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Using Manual Mode

This is a discussion on Using Manual Mode within the General photography forums, part of the Photography & Fine art photography category; I was pondering today about how often I hear newer photographers mentioning that they steer away from using Manual mode ...

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    Default Using Manual Mode

    I was pondering today about how often I hear newer photographers mentioning that they steer away from using Manual mode on their camera due to reasons such as fear (of losing shots or maybe struggling to get the settings right etc), having no idea how to use it, no idea how to learn it, or whatever else.

    I wondered then, how we could help these people to better understand their Manual mode and how we could help them to learn to use it.

    Therefore, if you have any ideas how to explain in a nice simplified manner how they might go about successfully using Manual mode effectively, I'd love you to add your advice/ideas to this thread.

    Here's my take on the situation ...

    Most newbies to (D)SLR photography (or even decent Compact Digital) tend to start with the Auto mode. It safely allows them to get a photo without completely muffing it and getting nothing at all.
    The camera simply chooses everything from your ISO through to your shutter speed and apertures including whether or not it thinks you need the flash.

    For those with cameras that have semi auto modes such as Shutter Priority (usually called TV or S on DSLR's) or Aperture Priority (AV or A) your camera allows you to make a couple of important choices and then the camera tries to make a decent choice for the remainder of the settings.

    With all these modes above, the resulting photo is most likely to not be the best exposed photo that you could have taken unless you understand more advanced techniques such as Exposure Compensation. Even then the photo can be a compromise of some sort. For instance, if you were shooting a sport then you might choose Shutter Priority with an ISO of 400 or more and then select a high shutter speed to catch that action without blur. As you take the photo, the camera reads the light in the scene according to your metering settings (evaluative, center weighted etc), takes your selected shutter speed into account and then chooses what it feels is the best aperture for the photo. Because the camera tries to average out the light in the scene, if any parts of the scene are a bit bright or dark then it's likely the exposure won't be perfect. Or at least your subject might not have the exposure that's best for it.
    Aperture Priority does the same thing except you choose the Aperture you want according to the depth of field etc you want and the camera chooses the shutter speed using the same process as above.

    The other disadvantage with these modes is that because the camera keeps adjusting to get that 'average' exposure throughout, changing the priority settings usually still gets you the same exposure. For instance, lets say you were using Aperture priority to shoot a bright scene and chose f8 and the camera chose a shutter speed of 1/200th and your photo was a bit blown out in the sky. If you then changed to f11, the camera would change the shutter speed to perhaps 100 to compensate and you'd still get the same exposure. Your sky would still likely be blown out.

    That's where using Manual mode comes in because you choose all the settings.

    One way that I advise newbies to learn is to use those modes above as a starting point. By this I mean for them to use those modes to either take a photo or at least half press the shutter button, and then look at the settings the camera is choosing.

    Firstly, you'd have to look at your scene and make a choice. Is it important for you to use a specific aperture? Or is it important to use a specific shutter speed?
    Let's say the scene is a sunset. Choose an ISO of 100 or 200 perhaps. There's no reason to be specific with a shutter speed here so the aperture is more important.
    Choose Aperture Priority and set it to f16 which has a nice deep depth of field. Either take the photo or half press the shutter button and see what the camera is choosing for the shutter speed. Lets say the nice bright sky caused the camera to choose 1/500th.
    If you switch to the Manual Mode and select f16 and then 1/500th you'll get the same photo again so start playing with those settings. Maybe try f11 and 1/500th. Take the photo and have a look and see if the sky looks better or too dark. Try f16 and 1/400th. Try anything now you have a point to return to at f16 and 1/500th. By experimenting you can often get the sky looking much different, more dramatic, or perhaps lighter than it appeared to your eye. You have more control in Manual mode to achieve this.

    Oops I wrote a book
    I didn't expect this to blow out this long at all, which really kind of doesn't achieve what I had hoped ... a simplistic way to help newbies tackle using Manual mode.

    Maybe someone else here can explain it their way

    And if I made a mistake in there somewhere feel free to let me know so I can correct it.

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    This is well written MA - there's a lot to say so this is not that long and brings it down to a nice level.

    One thing I'll add, is that manual focus FORCES you to be slower. It forces you to THINK about the scene and that's why is 100x better than ANY other mode when you are learning.

    Please remember, cameras are fairly stupid machines. All they know how to do is take an average. That's why IMO, more than 500-1000. for any camera in the hands of a newbie shooting in automatic is a waste of precious cash.

    Use manual mode for a while and the investment starts to pay off...because you are learning a new craft.
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    kat
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    I've just started on manual mode and for me the biggest thing is understanding what is a full stop and the equivalent to a full stop to those in between. With cameras having so many shutter speeds and aperture settings it's getting those basic stops and learning from there.

    Shutter Speed Full Stops (not every single one)

    8 seconds 4 seconds 2 seconds 1 second 1/2 second 1/4 1/8 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/500 1/1000

    Aperture (F/Stop)

    1.4 2.0 2.8 4 5.6 8 11 16 22

    This may be silly but I know that when we talk about exposure that this is brought up a bit but I never knew just the basics of these and with these I find I'm getting a bit better with where to set my numbers and how to change them. Hope this helps someone.
    Last edited by kat; 04-17-2009 at 09:43 AM.
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    Nicely written MA.

