THE BACK STORY
After a few days of fairly intensive shooting, I found myself thinking once again about how important mastery of manual exposure is to the photography that I do. While I love the auto features that come on my DSLRs, knowing when to use them and when to turn them off is at the top of my list of things that novice shooters need to learn. Here’s why:
Depending upon the camera to make your exposure choices for you is a safe, but dumb, way to work. You’ll usually get an acceptable exposure using this approach, but you’ll rarely get the best photograph. Why? Because the camera measures light and makes a calculation for you, but the camera has no aesthetic understanding of what you’re shooting. The camera can’t know if you need the background sharp or out of focus; the camera can’t know the optimal shutter speed for the image you’re creating. Only YOU know that. Here’s an example:
I’m photographing a wild rose blossoming right off my back porch. In the first version, I’ve set my DSLR on ‘Program’ mode. Program mode calculates a correct shutter speed AND aperture for the light that it’s reading. It decides to shoot this photo at 1/200th sec @ f5.0.
But this isn’t what I wanted. I want the rose blossom to be sharp, in focus, drawing your eye to that point in the image. I want the background out of focus to emphasize the rose blossom. So I switch to manual, and open the aperture to its widest point. Then I simply dial in the corresponding, higher shutter speed. My exposure in this case becomes 1/1250th @ f2.8.
The focus of the photograph now becomes the rose petals, with the other bulb out of focus and no longer a point of competing interest.
By using the power of manual exposure to create the image I want, I control my result and I get the image that I wanted in the first place.
Note: ‘Aperture Priority’ mode and ‘Shutter Priority’ mode – in which you either set the aperture or shutter speed and the camera picks the other variable—can be useful, but are still limiting. The minute you choose one of those modes, something will happen in front of you that requires a different solution.
So: if you haven’t made the effort to learn the ins and outs of manual exposure, what better time than now? It will add new depth and understanding to your photography and become the basis for a lifetime of pleasurable shooting.
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog