Back it the day, the thing that would get the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end would be seeing a HDR image. They would be over processed and hurt the eyes, smacking your senses with a blast of oversaturated colour.
So how is exposure bracketing different and why do we need to consider it?
We need to start with our eyes. Our eyes see approximately 20 stops of dynamic range. That means, in most cases, that we can look at a scene and take in the highlights and into the shadows with no issues.
A good camera will see approximately 12 stops. It's a big difference. In most cases, we can make a decision as to what in the scene we want to expose for. The highlights, the mid-tones or the shadows. But there are occasions when the scene will demand that we get the exposure right in all areas.
If we don't have the luxury of using filters, we can overcome this issue by exposing for each part of the image, in turn, using a separate image for each and later blending them together in post.
So, as an example: We are looking across the valley, with puffy white clouds in the sky and a deep bright blue background. We expose for the sky but notice that the shadows are almost black with no detail and the mid tones are dark enough to spoil the ambiance of the actual view that is before us. Next, we expose for the mid tones. The sky is too bright, and the shadows still hide the detail but the mid tones of the valley floor look excellent. Next, we expose for the shadows. The detail in the shadows is evident, the mid tones rather bright and the sky is way over-exposed and blown out. All three have excellent parts of an image, but no image is perfect. That's where post-production comes into play. We then blend those images together. Taking the excellent parts of each to combine them into one superbly exposed image.
So how is that different from HDR. In truth, there is no difference. But I guess over the years we have learned to be a little more subtle in our approach. We aim to produce an image as our eyes told us it was on the day and for the viewer to believe that they see exactly what we saw. At no time should they feel that the image is manipulated.
If you look at my post on "is lightroom cheating" you will notice that I advocate subtle and realistic. If I want to take a selfie that reflects the reality I use Lightroom. If I want to give myself a six pack I use photoshop.
There are other options, like utilising filters (more on those later) but they are expensive and building up a collection to suit a number of situations are in many cases prohibitive. Exposure bracketing is one way around this issue.