Shooting in Manual Mode
Cameras contain all these different settings so why shoot in Manual Mode? What’s the point? Why not just set the camera to the proper pre-defined built in scene mode to shoot what I want? Many of us have different reasons why we shoot with the settings we do. But when it comes down to it, the different settings only change three different values in the camera. Aperture. Shutter Speed. ISO. The Exposure Triangle. What do Triangles have to do with taking photos? Absolutely nothing unless you are taking photos of triangles. But Exposure has everything to do with taking photos.
So lets get down to the basics. I don’t have all the fancy graphs that can visually show you everything, but I can sure try to explain. Lets start with Shutter Speed. It seems to me to be the easiest to explain. Shutter Speed controls how long the sensor/film is exposed to create the photo. When wanting to shoot a fast subject, you need fast Shutter Speed. If you want long exposures, you need a slower Shutter Speed. The longer the shutter is open then the more time light has to hit the sensor/film. In darker situations you need more time for the sensor to capture the photo. In brighter situations you don’t need as much time.
Now on to Aperture. Aperture is what is used in order to control how much light hits the sensor/film. It is also used to help with creating more or less depth of field in your photos. Aperture I think is the most confusing piece of the puzzle, or triangle in this case. The smaller the number (f/1.8) the larger the Aperture. The larger the number (f/18) the smaller the Aperture. I know it seems a little backwards but that’s just the way it works. Larger Apertures (f/1.8) will allow more light to hit the sensor/film which also allow for a more shallow depth of field photo. To not make this more confusing I won’t get into how focal lengths play into this role but if you are testing this on a wide angle lens, you might not notice much of a difference. You also need to keep into consideration the distance from the subject in focus as well, but that’s a whole other topic that we can cover later. Now where were we… Yes, Apertures. Smaller Apertures (f/18) give you a greater depth of field. This is more useful for a lot of landscape photos where you want a lot in focus throughout the frame. Below are example photos of using a large Aperture and a small Aperture.
Now to the last part of the triangle. ISO. This is one setting that I rarely change but it is useful in some situations. What ISO does is change the sensitivity of the sensor. For those of you who shoot film or remember when you did shoot film, you may remember that film always had a number associated with it. But for film it was more commonly known as ASA but in layman’s terms this equates to the speed of the film, or how sensitive it was to light. So what does this all mean for exposure? It means that you can take photos in low light situations without needing to sacrifice the other settings. That sounds awesome because you could just set your Aperture and Shutter Speed to whatever you want and just adjust the ISO to get the correct exposure! But at a price of course! There’s always a sacrifice somewhere and here it is noise or grain for those film critics. The higher the ISO number the more noise/grain is introduced into your photo. Newer cameras are better at higher ISOs but for those of us who care about the best photo quality you could possibly get, the lower the ISO the better your photo will look.
Now that we have all this triangle business done I hope you are still with me. Getting the three to work together comes into play of how the Exposure Triangle works. Think of it as a an equilateral triangle with three equal sides. One side is Shutter Speed, one side is Aperture and the last side is ISO. The triangle in its entirety is your exposure. The goal is to keep all the sides of the triangle the same length. If you change your Aperture, then imagine that the Aperture side of the triangle changes. You then need to change your Shutter Speed and/or ISO to equalize the triangle again. Sorry if it is confusing about talking about triangles when photography is on the mind.
Lets take this approach. If you change your Aperture by one stop, lets say from f/1.8 to f/2.5 then that would decrease the amount of light hitting the sensor by one stop. In order to make sure that you maintain the proper exposure that you want, you will then need to adjust the Shutter Speed or ISO counter against that. If you adjust the Shutter Speed you would need to slow it down by one stop. Lets say you are shooting at 1/400 of a second. To allow one more stop of light to hit the sensor you would need to change the shutter speed to 1/200 of a second. If you decide to change the sensitivity of your sensor to allow for one more stop of light then you would change the ISO from 100 to 200 for instance. I’m not going to go through all possible scenarios but the essence here is that if you change the setting for one then you must change the setting for another if you want to maintain the current exposure.
So what does all of this have to do with why you would want to shoot in manual mode? It doesn’t really have any reason why you would want to shoot in manual mode. It’s all confusing mumble jumbo and doesn’t equate to specific reason why. But it does give you an idea of how these things work so you understand how to shoot in manual mode. So now that we have all that knowledge under our belt, it’s time to understand the why which is the whole point of this post. To be more honest though, I’m not going to tell you why YOU should shoot in manual mode, but more why I shoot in manual mode and it may help you make a decision whether or not you would like to or not.
If I’m shooting something with tricky lighting and want a specific exposure to get a specific look, then I don’t want the camera changing exposure values on me all the time which would make it more difficult to get the shot I want. For the below shot I wanted to expose off the sunrise but focus on the grass. Since the camera will expose off either the entire scene or based on where the focus point is, neither would have gotten me the results I wanted. Now I know I could of used exposure compensation but if I would have forgotten to reset that, then my next photo may have been too underexposed.
A disclaimer about this next photo was that it was shot with a flash but the same principles apply. I wanted to allow the light to hit as little of the frame as I could as possible which meant using the fastest shutter speed I could with a flash and I also wanted to control the Aperture so the Depth of Field was the way I wanted it to be. I would say that without manual mode this shot would not have happened because the camera had no idea what kind of shot I was looking for.
This next shot would have been very tricky without manual mode because the light was constantly shifting due to a sunrise. The light was changing constantly which would have affected my exposure causing different values each time I pressed the shutter button. Because I was shooting in manual I was able to find the proper exposure after I got a nice composition easier.
Long exposure shots are primarily why I learned how to shoot manual. These shots are nearly impossible to get with any other setting, especially if you want to go beyond 30 second exposures. Anything at 30 seconds or less can be done in Shutter Priority but if you start to throw ND filters into the mix then the camera’s light meter may get confused and you never know what your results might be.
When it comes down to it I really just shoot in manual mode because I’m used to it. I always know what Aperture or Shutter Speed I want and I always shoot at ISO 100 unless I don’t have my tripod or I want to freeze motion in lower light situations. I also know how dark I can make a photo before I can’t recover the details in the shadows. This allows me the flexibility to shoot how I want to without the camera stepping in and telling me what my settings should be at. I have a vision when I shoot and the camera doesn’t know that vision. I shoot high key and low key photos at times and want to expose for such. I know there’s a scene mode for both but what the camera doesn’t know is how high key or how low key I want to be. Only I know that. I don’t want to be messing with dials that are tricky to get to or going through a menu. I want to just have my eye to the viewfinder and just have to move the dial on the front or back of the camera to adjust the Aperture or Shutter Speed then click when everything is in place. To me it means getting the photo faster and moving on to the next one.
A word of advice for those of you who would like to shoot manual mode. Know how you learn the best. Take baby steps and learn about each part of the Exposure Triangle to fully understand how each part works together. Because when it comes to working in manual, it means to understand how each piece creates the exposure for the end result.
Sorry if this is confusing to any of you. I know it is a lot of content to digest for some. I also know that you can get pretty much any shot in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority and even some shots in Auto, but when it comes down to it, shoot in whatever mode that gets you the shot you want.