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Arena Moderatorjohnnytitan said 5 years ago 3/29/2010 1:49:58 PM EDT

Did you get that fancy new camera with all those crazy settings, but you still choose to shoot with it in auto? If thats the case, this mini tut is for you. The best way to take your shooting to the next level is by making the jump to manual mode.

Why manual mode? Have you ever seen shots with perfectly blurred backgrounds and a pin sharp foreground? Or have you seen shots with that perfect amount of motion blur? What about absolutely pin sharp landscapes? Your cameras automatic settings may get close to what you want, but to reel in exactly what you want with the camera, youll need to learn to shoot in manual mode.

There are three basic functions you can adjust in camera to get that exact exposure youre looking for; shutter speed, aperture and ISO. All threes primary purpose is to control the amount of light that reaches your cameras image sensor (or film). However, all three functions have a side effect on the image as well. Those side effects are what experienced photographers manipulate to get the exact shot they want.

Arena Moderatorjohnnytitan said 5 years ago 3/29/2010 1:56:01 PM EDT

Shutter Speed:
The most common way to control light, and easiest function to understand is shutter speed. The longer the shutter is open, the more the light can reach the image sensor. Conversely, the shorter the shutter, the less the light can reach the sensor. The side effect is also pretty logical. The longer the shutter is open, the blurrier any motion within the scene will look, and the shorter its open, the crisper the image will look. Shutter speed is typically measured in seconds or fractions of seconds. A shutter speed of 4 would equal 4 seconds, and a shutter speed of would equal a quarter of a second.

Aperture controls the size of the hole between the scene outside and the image sensor. Obviously, the size of the hole determines how much light will reach the sensor. Smaller holes equal less light. Apertures secondary effect determines the depth of field of the image. Depth of field is really just a fancy way of saying how much of the scene within the image is crisp and in focus throughout the depth of the image. The larger the hole, the less within the image is in focus. Think of it like your own eyes. When its really bright outside, your iris closes really small and everything is in sharp focus, but at night in the dark, your iris opens as wide as it can, and while you can still see, you cant focus nearly as sharply as you could in the day. Aperture is measured in fractions, but they only show the bottom of the fraction. Therefore, a small aperture would have a large number and a large aperture a small number. (F/1.2 = Large aperture; F/64 = Small aperture)

Below is a set of three images at 3 different apertures. Notice the amount of detail in the background of the image. As the aperture increases (smaller number) the amount of detail in the background decreases.

Finally, theres ISO. ISO comes from the days of film photography; its a measurement of how sensitive the film youre using is to light. In digital photography its exactly the same thing, but a measurement of how sensitive youre cameras image sensor is. The larger the ISO number, the more sensitive your camera is to light that reaches the sensor. The side effect to increasing ISO is noise. The higher the ISO number the more noise will be in your shot. Typically your goal is to keep your ISO setting as low as possible, however there are times, youll want to increase noise to achieve a specific effect for a specific shot.

Just as there are three ways to adjust the amount of light that enters your camera, there are also three manual modes on your camera; M, Tv, and Av. Well start with M.

Arena Moderatorjohnnytitan said 5 years ago 3/29/2010 1:59:25 PM EDT

Just as there are three ways to adjust the amount of light that enters your camera, there are also three manual modes on your camera; M, Tv, and Av. Well start with M.

M Full Manual:
This is the cool kids manual setting, as it gives you 100% control of all three functions, shutter speed, aperture and ISO. There are no set rules with how you adjust these settings, but heres how I do it. First, I set the ISO. Typically, you can set your ISO and leave it for an entire shoot. Unless theres a dramatic change in the available light, (you go inside, or step outside) you can set it and forget it. Like I said earlier, you typically want your ISO as low as possible. If youre outside in the sun, theres no reason to go above the lowest setting. This will keep the noise to a minimum within your shots.

This leaves shutter speed and aperture for you to adjust from shot to shot. Typically I set these two in a somewhat middle of the road position just so the shot is exposed properly. I then set either my aperture or shutter speed to where I want it and adjust back the other to maintain proper exposure.

How I determine shutter speed and aperture depend on what Im shooting, and what I want to get out of the shot. If Im shooting a waterfall, Ill want a longer shutter speed to smooth out the falling water, so Ill compensate by decreasing the aperture. If Im shooting a football game, Ill want to freeze the action. I can do this by opening the aperture as wide as possible, and decreasing the shutter speed as low as I can.

Now, if you dont want to take the complete plunge to full manual, most cameras come with two other partial manual modes, which allow you to adjust two of the three settings, and the camera will automatically determine the optimum setting for the third depending on the light. While these work, it still requires the camera guess what you want out of your image, and it may not result in the exact exposure youre looking for.

