When you see an image like the one below, you can almost step right into the scene. The image conveys must to the viewer, such as feeling the waterfall spray on one’s face. Hearing the crashing waters and the sweet tropical smell in the air. One may almost squint with the beaming light as is mirrors the silky white cascades. How can one create such a natural looking image of this spectacular photography location? The secret is learning how to bracket photos for landscape photography.
As you may have guessed, images like these require more than a single shot. If you want to capture all those tropical details, you will have to learn how to bracket camera exposures. The idea of how o bracket seems pretty simple. Point your camera at the scene. Then, take an underexposed and overexposed shot. Afterwards, blend them together in post-processing. However, life is rarely that simple. When I pointed the camera at the waterfalls, this is what I saw:
A How to Bracket Workflow In the Field
If I had relied on my camera’s automated exposure bracketing option and simply taken one overexposed and one underexposed shot, it would not have given me the data I needed. The lighter shot is completely useless because the shadows are overexposed. While the darker shot does offer some extra details in the highlights, the area around the sun is still pretty severely overexposed.
So how did I end up with a shot I liked? I followed a simple manual bracketing workflow:
- First, I set my aperture and ISO to ensure that everything in the image was sharply in focus. Moreover, I was careful to capture the photo at the lowest possible ISO. This is to keep the noise level to a minimum.
- Next, I paid close attention to my camera’s meter and histogram so that I could determine where and how to set my bracketing range to capture all the details in the shadows and highlights.
Eventually, I decided to manually override my camera’s default bracketing settings and ended up taking these bracketed shots:
In theory, how to bracket photos seems very simple. Take two or more shots (different shots with different exposures) until you have captured all the required details needed to create the final image. Although, as simple as this may sound, mistakes can ruin your bracketed shots. Here are some of these possible mistakes to avoid when practicing how to bracket.
#1: Not Knowing How Much Bracketing is Needed
Should I use 2-Stop Bracketing or 1-Stop Bracketing? How do you know if the exposure bracketing setting you are using is correct? I use a simple 4-Step workflow and histogram on the back of our camera to determine exactly how much exposure bracketing is needed for landscape photos. This simple technique ensures that I capture enough details in both shadows and highlight to create the final image without having to resort to extreme post-processing adjustments.
In the Ouzud how to bracket example above, if I used only 1-stop exposure bracketing (instead of using 1.67 Stops) there may not have be enough details in the shadow. Moreover, some of the highlight may even have be clipped and not recoverable in post-processing. So it is critical that you know exactly how much exposure bracketing is needed for landscape photography.
#2: Not Using a Tripod
Moving the camera between bracketed shots is one of the worst things a photographer can do. The more camera motion there is between the shots, the more difficult it is to align these shots in post-processing. This movement makes the blending of the bracketed shots a tedious task. You can always rely on software to do automatic alignment for you, but this is not always perfect and you lose sharpness as the software attempts to distort the bracketed shots to align them together. The easiest way to get around this problem is to use a tripod.
#3: Not Using a Remote Release or Other Hands Free Operation
Even when you are using a tripod, it’s best to use a remote release. Why? Because you can accidentally move the camera while triggering the bracketing shots using shutter release button. This problem is likely to happen if your tripod is not stable. This can easily occur if it is a lightweight tripod or you are standing on ground that is not firm. The simplest way to avoid the problem is to use a hands-free bracketing mode (if your camera supports it). This is where the camera fires two or more bracketed shots after a short delay. Another alternative is purchase and use a remote release.
#4: Bracketing a Moving Subject
Even if you are using a tripod and remote release, subject motion can ruin your bracketed photos by creating ghostly halos when you try to blend the bracketed shot together. Avoiding subject motion may be easy to say, but it’s harder to achieve and sometimes even impossible. In landscape photography, the motion of plants and trees due to wind has a potential to ruin your bracketed shots. If you are photographing near the ocean, wave motion can also interfere. One possible solution to avoid subject motion is to use a SINGLE RAW image to capture the entire dynamic range or use a GND filter to reduce the dynamic range. However, this solution is not always possible.
If you’d like to learn how you can be confident when it comes to bracketing images, we have a brand new course just for you. Bracketing Exposed Landscape Photography Tutorial will walk you through a simple, non-technical workflow to help you to determine the exact bracketing range needed to capture all the details in your image using your camera’s meter and histogram. This course is a perfect supplement for those who have mastered using histograms in photography to determine proper camera exposure. It will show you when you can get away without bracketing and it will explain when manual bracketing is a better choice than your camera’s automated bracketing options.
Have you ever made mistakes while bracketing your shots? Feel free to share them in the comments below.