Skip to main content

photo & video

Landscape Photography

Lesson 16 of 27


Marc Muench

Landscape Photography

Marc Muench

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

16. Bracketing
What happens when one exposure isn't enough? Bracketing will capture multiple shots of the same image, adjusting the exposure each time. Bracketing allows for techniques like HDR and can also be helpful if you're just not sure hot to get the histogram right. Learn when to use bracketing, what settings to use, and the best practices for capturing a bracketed series.

Lesson Info


I'm gonna go off into another lesson which is something that has become, addresses really, something that has become very popular in landscape photography which is HDR and it's otherwise known as bracketing. That's how you create the files to turn into an HDR. So it's a little bit technical but in the end I think you'll understand some of the variations that you'll appreciate so that you can approach it in different ways, which is the objective here. It's really when one exposure is not enough, and that's for different reasons, but mainly because there's not enough information on the sensor to capture the wide, dynamic range of the scene. And so you have the blacks that are too dark and the whites that are too white. Then I wanna talk about camera settings so that your camera's set up to capture these bracketed exposures in the right way. And then after that, I'll talk about the difference between capturing with auto-exposure bracketing and of course manually, alright. Two different wa...

ys to get the same job done. So why bother? In the end, it's really like I said, it's dynamic range. And the hard part, though, when you're learning is to figure out what's too much dynamic range and when do I not need it, right? And usually the answer to that is people come out and they just bracket everything. And so you'll hear that often in landscape photography. A line of photographers will be at the rim or something photographing the sunrise and every single camera is going clickity-clackity-clickity-clack and everybody's bracketing. Most of the time, that's what I would recommend. And so, while you're learning, you may as well capture it then. Because that moment, that is not going to come back when you're sitting at the computer. You're not going to be able to get or capture those other exposures. And so just by default, I recommend stick your camera in auto-exposure bracketing and go through the process while you're learning to figure this out. As you start observing and editing your pictures, you'll start making notes, mentally or write them down, whatever you choose to be able to decipher when you might be able to apply this. And the key factor is when you don't need to apply it because then you don't have to take all those pictures. This is a scene, a typical scene where you would wanna apply it. And you can see this picture's underexposed and this is the second picture in the series, which is normal, and this is the third, and then of course when you blend them together, you get the tones, beautiful tones in the sky mixed with the tones and the colors of the grasses which are really the shadows of this scene. And then, of course, you have to do it in such a way, at least in my opinion, that doesn't look like it's been done. And that's the key, and that's what I wanna get at later today in processing. So, one of the good tips at least when you're looking at the back of your camera, and as we talked about the histogram yesterday, if you take a picture like this and you're looking at the histogram, you're going to see that the black side of the histogram, the left side is riding up that left side of the chart and the same thing's gonna happen on the right. That's a good sign when you can bracket, okay. Now you have to make sure that you get that exposure correct so that there's equal amounts of blown highlight detail and shadow, blown shadow detail. Then you can determine that. Because remember, if either side of that histogram is not up next or pinned up next to the end, chances are you can fluctuate or change on of the technical trinity items such as exposure, aperture, or shutter speed, or ISO, and then adjust that histogram. Okay, so it's only when both sides are pinned up to the edge of the histogram that you wanna start thinking about bracketing. Alright so this is an enlargement at 100% of one of the files that was two stops underexposed. And so I've gone into LightRoom and I've just taken the exposure slider, bumped it up two stops so that you can see what it looks like. And it actually looks pretty good. The detail in there is amazing, and these are great cameras these days. So it's two-fold here, one is you don't have to do this. You can take a single file and it's amazing what you can process with that single file. And the only disadvantage is when you start looking at this to print. And I know a lot of people love to print, I recommend that you print. And so it's one of the acid tests, as we were talking about yesterday, that really determines if your processing is good or bad is if you send it to a lab or you make your own print. Because then you'll see the differences. And there's nothing like a gorgeous, beautiful print with all this incredible detail and here you can see this is two to one now just to exaggerate it and so that you folks can see it. This is some of the noise that you're gonna get in those shadows when you just simply crank up the exposure slider for those shadows. And it doesn't matter if you use the exposure slider or the shadow slider or the black slider. It's all doing a very similar thing. It's adding noise, because that left side of the histogram, that left side of our digital file, which is the dark side, doesn't have as much information or bit depth as the right side or the highlights. And that's what you're seeing here, that's the effect. So that's why we're bracketing. So how many exposures should you take? It really depends on the scene. But just to cover these things, most cameras have both options here. They have a number of exposures, and then you have increments and that's the space between the exposures. In the D810, I