Bracketing In The Digital Age

photo of exposure bracketing - by SmialSmial
Bracketing still has value, even in the digital age -

Bracketing started back in the days of film photography because film was cheaper than trying to find new clients. The only way to make sure you got a tricky shot was to take five or six shots, constantly bumping either the shutter speed or aperture, sometimes both, to make sure you had at least one good shot. After that you sent the film to the lab and crossed your fingers.

Bracketing in the digital age takes on a different context and technique. When working with RAW images there’s no incentive to bracket white balance. White balance is a notation in the headers of a RAW file and you can change it at your leisure, along with sharpness, contrast, and other color settings determined by the compression algorithm.

If you’re not working with RAW or your camera doesn’t support it, then think about bracketing white balance. You can get some interesting effects deliberately using the wrong white balance for the scene.

I still bracket on exposure, partly out of habit, partly because in these days of digital photo manipulation, you might like the sky better at one exposure and the subject at another. You don’t always have to go full HDR, but that’s another good reason to bracket.

Along with that, exposure by itself can do a lot to change the mood of a shot. The optimum exposure is not always the best for the scene and, in my experience, the closer to perfect coming out the camera, the better the photo will look in the end.

Another time I still use bracketing is when I’m shooting with a flash. I don’t completely trust the LCD screen, even with the histogram. It’s really pretty easy to go a half-stop on either side when shooting with a flash and the difference can be hard to see in the LCD. But that half-stop can make quite a lot of difference in post.

While you may not need to bracket as much in the digital age, there are still good reasons to do so. Besides, it’s not like you’re spending a lot extra on film. Some of you have cameras that have automatic bracketing. Take advantage of it. If nothing else it will help you determine what exposures look best to you.

And, for us old dogs, maybe old habits are just hard to break.

Five Tips For Taking Better Black & White Photos

black and white
When black and white works, it really works - Joaquim Alves Gaspar

For many of us getting started in photography years ago, learning to shoot in black and white was not an option. My first photography customers were all newspapers and you shot the film they gave you and, except in rare cases, that was almost always black and white.

Today almost everything is in color, newspapers and magazines are disappearing, and film is on life support. Still, even today with cameras containing high speed computers with more computing power than the space shuttle, a well composed black and white photograph is a thing of simplistic beauty.

While I disagree with instructors who want to start out teaching students black and white photography, it is worth learning. Below are five tips for taking better black and white photos.

Start With Raw

I actually shoot RAW+JPEG and do probably 90 percent of my work with JPEGs. Part of the 10 percent when working in RAW are the pictures I think would make a good B&Ws.

A lot of tonal information is tossed out by the JPEG compressing and this is one of the times you want it back.

Pick Your Day

The worst days for shooting color are sometimes the best days for shooting black and white. Dismal, gray, and overcast days, so called “low contrast” lighting is made for black and white photography. Ironically, these are the days you’d stay home shooting color photography.

Black and white can also give a scene a cold, detached feeling. Hearkening back to the days of film noir, a good black and white photo can create an air of suspence.

Go Low On The ISO

For the same reason you’re starting with a RAW image. Get as much photo data as possible before deciding what to take away. At higher ISO ratings some cameras can start picking up noise, particularly in the blacks.

If you want grain you can always add a film grain filter in post-processing.


The rules for composition in black and white are not a great deal different than in color photography, with more emphasis on textures and strong lines. Without color to draw the eye, you have to depend more on composition.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons some instructors want to take that away for new students, to get them to focus on lines and framing instead of color.

Look For Patterns

With black and white you’re more likely to select a shot purely for the design elements, not necessarily a definitive subject. That would particularly true for patterns with strong lines with a point of convergence.

Just because I don’t lead with black and white when teaching a photography class, doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s worth learning and practicing. I’ve seen pretty average color pictures turned into something with real impact, just by taking away the color.

Here are some excellent examples. How many of these would have lost impact by adding color?

Understanding Color Depth

Understanding bit depth
Understanding bit depth is the first step to understanding color space - by Cpesacreta

This is one of those subjects that makes people’s eyes glaze over, but it’s important for learning how digital cameras process images and what that means in post-processing. Most people know it has something to do with color and that more bits are better, but that’s about as far as it goes.

The basic terminology is fairly simple. A bit is a basic unit of data processing and is expressed as either a 1 or a 0. Eight bits, also called a byte, can be used to express 256 different states or 2^8.