Av Aperture Priority:
Aperture priority allows you to set the ISO and aperture you desire, and the camera will set the shutter speed based on the available light in the scene. This can be useful if youre shooting in studio, and want to set a specific depth of field.

Tv Shutter Priority:
Shutter priority is just the opposite from aperture priority. It allows you to set the shutter speed and ISO, and your camera will determine the optimal aperture based on available light.

But, lets face it, just like on full auto, sometimes the camera doesnt know how to read a scene. Say youre trying to take a photo of a black tire on a dark road. Your camera is going to try and meter the light, and in turn youll end up with an over exposed image of a grey tire on a grey road. Youll get the same problems from Av and Tv that youd get from full auto. So why not just take the plunge to full manual and get the exact exposure you want? Itll add more precision to your shots, and allow you to get the exact motion blur and depth of field in your shots that you desire.

Arena Moderatorjohnnytitan said 5 years ago 3/29/2010 2:27:21 PM EDT


Theres a lot more that can be discussed about manual photography, this is merely the basics for you to get comfortable using these settings to step your photography in the right direction. Posted below is a useful chart to help understand the effects that each function has and how you can manipulate them to get the exact exposure youre looking for.

Arena Moderatorjohnnytitan said 5 years ago 4/4/2010 9:49:37 PM EDT

Capriccio said:

The backwards terms and numbers confuse me. So increasing shutter speed (making it *faster*) actually results in settings with a lower number, right? And decreased speed results in a higher number?

Yep, I tried to stay out of the numbers for that reason, but maybe I should have delved in a little. Increasing shutter speed (1/4s to 1/250s) results in less light to the sensor. But usually on cameras you'd just see the bottom number (4 or 250) so increasing shutter speed also increases the number displayed on the camera.

There's similar confusion for aperture, increasing aperture (making the hole bigger(f/32 to f/1.2)) is denoted by making the fraction smaller but again usually you only see the bottom number, so increasing aperture happens when you decrease the number displayed on the camera.

Capriccio Responded:

I never understood the whole bottom number of a fraction thing. My camera does that when the shutter speed is less than .3 of a second, but .3 and above it uses real numbers (and I think it actually says "sec" .3 & above as well. Below that it says 6 or 8 etc... but I'm supposing that is the bottom number of the fraction because it's a faster speed.

Arena Moderatorjohnnytitan said 5 years ago 4/4/2010 9:50:19 PM EDT

learn2swim96 asked:

Is there a chart somewhere that gives the correct exposure settings for every given scenario?

No there's no such thing, because the number of options is limitless. However, all cameras (except that 1908 antique your grandma gave you) has a light meter on it. From there all you have to do is balance the exposure based on the light meter reading.

The other nice thing about the way shutter speeds and apertures are arranged is that each step up (or down), is exactly double (or half) the amount of light that reaches the image sensor.

I tried to keep this mini-tut out of the numbers.

learn2swim96 said:

Is there a way to see what the light meter reading is on my camera? Is that the histogram people refer to? (I'm sure I'm way off here... *blushes*)

I definitely get the half and double and how they relate to each other, thanks in part to your tutorial and response. My main area of confusion is what is that sweet spot, the correct exposure and how to find it. Should I start with full auto and take the shutter speed/aperture the camera gives and tweak from there in manual mode?

Not sure where the light meter is on your camera, but here's mine. (Canon actually calls it the "Exposure Level Indicator".) My camera also displays it in the viewfinder as well.

So, what I do, is set either the aperture or shutter speed to what it is I want, and then set the other to balance the exposure to somewhere near center.

ercolano said:

It **is** an exposure level indicator. It is telling you how far off your exposure is compared to the measured value. An exposure meter gives a reading in EVs.

The convention generally used is that the exposure indicator used in manual mode uses the same bit of the display that is normally used for EV comp (EV comp is not used in manual mode, it makes no sense).

Note also that it is not necessarily desired to get the exposure indicator to the center. How far off you are from the center is, of course, the manual mode equivalent of EV comp (see how it makes sense to use the same display!)

Arena Moderatorjohnnytitan said 5 years ago 4/4/2010 9:51:01 PM EDT

Hanswors said:

Another good use for manual photography come in with shooting with external light sources (studio, off-camera flash etc...)

When shooting in studio its good to set up the exposure manually, that way you know that the exposure should be constant - now you can focus on getting the model to work

With say, wedding photography, manual shooting can be very valuable in getting the perfect shot when running around with your external flashes. You can control the light, and ultimately the effect of the shot and get what you've envisioned, rather than hoping the camera and flash will come up with a "good" exposure with its fancy TTL technology. What if you want the shot a bit under/overexposed?

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