have three, five, seven, and nine frames so I can set it to take nine frames at two or three stops apart, which is more dynamic range than the sun maybe has, I'm not sure. But I haven't done that, so what I end up usually using is five frames, one and maybe sometimes two stops apart for something that has an enormous dynamic range and I just wanna capture it all. So most of the time, on a lot of cameras, just about every manufacturer, you're able to find this combination. I know on my Sony, you can't change them independently. It has a prescribed recipe, that is, for this order. But essentially you wanna get to the point where you have five frames, one stop apart, and what that is, you can also do this with five frames one stop increment. And that's exactly what this is. You're gonna get a picture that's two stops underexposed, one stop underexposed and so on. If you can't do that, cameras will offer this, which is three frames but two stop increments. It's the same amount of dynamic range, you're capturing a exposure that's two stops underexposed and normal and then two stops over. And that's really the scenario that you wanna try and capture when you're using auto-exposure bracketing or bracketing because that covers most of the bases for a sunrise or a sunset. And again, this is the example, this is what you're gonna look at when you get your files back on your computer. So the other option is nine frames, one stop increment as I mentioned I haven't used two or three but I have used this, and this was a scene where I was in a deep, dark wood, and this was above Santa Cruz and so what I've done here is I've captured this from nine exposures, all the way from the darkest to the lightest. And the main reason was I wanted to get light in those deep, dark shadows of the black, burnt out redwoods and so that required that much dynamic range. This is something I'll cover in a minute. This is a scene where I shifted the lens up, took nine exposures, shifted it down and took the other nine and combined them. So for handheld, it's a little different, okay. So that's pretty much all tripod, but what you wanna do when you're working with HDR for handheld, is you want things to go a little quicker because you're not given the opportunity to not only wait for all those exposures to fire off, for your own camera operation, but in addition, something out there might be moving fast. And I know that there are features in some of the new software and HDR processing software that will actually grab the subject from one of those moving frames and use that. But it's still not quite as ideal as if you capture these frames as fast as you can. Just an example, hand held, three frames. Again, that's about what they should look like. You have enough detail in the clouds there but it's underexposed, and then the normal, and then of course the light one to show off the shadow and the color that's in those files. And so how do you bracket? A couple of things, number one is you have auto-exposure bracketing or manual, two ways to do it. And I know both Cannon and Nikon offer this feature. I know Sony does, I'm sure Panasonic even has it and Olympus, so a lot of manufacturers have this. The model of your camera, it's gonna change or vary a little bit, like I said, the Sony does it with a prescribed recipe but essentially you're gonna be able to do this no matter what manually. So back to that again, I mentioned yesterday, that's the main reason I teach manual because you can still operate your camera and accomplish a nice bracket set of exposures for HDR. Even manually, if your camera doesn't do it. Alright, so first, auto-exposure bracketing. The tips here are your camera settings. Right, so you wanna modify auto-exposure bracketing sequence so that it goes from dark to light. The camera's usually default so that they take the normal exposure first. And it doesn't matter in the end, it's not life critical but it really helps when you're editing. Okay, so you're gonna be able to see this sequence of exposures all on a row and you're gonna be able to identify the darkest one first and brightest one last. And that's what really helps especially if you've taken hundreds of bracketed files and you're looking through your edited pictures. Alright so again, your camera's in manual mode. And you're in manual focus, you're on a tripod. You set the auto-exposure function usually in menu or button, you know, it depends on the camera. And I usually turn on Live View and then I release the trigger again like I mentioned with a remote or with a self-timer. It used to be with the D800, it was a pain because when you put it in bracketing mode and you turned on a self-timer, it really wouldn't take more than the number of exposures you told it to. And it was kind of a pain and you had to perform a work-around. But nowadays, the D810 and I know the newer Nikon cameras, once you set bracketing on and the self-timer's on, it just ravels through all the exposures automatically and so all you have to do is click once, and it clicks through all of them. And I know Cannon does that. You just turn the self-timer on and if auto-exposure bracketing's on, all you have to do is click once and then it fires off all the exposures so. Hey Mark, I'd love to jump in with a quick question, if you don't mind. A lot of people were asking what type of shutter release you use? I don't know if you wanna mention a brand or just general information about shutter releases for people. Yeah, good question. I've used so many different brands, I really don't wanna recommend one. In fact, I have two or three that I use often. And part of the reason is, there's a couple reasons. One is the connector, I'm not crazy about. So sometimes that connector gets loose and it doesn't always operate the camera perfectly. So I have another one and then I also have a wired one. Did you say just wireless? In general, a lot of questions about releases, Elle specifically and seven other people, could you please ask Mark what wireless remote control he's using and just how it's plugged into his camera. Yes, so the wireless ones are basically two parts and you have the little part that plugs into the camera and that's