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Exposure Bracketing For Perfect Details

When getting started into Landscape photography, the first thing is to learn how to capture all the details of a scene without overexposing or underexposing the photo. In other words, avoiding getting a photo of the sunrise with an overblown sky, or a photo with well-exposed sky but underexposed foreground.

Why Exposure Bracketing?

Most cameras now a day have excellent Dynamic Range. For example, Nikon D850 able to capture 14.8 Exposure Values (Evs) and 14.7 Evs for Sony A7R III. (Based on Dx0mark review)

In case you don’t know what is Dynamic Range, Dynamic Range is the range of the details between the brightest highlight and the darkest shadow that your camera able to capture. The higher the Dynamic Range, the more information a camera can capture from a scene into a photo.

A camera with high Dynamic Range at 14.8 Evs can easily recover an underexposed photo, even at 2 or 3 stops darker than ideal exposure. However, if you go beyond 3 stops underexposure, the image quality in the shadow area start to drop, and more noises are produced.

LEFT photo is originally underexposed and was recovered by added + 4 Exposure in Lightroom. The RIGHT photo is original exposure, it is a lot cleaner.

On top of that, if the lighting condition of a scene is going beyond the camera’s Dynamic Range, the data will be lost in either highlight or shadow area.

Here’s why Exposure Bracketing came into the picture. Exposure Bracketing is a technique of photographing multiple exposures of a scene, to capture all the detail included highlight and shadow areas. (Alternative, you can use filters, I will talk about that in another future article.)

Below is a series of bracketed shots, notice the 3 photos from left to right are taken with different exposure. You can call them Normal Exposure, Darker Exposure, and Brighter exposure photos but usually, we would call them 0, -1 and +1 exposure photos. So that we know there’s a 1 stop Evs increment between the photos.

3 bracketed photos with different exposures.

How to configure Exposure Bracketing?

To do the Exposure Bracketing shooting, it is straightforward. Just look for the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) button on your camera (as shown in below-left photo), or access via camera’s menu. While pressing on it, rotate the main command dial to set the increment value between each photo, and the sub-command dial to set the number of frames. (Refer below-right photo) For example, let’s set 5 frames and 1Ev incremental. Now, all you need to do is take 5 photos, and the camera will automatically change the exposure for each photo.

Below are the taken photos with AEB configured.

Using Camera’s Auto Exposure Bracketing Function, normally the camera will start from Normal Exposure to Darker Exposure and then Brighter Exposure. However, the sequence can be configured in camera’s setting.

How many frames is considered enough?

It depends on the lighting condition of a scene, the more contrast the lighting is, the more frames are required. Overall, you can base on below guideline to set the AEB settings. Blue Hour5 frames, 1 Evs IncrementSunrise/ Sunset7 frames, 1 Evs Increment

For exposure incremental, I would suggest sticking to 1Evs, unless your camera has a restriction on the number of the frames, like D610, which only allowed up to 3 frames. In that case, you may want to increase your Exposure Incremental to 1.5 Evs or 2 Evs.

Even with above guideline, I still strongly recommend you to review the captured bracketed shot, to avoid missing out a portion of the details in highlight or shadow area. What you need to do is to follow below two steps:

  1. Pick the darkest photo, check on the histogram to ensure that the tonal values are not touching the LEFT EDGE.

  2. Pick the brightest photo, check on the histogram to ensure that the tonal values are not touching the RIGHT EDGE.

If the “data” touches either the LEFT or the RIGHT edge of the diagram, there will be “Data Loss” on either SHADOW or HIGHLIGHT area.

Just like that, you have captured all the details of the scene.

What’s next?

Next is to import the photos into any editing software for exposure recovery. You can use HDR or Digital Blending technique to blend them into one single photo. After that, you can apply any necessary adjustment to enhance your photo.

I will be doing a video about how to do Digital Blending, so stay tuned for it. You can also subscribe to my email list to get notified of any future blog post or events if you are interested.

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Going up to another LEVEL

By having a series of bracketed shots and with the help of some Advanced Photoshop techniques, there are a lot of things we can do, other than just recover an overexposed sky. You can effortlessly recover any blown up highlight of the light of a building, which used to be very tricky in last time.

Top photo is the original photo with overexposed lights, it can be easily recovered by applying advanced digital blending technique. Notice that how seamlessly the blending is.

In case you may be interested in improving your photography and post-processing skill, you can check out my Advanced Landscape Workshop here:

Click on the above image to find out more detail and what’s included in the WORKSHOP.

That’s all for this article, see you next time!

Please feel free to share this post if you enjoy reading it! :)

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