How To: Bracket a Shot for the Perfect HDR Exposure

Try exposing for various parts of your image, then combing them later when editing

HDR Ready
HDR Ready
Using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a 17–40mm f/4L lens,Thompson exposed once for the foreground rocks and again for the sunset, then combined them in Adobe Photoshop CS4.David W. Thompson

Camera makers extol metering systems that deliver perfect exposure every time, but here's the reality: Often there is no one correct exposure. That's why Las Vegas shooter David Thompson makes a habit of bracketing all the important pictures he takes. It lets him, if necessary, produce high dynamic-range (HDR) composites in the editing stage. As a result, his best photos always show plenty of highlight and shadow detail, even with high-contrast scenes. As habits go, it's a keeper.

“For this Brooklyn Bridge shot, I bracketed, making under- and normal exposures,” says Thompson. “By blending the two using Photoshop layers, I held onto detail and color in the dark, mossy foreground rocks, as well as the bright buildings in the sunlit background.”

Another tip? “I often use a graduated neutral-density filter for scenes like this. And to make sure I have a clean base image that shows no evidence of that dark-to-light graduation, I bracket with and without the filter, too,” he says.