the one that really messes up, especially on a Nikon because it gets loose. Maybe my hands were cold, I'm not sure why, but I've had many of those fail so I have a back-up which is a wired one. And that's what I carry with me to use as well when the wireless one fails. And so there's a bunch on Amazon. You can go there and pick or choose. I would order two or three. They're probably 10-20 bucks so it's worth to have a couple of those in the bag. Great, thanks. Yep, alright, so auto-exposure bracketing, these are the settings. Again, just to kinda reiterate, you really wanna go from dark to light because that's gonna help you later in post-processing. Alright so handheld settings, because I do enjoy taking these handheld on occasion. And it is fun too because a lot of times, something's happening really fast and you don't have time to set up the tripod and go through all this and so these are the settings for handheld auto-exposure bracketing. You modify the bracketing sequence again, dark to light. This time though, I'm using aperture priority. Okay, because what typically happens, and I'll talk about this later is you're changing the shutter speed, not the aperture. So I'm picking aperture priority, auto focus, imagine that right, kick back and relax and use auto focus. Set your auto-exposure bracket function usually in the menu. Again, activate high speed frame rate, okay. That's what's gonna make the difference when you're capturing these as fast as you can. So some of these cameras have a high frame rate now, at 10 or 11 frames per second. Most cameras probably have five, and that's fairly adequate for capturing something handheld. Alright, so hold steady. Don't forget to breathe. (taking deep breath) And then take your picture, let your elbows rest on your chest. I know it's silly but it does make a difference and especially in situations like this. You're standing there or you're squatting down by the water, you're not in a comfortable spot. And so what's happening here in this particular place and the reason I'm handheld is that I really don't wanna get soaked and it's bright enough, but the other thing is is I wanna get some of that moving water right at the key moment. And so that's another reason why I like to change the bracketing order. The first fires the darkest shot, and knowing that and my frame rate, then I'm able to time something like this. Water's coming in, I really don't want that shot. I don't want the water there on my third shot. Okay, so timing is critical in this incidence. And so this shot right here, I also don't want that to be my normal exposure. So I like this one, the darkest, because all I care about in that case is the sun. That's the part of that frame I'm going to use. This case, what's gonna happen is all these mid-tones, including the sky, will probably be utilized in the software when it's blended together. And then of course, the third frame is mainly for the foreground. Okay, so that's why the sequence in addition is very important. Okay, so one of the things you have to check, though, when you're handholding these auto-brackets is that when you set the exposure, that you're not going to start at 1/30 of a second and then go to 1/ and then end up at 1/4 of a second handheld, because then you're going to have too much camera movement. And it doesn't read out on the camera back or in the view finder, all three of those shutter times. And so you have to do a little math and realize that if you're doing one-stop increments and you're set at 1/125 of a second, then you're gonna end up with 1/60 of a second. Okay, because that's a stop difference. So if you had two stop increments in this scenario, then I would end up with 1/30 of a second. And that's pushing the ability to handhold it. Some cameras do, some situations you can, but I typically haven't taken too many pictures at 1/30 of a second handheld, especially bracketing, so. And this is an example of a situation where, oftentimes, you really don't think about auto-exposure bracketing because you're on a boat. And the iceberg's moving. And so everything's going like this and you can see here how it moved just a tiny bit and then again on the third one it moved ever so much more. But all those actually end up getting blended together in the new software. So fear not, even when things are moving like that, to that degree at least, you're still able to capture it as long as you have the frame rate high and probably most likely going to be handholding this. Again, there's the whole picture. That had been a cropped version of it. So the other option you have is manually doing this. And as I've mentioned, this is gonna require just a little more time. So you probably won't do this handheld. This is going to be done, usually blended in Photoshop and then again, you wanna shoot the dark slide first. Okay, it's gonna be the same thing really because you want that same order. It's just easier to compute. There's really not any big difference as far as timing in this situation unless you're working with something moving. Then you'd have to figure out the timing like I did with the wave. But usually in a situation like that, there's not enough time to do this. But here's just an example, I have 1/45 of a second and I'm capturing the highlights. So that would be my normal exposure or slightly under. And then all I wanna do is take one more for the shadows. Typically, when I'm doing this, I'm going to blend these together manually. So I'm not using the software. That's how I apply it. Now you can certainly take a whole set in the same way, you use auto-exposure bracketing, and then you one of the plug-ins or versions of software to blend things. But typically, when I'm taking a picture, I get the normal exposure with just enough highlight information and then manually I open up two stops or three stops for the shadows. And that's my manual bracket. Because then I have the highlights and some good additional shadow information. Okay, and so this is always fun. And this, I'll be able to talk about a little bit. But essentially, it just takes some time to look at it through the view finder and line up your finger so that it ends up blocking the sun