Bracketing the way Poppa Never Did
I just finished scanning 784 slides that Poppa and I took over a forty year period, and boy are my eyes tired. Seriously, I opened a drawer and found 26 boxes of slides that have been sitting unmolested since we moved to this house in 2012. How long before that those slides sat in the drawer, I really couldn’t say. Suffice it to say that I found a lot of photos I did not remember, and some that I did, once I saw them again. What’s frightening, is that I haven’t yet found the really good slides that Poppa took over the years. What I found were mostly the rejects, which is in itself disappointing, and yet…. It got me to thinking about bracketing–the way Poppa never did.
Don’t get me wrong. During my life, Poppa used a Kodak Rangefinder 35 mm camera. He had a light meter, but no tripod, to the best of my knowledge. I can remember him standing there, holding that light meter out in front of him, then making adjustments to the camera, then shooting. He almost always bracketed his shots, which drove my Depression-scarred mother nuts. She saw it as wasting money on film and processing. Poppa saw it as a way to get a good shot. The slides that I found were the ones that were over exposed or under exposed. The properly exposed shots got put into slide trays which I have managed to misplace. But this exercize in scanning overexposed slides made me think.
Bracketing today is so simple. And since I’m dealing with pixels, memory cards, and computer time, there really is little cost to taking the minimally longer time to get a really good shot. On my Nikon D810, I push a button on the side of the camera housing, rotate the front and back dial till I get the number of exposures I want and the difference in exposure setting, then make sure my shutter dial is turned to CH instead of S. When I hold down the shutter release, I get a series of rapid shots, each with a different exposure setting. That’s bracketing, in a way Poppa never did.
The best part comes with post-processing. Look at the image at the top of the page. Yes, you can say that photo came out of my camera, but the truth is I did not “take” that shot. The computer (in this case Adobe Photoshop CC 2020) took three different images I had taken of that daffodil, and combined them to create that image in a process that is called HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. Basically, I took a “normal” exposure, an under-exposed view, and an over-exposed view, then let the computer merge the three.
Examples of Bracketing
With my D810, I can take as many as 9 different exposures of the same view and the computer will merge them. That really is bracketing the way Poppa never did. Here are three images I took of a daffodil blooming in the back yard. (Note please: these shots were hand held, and quickly cropped to a square format in Photoshop, so there is a bit of variation between them. Also, with a hand-held overexposure, there is some camera shake, so the image isn’t as sharp as it could be had I used a tripod.) Still, the software was able to take the three and merge them into a beautiful image of a daffodil, if I do say so myself.
Image 1: Under Exposed
The camera settings for this shot (and for all the daffodil shots) were ISO 250, f /16. Only the shutter speed changed from shot to shot. In this case, the camera kept the exposure open for 1/40th of a second. Doesn’t sound like much, but look at the difference between this shot and the next…
Image 2: Over-Exposed
Again, the settings were ISO 250 and f /16, but the timing here was 1/10th of a second. That was enough to cause the shot to be slightly out-of-focus (or we could be nice and say “soft focused,” but the truth is that a tenth of a second when photographing a flower subject to the breeze is enough to cause an image to become unusable. I mean really, would you want to look at blurry images like this?
Image 3: “Normal” Exposure
This is the shot that I would have to use, had I merely took one shot of the daffodil. The settings are still ISO 250 and f /16. The focal length for all three images is 95 mm (on a 24-120 mm lens). The shutter speed for this shot was 1/20th of a second. And even here, the image appears to my eye to have a soft focus. But, by taking the three images at bracketed exposure levels and merging them in Photoshop, I get the picture at the top of the page, or, as a reminder, immediately below.
Image 4: An HDR merge of the three images above
To my eye, this is by far the best image of that particular daffodil. Yes, there are problems, especially if you look closely at the fence and at some of the spaces between the leaves. That comes mostly from the fact that I took the photos hand-held, and without the stabilizing influence of a tripod. It’s called “ghosting,” and Photoshop can eliminate most (but unfortunately not all) ghosts when you use this procedure. The take away is to always use a tripod when attempting this kind of image.
Image 5: Red!
Personally, I find red a difficult color to photograph. When an image is primarily red, I find it difficult to capture small details, like the veins in a petal. The two images above are further examples of using braketing then merging photos to get a “better” image. The photo on top takes three exposures merged together to give more detail. The lower photo is a single exposure, the “normal” exposure for the time and place. It forms the base image for the top when merged with an under-exposed shot and an over-exposed shot. While I like the brightness in the lower image, note how much clearer the veins are in the upper shot. And that’s what comes from bracketing–but not the way Poppa did it.
Kim Seng is a photographer based in southern Florida. He captures some extraordinary scenes, using HDR techniques. Just to give you an idea of what all is possible with bracketing photo shots, check out Captain Kimo’s HDR Photography. Just a warning, the good captain has over 1,300 webpages of HDR photography. You could get lost and never return. Note that this is true HDR photography–a type of work that can be controversial. There are those who say it cheats, because the final image does not look realistic. On the other hand, it can give you quite beautiful images as Captain Kimo’s work does. This too is bracketing, just not the way Poppa did it.
Today’s recipe has nothing to do with HDR photography, or bracketing for that matter. But if you want to bake your own bread, check out this no-knead French bread that is honestly the best French bread I’ve ever made. And it’s the easiest bread recipe I’ve ever followed. Just four ingredients, mixed together with a spatula, then left to rise before popping it into the oven. A friend shared the recipe yesterday on Facebook, and last night, just before going to bed, I mixed up the dough. Took all of five minutes–and no mixer.
I had it for breakfast (yes, like your corner baker, I got up early enough to get the bread in the oven). At lunchtime, I had my partner make me BLTs while I continued to work on this post–can you sense my dedication? If you have ever wanted to bake bread; if you’ve ever wished you could make crusty bread at home, you have to try this recipe. Mary Ellen’s recipe works! And that comes from someone who has been baking bread for forty years. Try it!
Adam, who runs First Man Photography, has done a good job of explaining bracketing in his youtube video on, what else, bracketing, specifically with the intent of getting great sunset photos. The problem we all face with sunsets is the brightness of the sky contrasting with the dark shadows. As Adam explains, our eyes do a good job of distinguishing detail in both high and low light situations. Cameras not so much. If you want to approximate what your eye sees, you need to bracket and Adam explains it all in his video Sunset Photography – How to do Bracketing Photography.
Riding off into the Sunset
So that brings us to the end of another day’s post. I hope this has you intrigued by the possibilities that bracketing exposures can bring to your photography. Poppa did it just to ensure that one decent shot. I do it to bring more detail into my photography–bracketing not like Poppa did it. And with the examples that Capt. Kimo and Adam, the First Man, have shared, you have no reason to avoid bracketing in your own photography.