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M: Manual Mode

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, myself included, 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. Not only is it an excellent way to learn your photography basics, it’s also an essential tool to have in your photographic bag of tricks.

When you have your camera 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 Tv or Av, 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

Use Manual mode in these situations:

  • When you need to maintain exposures between different frames for a panorama (Figure 4.11)

    Figure 4.11

    Figure 4.11 Setting the camera on Manual for panorama shots helps to keep the exposure consistent.

    ISO 200 • 10 sec. • f/22 • 24mm lens

  • When your environment is fooling your light meter and you need to maintain a certain exposure setting (Figure 4.12)

    Figure 4.12

    Figure 4.12 This much blue sky would definitely cause underexposure, so a manual setting kept things bright.

    ISO 800 • 1/20 sec. • f/16 • 400mm lens

  • When shooting silhouetted subjects, which requires overriding the camera’s meter readings (Figure 4.13)

    Figure 4.13

    Figure 4.13 I really wanted a silhouette of the person on the ridge, so I placed my camera into Manual mode and underexposed the shot.

    ISO 800 • 1/1600 sec. • f/18 • 18mm lens

Setting up and shooting in Manual mode

  1. Turn the Mode dial to align the M with the indicator line.
  2. Select your ISO by pressing the ISO button on the top of the camera and then turning the Main dial.
  3. Point the camera at your subject and then activate the camera meter by depressing the shutter button halfway.
  4. View the exposure information in the bottom area of the viewfinder or by looking at the rear display panel.
  5. While the meter is activated, use your index finger to roll the Main 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 not enough light hitting 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.
  6. To set your exposure using the aperture, depress the shutter release button until the meter is activated. If you are using a T6s, simply rotate the Quick Control dial to change the aperture setting. If you are using a T6i, hold the Av button on the back of the camera with your thumb and then use your index finger to turn the Main dial right for a smaller aperture (large f-stop number) or left for a larger aperture (small f-stop number).
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