for one of the shots to get rid of the flares. And so remember I showed this picture the other day. My friend, Dave Porters, jumping across the rock, and then I realized, oh, too many sun flares. So I took one more, I wasn't concerned about where he was. And all I wanted was to get that nice detail down below without sun flares, and so you just stick your finger exactly over the sun. Now some light might peak through, a tiny bit did. I think there's a little tiny flare down there, but I can live with that. So this doesn't require any special skills other than looking through the viewfinder and lining it up. And of course, then you get the final shot. So now I don't have any of those flares. More importantly, all that data down below isn't all hazy from the sun hitting the front of the lens. So this is really only possible with a wide angle lens, because your finger's just too far out of that depth of field with a telephoto lens. So I probably wouldn't try this on anything tighter than a 28 millimeter. It just probably won't work but this is a 24 I think, 2417. Alright, so auto-exposure bracketing, check the histogram of the original file. So this is where it gets a little tricky in the sense that if you wanna optimize those brackets, oftentimes when you're in aperture priority, the first meter, what the camera thinks should be the normal is really not what you want as the normal. Okay, and for the same reasons we talked about yesterday, the camera's trying to turn something to 18% gray, and what you really want to do is turn it to a much darker tone as your normal exposure because you want some of the highlights. Okay, so you might have to adjust that. So you do wanna, again, take three frames, two stop increments, but that first exposure you have to check and make sure that you're really close to where you wanna be so that those additional frames are actually useful information. Because sometimes I've seen the brackets and they show up and essentially you have something that's so dark, the highlights are three or four stops under. And so it's not a useful exposure. Alright and then you can do it with a tripod or handheld. Either way, you saw some examples. It's a good thing to practice both. And then of course, auto or manual. And you have the choice and you can see how I've used it. What I recommend is purchase not only a trigger, wireless or wired that actually fires your camera, but it also has a intervalometer and that also works for time lapses which will come up next. You don't have to have one but I just say it, it does come in handy. And then both Nikon and Cannon make their own proprietary intervalometers as well as a couple other manufacturers. So there's a whole slew of these. I haven't tested all of them, I don't know which ones work. I'd buy two of them. Exercise, photograph the same scene in different light when a bracket is required and when it's not. So the scary park's perfect. You go down there at sunset and when the sun's setting and it's in your shot, that's usually a good time to apply the auto-exposure bracketing. If it's cloudy and the fog's out, you probably don't need it. But it's really sometimes helpful to actually do those exercises and perform them yourself. Fantastic, I actually would love to ask just a couple quick questions on this subject before we go to break. And then we will do that, let's see. So first of all, one for HeavenlyPhoto who asked what software you use to blend the images together. We're gonna be talking about that later this afternoon. Right, this afternoon? Absolutely. So stay tuned, stay tuned for that information. We will definitely be covering the software side of this. A question, so when bracketing, five different people wanted to know this, what do you meter off of in a landscape scene for the starting image? For the starting image, that's a good question. Because we were just talking about that. It's what you could call the hidden gray card. And that really is helpful because as you're looking at a scene and there's a lot of dynamic range and everything is everywhere. What's a good hidden gray card? Well, first of all, sunny 16. If the sun's out and it's up high, then you can apply sunny 16, and that really does come in handy. And that is where your ISO and shutter speed match. And then add off 16. In the afternoon, or it's slightly cloudy, something's changing and you wanna find something that is your normal exposure, depending on your camera, you might have to turn bracketing off and set you exposure, your manual meter to the center of the little graph, take a picture, and again, look at that histogram. And if the histogram is bumping up to the right side, you're over-exposed. If it's bumping up to the left side, you're under-exposed. And so once you get those numbers dialed in using the manual method, then you'll be able to get your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO at the perfect spot. Take those numbers and use that to apply to the starting exposure for you bracket. PhotoMikey and five other people all wanted to know how do you deal with motion when you're doing the auto-exposure bracketing? Like moving trees or moving water or anything like that. Well, the two ways are, you know, one is you're moving and the other is the subject's moving, and in most cases, when the subject's moving really fast, I handle that by blending it together manually. I'm gonna just take the one scene where the subject that is moving fast and kind of paint it into the scene later. But typically I try to, in landscape, that doesn't happen too often. I think the bigger scenario is where branches are moving and it's really windy, and oftentimes that branch will move and then you won't get the darkest exposure on that part of the leaf but you'll get the highlight exposure. And that can cause problems in post-processing. What I've noticed lately though and the plug-in I'm gonna show you is that it actually picks one of those. It does the same thing that I would do manually. And it picks the part that was moving and grabs the best exposure for that moving subject and utilizes that, so it's really amazing what the software does and you'll see that coming up in the processing.

