid tends to produce a bright highlight which could throw the exposure off. The first image is 1/3 stop under exposed, the second is properly exposed, and the third is 1/3 stop over exposed. This series of three photos, while very similiar, are different enough to show that the shot that was exposed at 1/3 of a stop over my meter reading is the best exposure.

Bracketing isn’t necessary for every shot, but for those with tricky lighting situations such as when a bright object appears in the frame near the middle where it is likely trick your camera’s light meter, or when the shot is important and you want to maximize your chances of making sure you have all the light values recorded that you need for a great exposure, bracketing is the way to go.

Next week I will talk about the quality of light as it relates to the size of your light source.

The digital photography tip of the week is written by the PCIN Assistant Editor, Chris Empey. Chris is a long time photographer and is currently the President of the Niagara Falls Camera Club. You can see more of his photography at his Photo of the Day website.
If you have a tip to send Chris, or a question about digital photography he can address in the newsletter, send it to

Comments 1

  • Hello,

    I shoot landscape photos using a digital camera, we are going to Death Valley National Park in a couple weeks. While we are there we’re stopping at Badwater Basin which has white salt flats. I read your article on photographing snow in sunny conditions and this will be pretty much the same thing. If I set my camera on Auto and +2 exposure will this give me the “white” that I need? The sun will be behind me. Or will the +2 be too much exposure? I just want to get it right and get some decent shots. I really appreciate your help and thank you for taking the time to answer.

    Cheryl Goss

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