Going manual

Today we're going to be talking about manual mode.  Most of this information will only be applicable to bridge and DSLR users. My P&S (point and shoot) does have a manual mode settings, although it is cumbersome to use and to be honest I think that P&S cameras take better photos with auto-settings.  

Having said that, if you have a P&S camera and you want to give manual a try have a look if your camera has something called "M" or manual.  On mine I can adjust the exposure to over or under expose, select the white balance, choose Sepia or B&W and change the filter.  This is enough to help you experiment with over and under exposure.

But onto manual.  In manual we are going to control the aperture, the shutter speed and the ISO.  I always start with ISO as I can generally pick which ISO setting I'm going to need in a given situation. 

ISO 100 - 200 : bright, sunny days and good lighting situations
ISO 400 - 800 : dim or poor lighting
ISO 1600 +: night time, inside old buildings 

I use a Canon 400D and I don't really like going above ISO400 due to the noise that I get at higher ISO (see back to ISO for a recap).  Newer and more sophisticated Canon dSLR (50D, 5D Mark II, 7D) give you better ISO ranges.  With Nikon cameras the lowest you can go with ISO 200.  You will need to experiment with your own camera to know what ISO range is good for you.

Once the ISO is set, I decide which aperture I want.  This is based mostly on the depth of field that I am after.  If I'm taking a picture of a flower I might choose a wide-open aperture (f/2.8).  If I want to take a landscape shot I might choose a narrower aperture like f/16.

The third step is to adjust your shutter speed.  Move your shutter speed up or down until your photo is correctly exposed.  Your photo is correctly exposed when the meter bar is sitting in the middle of your level.

Notice how I didn't say that this was the last step?  Well, now you need to take a look at your settings.  Is this shutter speed realistic?  If it is too slow and you are worried about camera shake you need to adjust either the ISO or the aperture.  I always adjust the ISO first (if possible).  Once you have adjusted the ISO you will need to slightly shift you shutter speed again until your meter bar is sitting in the middle of your level.

Still too slow and you've reached your maximum ISO range?  Now you need to adjust the aperture, until you are happy with the shutter speed.

Often if you're taking photos in similar lighting conditions you will only need to do this only once, the settings will stay roughly the same as long as you're not dipping in and out of shade and you can just snap away.

However, it stills seems pretty time consuming, right?  And you can achieve much the same effect with aperture priority, huh?  Yes, and often aperture priority will give you the results you are after - but only if you don't consider metering.  

Next week: Metering


justine said...

a great post! I spent a few hours with a photographer last week (he takes shots for house selling brochures), I told him I only shot on manual and he told me it was like announcing that you were only doing your washing by hand - why go to all this trouble when cameras and machines are so sophisticated! I let him rant knowing that when I balance my iso, aperture and speed I am creating something of my own and I love this part of the process, I decided he could keep his auto mode!

Krystal said...

i was trying to take photos of a parade at night..totaly train wreck with the cam :)

Jamie said...

One day I'm going to get brave enough to give manual a try

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great summing up, it's good to get the 'bigger' picture!