How to shoot bracketed exposures

Today I’m continuing the theme from some recent blog posts with a quick tip about bracketing exposures.

I haven’t calculated it, but I’d guess that half of the photos I create (and probably half of the full image editing tutorials I produce) involve blending multiple “bracketed” exposures.

In simplest terms, this means taking shots of one scene at various “brightnesses” so that you can then merge the best bits together into one shot in Photoshop.

The main reason to do this is that it allows you to shoot high-contrast scenes that would otherwise have over or under exposed parts – i.e. highlights would turn completely white or shadows would turn completely black.

There are a couple of ma ways you can capture these bracketed exposures.

The easy way:

If your camera has an auto-bracketing option (all DSLR’s do) and you want to shoot three shots: 1 normally, then one darker, then one brighter…

Then you can configure that auto-bracketing option so that the next three times you click the shutter, the camera will automatically adjust the exposure up and down in brightness.

The manual way:

If you’re comfortable shooting in manual mode then you don’t need to rely on auto-bracketing.

The reason this is good is that you might want to take more bracketed shots than your auto-bracketing feature will allow (my camera only lets me bracket three shots at a time for example).

In manual, you can just dial in the settings for your first exposure, then adjust the shutter speed up or down a few clicks to brighten or darken each shot as you go.


Personal tip: I like to take the brightest exposure first, then make each subsequent exposure 1 to 2 stops darker at a time until I have the entire dynamic range covered.

This way I can just keep shooting darker exposures until I have enough and I’m not constrained by my cameras limit of taking three bracketed shots just 2 stops apart.

Oh yeah, one more thing…

Whenever you’re bracketing exposures like this, you’ll want to be using the shutter speed to adjust the exposure each time – not the aperture.

Reason being that if you adjust the aperture between shots then it makes it harder to blend the shots manually later (they won’t line up perfectly).

ISO is an option, but higher ISO values usually result in more noise in your shot so if you want to bracket on ISO, just be aware of your cameras high ISO performance first.

Ok – time to get out there and start shooting 🙂

Talk soon,



About The Author

Steve Arnold

Steve is the founder of, and is designer and developer of the popular ScratchCam app for iPhone.