Class Description


  • Capture great shots of landscapes and nature
  • Confidently shoot in manual mode
  • Fine-tune your eye for composition
  • Master light for landscape photography
  • Work with HDR and panoramas
  • Perfect your images with post-processing in Lightroom


Turn a spark of passion for the outdoors into beautiful landscape photography in this start-to-finish course. From gear and exposure to light and post-processing, master the landscape photography workflow with veteran artist Marc Muench. End the frustration of being unable to capture the raw beauty of nature and capture inspiring awe-inducing views on camera.

With both live instruction and on-site photography tutorials, you'll master both the technical and creative necessities for capturing better landscape images. After the adventure, learn to perfect the scene using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to crop, color and fine-tune those images. In addition, you'll tackle advanced techniques including HDR and panoramas.


  • Beginners ready to get off auto mode
  • Intermediate photographers looking to improve
  • Photographers ready to tackle landscape photography as a new genre

SOFTWARE USED: Adobe Lightroom CC 2015, Adobe Photoshop CC 2015


As a third-generation photographer, Marc Muench has spent nearly 30 years working as a landscape and sports photographer. His work has appeared on the cover of publications like Time, National Geographic, Traveler, Outside, Sierra Magazine and more. In addition to shooting, he leads photography workshops around the world. He teaches with a mix of technical and creative details and personal insight.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Lightroom Develop Module Tutorial