Most digital pictures, inkjet printers and most color monitors express colors at an 8 bit color depth per channel. So that’s 256 shades each of red, green and blue. Each pixel is then represented by the color which is the sum of all three color channels.

As you can see, in a 16-megapixel chip there’s an aweful lot of processing going on, even for a simple 8 bit image. But modern cameras don’t shoot 8 bit anymore, most are shooting 16 bits per channel, 65,536 possible representations of each color channel, or 48 bit color depth. A 48 bit color image is capable of producing billions of colors.

Many cameras are pushing 22 bits per channel, or 16,777,216 shades of each channel. With a 20-megapixel chip, if nothing else you should gain new respect for what’s going on inside your camera just to record the image. Hopefully, these comparison specs, will mean more to you now.

When it comes to working with images in post-processing, generally working at higher bit rates will yield more subtle variations in tone. But don’t feel that you have to chase ever increasing color depth. The human eye can only discern about 10 million different colors, about 24 bits per pixel. So, for display, anything beyond that is not going to look that much better to viewers.

Tips for Photographing Skin Tones

My idea of quality skin tones
Skin tones can one of the hardest exposure challenges in photography - by dbking

As long as photographers have been taking pictures, they have been chasing the perfect skin tones.  What I’ve discovered over the years is that we’re actually chasing a look that’s better than real life.The look of human skin is not necessarily improved with more detail and the “perfect” exposure is not always the most technically accurate one.

The other problem with human skin is the tone can be wildly variable, depending on genetics, lifestyle factors, age, makeup, and the natural amount of oils in the skin.  Skin tones are, literally, like snowflakes; every one is different and each presents unique challenges.

I’m not above working in post until the subject’s skin looks pure as an Antarctic snowdrift, but I’m going for the absolutely best look I can get out of my Canon 7D to cut down the amount of post processing I have to do later.


Background is key for getting quality skin tones.  If there is too much contrast between the subject’s skin tone and the background you’re going to spending a lot of time in post masking off the subjects face and trying to correct under-exposed skin tones.

You want some color contrast, but not in terms of luminosity.


Whether indoors or out, I’m looking for the most diffuse and even lighting I can find.  The single hydrogen ion key light, located 93 million miles from the subject, filtered through 100 miles of Mark I water vapor filter can be difficult by itself.  I’m looking for reflected sunlight or indirect light in a shaded area.

Most often I’ll still use a diffused fill flash and a reflector at a 45 degree angle.

If I’m shooting indoors, I’m using soft boxes and a snoot for highlights.


Sure, I’ll meter the whole scene, then spot meter my subject and background.  I’ll even pull my incident light meter out of the bag.

In the end, however, and I’m not too proud to admit this, I cheat.  When I’m shooting a portrait, I bracket the daylights out of the shots.

It’s not pretty, but it works.

Mirrorless Cameras Cut Into Canon, Nikon

Mirrorless cameras take a bite out of Canon and Nikon markets - by Samsung

Figures from Bloomberg indicate that Sony, Panasonic and Samsung may be scoring market share gains from Canon and Nikon with their mirrorless camera models. The trend is most obvious in Japan where Canon and Nikon’s combined share of that market has fallen an eye-popping 35%.

The losses for Canon and Nikon have been a boom for Sony, as their market share has doubled.  Panasonic and Samsung also scored gains, but not as significant.

Mirrorless cameras have a smaller physical frame and lower weight, while keeping the larger sensor sizes and interchangeable lenses.  The big chips behind good glass are getting results comparable to larger DSLRs at closer to half the weight of their bigger DSLR cousins.

If you’re tempted to dismiss the trend as one confined to Japan, keep in mind that the smart phone and tablet trend also started there before spreading to more distant shores.

No surprise that rumors have surfaced that Canon is coming out with mirrorless models in 2012, it’s not much of a stretch to think Nikon is engaged in similar efforts.

It’s my opinion that Panasonic and Olympus stumbled with the 4/3 sensor format.  I just don’t see professionals investing in that format when full size and APS-C sensors are superior and proven technologies.  For consumer cams, it’s less of an issue because the average buyer doesn’t really understand the difference in chip sizes.

As the trend in SLRs moves to mirrorless, expect Canon and Nikon to claw back some of the market share lost to Sony.  But I don’t expect to see any significant growth from Panasonic or Olympus until they abandon 4/3.