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Manual Mode (M)

Once upon a time, long before digital cameras and program modes, there was manual mode. Only, 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 it is not only 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, but it’s your job to actually 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 or Aperture Priority, would mean that you just have to worry about one of these changes, but Manual mode requires you 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 Mode

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

    Figure 4.11. Capturing this image required the proper balance of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

  • 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. Bright, sandy locations can fool the camera’s meter and cause underexposure.

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

    Figure 4.13. I purposely underexposed this image to create more of a silhouette of the cactus and show off the needles.

Setting up and Shooting in Manual Mode

  1. Turn your camera on. Press and hold the Mode button while turning the Main Command dial until you see an M in the control panel.
  2. Set your ISO by pressing the ISO button; select the appropriate setting by looking at the ISO readout on the control panel or by pressing the Info button on the back of the camera and looking at the info display on the rear LCD monitor.
  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 in the display panel on top of the camera.
  5. While the meter is activated, use your index finger to roll the Main 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 in the viewfinder by a scale with marks that run from –2 to +2 stops (Figure 4.14). A proper exposure will line up with the taller mark in the middle. As the indicator moves to the left, it is a sign that you will be underexposing (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.
    Figure 4.14

    Figure 4.14. Use the over/under scale to find your exposure settings.

  6. To set your exposure using the aperture, depress the shutter release button until the meter is activated. Then rotate the Sub-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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