Lightroom Master Catalog Tutorial

Tips and Tricks

Equipment List

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Jeff McPheeters

This was my first class with Creative Live and also my first exposure to landscape photographer Marc Meunch. I've been a photographer for many years, an educator in science and technical fields for more than two decades, and a lifelong learner of the craft of making photographs. I am pretty picky when it comes to educational resources and when it involves recommending something that I want to reflect my own standards of excellence. That said, I came with an open mind, with some expectation that I would learn a few tricks, but also with the understanding that after spending thousands of hours in books and online courses as well as direct workshop and tutorials from a range of photographer workshops, Adobe training, KelbyOne and other professional organizations, that some of what I'd hear would be stuff I'd already known. My first impression was positive, as I think Creative Live did a good job explaining the purpose, intent, and scope of the workshop, as well as giving me a good idea of the speaker's credentials. As the session begin on Day 1, I was immediately impressed with the quality of the technical aspects of the live feed. It was like I was there. The sound quality was outstanding. The video streamed effortlessly and I only have wireless access to the Internet. I'm not on high speed wired cable. The bandwidth can fluctuate, yet it worked extremely well. The speaker, Marc Meunch, was relaxed, engaging, professional, and possessed such a comprehensive and deep understanding of the topic that I felt extremely lucky to have been told about this workshop. I don't think I've ever been able to watch someone who was so masterful in their presentation, so thorough in their organization and outline, so enthusiastic about their work, so passionate about the craft of landscape portraiture, or so articulate and engaging with the audience; at least in the realm of Photography. I'd jump at any chance to listen to Marc Meunch again; and especially to attend one of his outdoor workshops. One of the unique aspects of this workshop was that Marc uses some video clips from his outdoor workshops to illustrate what he's talking about in the classroom. Very effective. And the slides he chooses to share are effective and easy to understand. It's very inspiring to watch Marc present ideas and illustrate them through his own work, showing before and after and alternate compositions to demonstrate the point he's making. Day 1 was so good that before it was over I'd already purchased the two day workshop. I was that certain it was worth the cost. Frankly, I'm not sure I'd find a class like this for under $100/day. This is a pretty good deal. Day 2 was equal in usefulness and inspiration as Day 1. The discussion of gear selection and scouting techniques along with the introduction to his Lightroom and Photoshop workflow was very helpful and would be especially apropos to someone getting more serious about their landscape work but not very experienced with Lightroom or Photoshop, even perhaps a little intimidated by the prospect of needing to learn those two software giants, because Marc shows the power and easy of learning them. I was pleased I was able to attend and even more pleased I can watch these over and over and study points I didn't quite grasp the first time through. I highly recommend this course. The viewer will be inspired and encouraged as a result. Marc doesn't make it look easy; rather he makes landscape photography look fun and exciting and worthy of the effort and time to find ones own style and vision, clearly imparting the practical how-to's to aid each person in their own journey to make it more enjoyable and satisfying.

a Creativelive Student

I don't like writing reviews. Seems like everyone just wants to hear that everything was... awesome. So, let me try to be specific about what I liked: I thought that the concept of the creative trinity was brilliant. I thought that Marc's presentation on composition was the best I've ever seen. His ideas on having a theme for shooting was inspiring because it was simple. He also had some great tips on light. The other thing I appreciated about Marc's presentation was the wide variety of locations shown and his knowledge of them. I also am always interested to learn more about the people that have inspired presenters. Sometimes, it feel like CL classes are aimed at the lowest experience levels. But, as someone else said in review... there is always a nugget or two and review is beneficial. I wish Marc was more animated. He's obviously very self contained and reflective -- gotta be who you are, right? I have purchased Marc's class, the Shive class, and Art Wolf's class. All have had different benefits. I wish they would do others and take complexity up a notch -- specifically, helping others understand the planning necessary... how they find reliable contacts to guide them and what those things cost. How they are transporting all the gear they carry. More specific information on permits, camping gear, dealing with adverse conditions, etc. And, more information on how they get different images of frequently photographed locations.


I happend to stumble upon the course by an email. I clicked on it and realized that Mark had come to my town (Sitka,Alaska) to do a trip with my good friend. So I thought I'd watch a bit. After awhile I realized this is good, way good. So I shot a lot of that day just eating it up. The director would come on every bit and say there was a show price. I thought well I'll just watch. Then on the second day he did some things that the announcer said he had never seen. I thought the same thing. So I bought. I have been shooting for 40 years and I still LOVE to learn. A noted psychologist said "We are happiest when we are learning" and I couldn't agree more. Thank you Creative Live for offering these courses. I live on an Island in Southeast Alaska with 14 miles of road. BUT I can be a front row student with some of the best teachers in the world. Thank You! Also a Huge thank you to Mark. It takes a ton of time to do this, and Im sure you get tired of the same questions again and again, but it truly changes the lives of us who love this type of life.