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M: Manual Mode

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Once upon a time, long before digital cameras and program modes, there was manual mode. In those days it wasn’t called “manual mode” because there were no other modes. It was just photography. In fact, many photographers cut their teeth on completely manual cameras. Let’s face it—if you want to learn the effects of aperture and shutter speed on your photography, there is no better way to learn than by setting these adjustments yourself. However, today, with the advancement of camera technology, many new photographers never give this mode a second thought. That’s truly a shame, as not only is it an excellent way to learn your photography basics, but it’s also an essential tool to have in your photographic bag of tricks.

When your camera is set to Manual (M) mode, the camera meter will give you a reading of the scene you are photographing. It’s your job, though, to set both the f-stop (aperture) and the shutter speed to achieve a correct exposure. If you need a faster shutter speed, you will have to make the reciprocal change to your f-stop. Using any other mode, such as Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority, would mean that you just have to worry about one of these changes, but Manual mode means you have to do it all yourself. This can be a little challenging at first, but after a while you will have a complete understanding of how each change affects your exposure, which will, in turn, improve the way that you use the other modes.

When to Use Manual (M) Mode

  • When learning how each exposure element interacts with the others (Figure 4.10)
    FIGURE 4.10

    FIGURE 4.10. Since my main subject was in the light, I set the camera to Manual so I could underexpose and keep the sky darker and more blue without worrying about the areas that fell into shadow.

  • When your environment is fooling your light meter and you need to maintain a certain exposure setting (Figure 4.11)
    FIGURE 4.11

    FIGURE 4.11. Sand and snow are always a challenge for light meters. Using Manual mode allowed me to prevent the scene from being underexposed.

  • When shooting silhouetted subjects, which requires overriding the camera’s meter readings (Figure 4.12)
    FIGURE 4.12

    FIGURE 4.12. I used the spot meter on the bright background and adjusted exposure manually to put the subject into silhouette.

Setting Up and Shooting in Manual Mode

  1. Turn your camera on and then turn the Mode dial to align the M with the indicator line.
  2. Select your ISO by pressing the i button on the back of the camera.
  3. Press up or down on the Multi-selector to highlight the ISO option, then select OK.
  4. Press down on the Multi-selector to select the desired ISO setting, then press OK to lock in the change.
  5. Point the camera at your subject and then activate the camera meter by depressing the shutter button halfway.
  6. View the exposure information in the bottom area of the viewfinder or by looking at the display panel on the rear of the camera.
  7. While the meter is activated, use your thumb to roll the Command dial left and right to change your shutter speed value until the exposure mark is lined up with the zero mark. The exposure information is displayed by a scale with marks that run from -2 to +2 stops. A proper exposure will line up with the arrow mark in the middle. As the indicator moves to the left, it is a sign that you will be underexposing (there is too little light on the sensor to provide adequate exposure). Move the indicator to the right and you will be providing more exposure than the camera meter calls for. This is overexposure.
  8. To set your exposure using the aperture, depress the shutter release button until the meter is activated. Then, while holding down the Exposure Compensation/Aperture button (located behind and to the right of the shutter release button), rotate the Command dial to change the aperture. Rotate right for a smaller aperture (large f-stop number) and left for a larger aperture (small f-stop number).
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