Bracketing: What it is and why to do it.

March Madness is nearing its end but, unfortunately, both of my Basketball Buckeyes (men and women) were eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen.  Oh well…

So, with basketball being on everyone’s mind I thought “What better time to talk about brackets“.

Not your NCAA brackets though, I’m going to talk about bracketing your photographs and how and why you may want to do it.


What is Bracketing?

When photographers talk about bracketing their shots they are referring to the practice of taking multiple photos of the same frame, in sequence, but at different exposures or focus points.

There are different reasons why one may bracket a shot but, historically, the main reason is to ensure that you walk away with at least one good, properly exposed shot.


Exposure Bracketing

Before automatic exposure and custom shooting modes to assist photographers, bracketing was a manual process.   Take a shot, adjust exposure, shoot again, etc…

Now most, if not all, DSLRs and some advanced compacts will have an automatic bracketing feature to allow the camera to shoot multiple exposures with the single press of a button.

First, the “proper” exposure is taken when you press the shutter release then your camera will automatically shoot one or more under exposed (darker) and over exposed (brighter) shots immediately after.

Bracketing for exposure can be very useful in tricky light situations where you’re not quite sure if your shot will come out too bright or too dark.

When in doubt, bracket.

It’s better to have a few extra photos that you don’t use than to only have one poorly exposed shot.

Smoky Mt Stream HDR (-4EV, -2EV, 0EV, +2EV, +4EV)

Smoky Mt Stream HDR (-4EV, -2EV, 0EV, +2EV, +4EV)


If your camera shoots RAW images you’ve got it a little easier because you can manipulate the exposure using some image editors that are very RAW friendly.

As an example, Adobe Photoshop products use their excellent Adobe Camera RAW plugin to let you adjust and fine tune a lot of the image properties including exposure.


Focus Bracketing

Focus bracketing is something that is very common for macro photography because of the extremely shallow depth of field and focus areas that you work with.

Here is a very good video on that explains a method for taking focus bracketed photos and combining them in Photoshop to create a very detailed and fully focused product shot of a piece of jewelry.

The following image by Muhammad Mahdi Karim is a great example of how multiple focus bracketed images were combined to create a single extremely sharp macro photograph of a tachinid fly. The final image on the right was actually created using six differently focused photos of the fly.

Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim

Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim

While it is most common for macro photography you could also use focus bracketing for other non-macro photography situations.


HDR Photography

Photo by Kim Seng -

Photo by Kim Seng –

One final reason why you may want to consider bracketing photos is for creating High Dynamic Range Images (HDRI or HDR photographs).

HDR photography takes multiple exposure bracketed images and combines them to a final composite image containing all of the brightest and darkest parts of the source photographs.

When fully edited and optimized, HDR photographs are very cool to look at because of all that extra detail that’s included in the photo.

The human eye is capable of perceiving much more light and detail information than can be normally captured by a camera’s sensor.  So, when multiple exposures are combined with each other the result is an image that appears closer to what your eyes would have originally seen.

Photo by Kim Seng -

Photo by Kim Seng –

If you are interested in creating your own HDR photos a very good site to check out is

Its owner, Kim Seng (a.k.a. Captain Kimo) is a professional photographer and has a number of tutorials, videos and even an ebook (Secrets to Mastering HDR Photography) to help you on your way.

Be sure to check out the article on his top ten HDR software choices to help you find the one that works best for you.


I hope this gave you some good information and possibly some inspiration to try out a new technique or two.  If you found anything here useful or want to share your own photos, experiences or advice leave a comment below.

Until next time, keep reading and keep shooting.



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