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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 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 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

  • When learning how each exposure element interacts with the others (Figure 4.11)

    Figure 4.11

    Figure 4.11 Manual mode allowed the sky to be balanced with shadows of the archway even though the camera meter was calling for a bit more underexposure because of the brighter sky.

  • 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 Beaches and snow are always a challenge for light meters. Add to that the desire to have a narrow depth of field and a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the blowing sand and you have a perfect scenario for Manual mode.

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

    Figure 4.13

    Figure 4.13 Although the meter was doing a pretty good job of exposing for the bright sky, I used Manual mode to push the foreground elements into complete black silhouette.

Setting Up and Shooting in Manual Mode

  1. Turn your camera on and make sure that the On switch is all the way up so that the Quick Control dial is active.
  2. Turn the Mode dial to align the M with the indicator line.
  3. Select your ISO by pressing the ISO button on the top of the camera, and then turning the Main dial (the ISO selection will appear in the top LCD panel).
  4. Point the camera at your subject and then activate the camera meter by depressing the shutter button halfway.
  5. View the exposure information in the bottom area of the viewfinder or by looking at the display panel on top of the camera.
  6. 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 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.
  7. To set your exposure using the aperture, depress the shutter release button until the meter is activated. Then, using your thumb, scroll the Quick Control dial to change the aperture: clockwise for a smaller aperture (large f-stop number), counterclockwise for a larger aperture (small f-stop number).
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