    As a newb, I spend ALL my time in manual mode. If I take (IMO) great photos, I want it to be a result of MY decisions. I was out last night in various locations taking pictures, and playing with everything on my camera. Using my tripod and then increasing/decreasing shutter speed, aperture size, so I get the "same" photo under 15 different setups.

    That said, it can be very frustrating too. I had a whole family of opossums in my back yard the other night. I couldn't get the camera to auto-focus, and by the time I got it setup to ideal settings and manually focused, they were gone. In hind-sight, full-auto would have been the smart "newb" thing to do... Oh well, live and learn.

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    I'm glad my effort has been found valid by some people

    It's cool to see people adding their two cents in as well.


    Quote Originally Posted by kat View Post
    I've just started on manual mode and for me the biggest thing is understanding what is a full stop and the equivalent to a full stop to those in between. With cameras having so many shutter speeds and aperture settings it's getting those basic stops and learning from there.

    Shutter Speed Full Stops (not every single one)

    8 seconds 4 seconds 2 seconds 1 second 1/2 second 1/4 1/8 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/500 1/1000

    Aperture (F/Stop)

    1.4 2.0 2.8 4 5.6 8 11 16 22

    This may be silly but I know that when we talk about exposure that this is brought up a bit but I never knew just the basics of these and with these I find I'm getting a bit better with where to set my numbers and how to change them. Hope this helps someone.
    I think your current level of experience leads you think a tad over what the average newbie thinks Kat.
    I also think that with DSLR and the ability to just just shoot and then chimp your result and make adjustments means that knowing the more intricate details such as understanding 'stops' isn't as important as it was when we were shooting film and couldn't get that instant look at our photo. That being said, understanding stops is an advantage and certainly not a wasted effort.

    For those wondering, a 'stop' is simply a measure or value of exposure or light. An increase of one stop is simply doubling the amount of light you had with your previous settings. A decrease of one stop is halving that amount of light. Therefore a 'stop' of exposure or light is not a specific amount of light or exposure, it's an amount of difference.

    The easiest way to gain or lose a 'stop' is use the shutter speed. If you were using f8 and 1/500th then you'd choose 1/1000th to decrease a full one stop. 1/1000th is twice as quick as 1/500th therefore allowing light into the cameras sensor for half the time. 1/250th would be the equivalent of increasing one full stop because it's half as fast as 1/500th.
    If you have your camera set to 1/3 increments (check your manual) then to achieve these one full stop of exposures you would change your shutter speed by 3 values each time. So, without grabbing my camera out of the bedroom closet where my wife sleeps soundly right now at 12.46am (I can't sleep tonight for some reason) I think that's 1/650th and 1/800th added between the 1/500 and 1/1000. Handy to have I find.

    Understanding stops in terms of Aperture is a bit more difficult. This is because to achieve the same effect we are talking about a physical hole in your lens now. The size of the hole affects how much light enters the camera's sensor and the f-stops are worked out with a little more complexity but from memory the basic stop set that Kat lists above is in multiples of 1.4.
    For me, I find remembering that I have 1/3 increments set then I need to drop or increase my f-stops 3 adjustments to get one full stop. In other words, 3 clicks of the wheel that adjusts my aperture gives me one full stop. If I didn't have this set to 1/3 increments then it would be a full stop of change every time I clicked that wheel a notch. Your camera might be a button not a wheel.

    I think this is all too technical for most newbies to take in and actually retain at first, and as I said above, not really necessary to begin with.

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    kat
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    Sorry. Here I was thinking you were all going to laugh because I put that in thinking most would know that. I just know that it's a great help to know what those values are and what they represent. It will help one with getting to what you want easier.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kat View Post
    Sorry. Here I was thinking you were all going to laugh because I put that in thinking most would know that. I just know that it's a great help to know what those values are and what they represent. It will help one with getting to what you want easier.
    Oh absolutely and you are well and truly advanced enough to take it in and understand it all and then apply what you've learnt.
    Most newbies to Manual mode or new to SLR in general wouldn't retain it all and therefore it would just detract from what they need to learn first I think.
    But that's just my experience and how I teach. I might tell you I have a halo but everything I say isn't gospel

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    kat
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    Ha ha. I guess I just know when I first put it on manual there was all these numbers and it was like whoa. I guess what I was trying to aim at is you don't have to know all the numbers or use them right away, get to the basics.

    Maybe an insert on the sunny 16 rule would be useful? As a starting point for where to start? Ha ha.. I think I'm gonna stop talking now..
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    Quote Originally Posted by kat View Post
    Ha ha. I guess I just know when I first put it on manual there was all these numbers and it was like whoa. I guess what I was trying to aim at is you don't have to know all the numbers or use them right away, get to the basics.

    Maybe an insert on the sunny 16 rule would be useful? As a starting point for where to start?
    I considered the Sunny 16 but then it's more useful for film I think as we can just shoot and chimp and adjust.

    In the end, the basic message I wanted to convey was why manual mode was the better choice most often and then how to use the semi auto settings on your camera as a light meter to suggest a good starting point for Manual shooting.

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