Finding Your Mode
Most professional cameras offer several exposure modes, often leading to confusion as to what mode to use and when to use it. I’m going to limit this section to my favorite three modes.
(M) or Manual
The Manual mode allows the photographer to select his or her own ISO, aperture, and shutter speed settings with the assistance of the camera’s meter. If you follow the camera’s recommended settings, this will render an average exposure; however, this mode allows you to vary from the metered settings to change the exposure and thus the tonality (lightness or darkness) of a subject.
I choose to shoot on Manual mode when I’m in a tricky light situation. Take Figure 4.10, for instance. The light is falling on the short side of my subject’s face, which makes targeting it with my camera’s meter more of a challenge. By switching to Spot Meter on Manual mode, I can achieve a more precise highlight exposure right from the start. I won’t have to fuss with Exposure Compensation and miss the moment. (See the sidebar “Insights: Overriding Your Technology” for an explanation of this feature.)
Figure 4.10. A U.S. soldier smokes a cigarette as he prepares for a four-day operation in New Baqubah, Iraq.
Lens (mm): 55, ISO: 100, Aperture: 2.8, Shutter: 1/1000, Program: Manual
(A or AV) or Aperture Priority
Aperture Priority is a semiautomatic mode that allows the photographer to set a desired aperture. The camera will select an appropriate shutter speed to render an average exposure. Aperture is expressed in “f” numbers, such as f/11, f/2.8, or f/4.
Aperture Priority is one of my go-to shooting modes, especially for fast-paced assignments that go from indoors to outdoors. All I have to concern myself with is my ISO, because I prefer to shoot on f/2.8 and the camera determines the shutter speed. This mode gives me the freedom to concentrate on the action versus manual exposure. Plus, I can use the Exposure Compensation to make the exposure exactly as I want it if I don’t quite agree with the camera’s decision (Figure 4.11).
Figure 4.11. Soldiers from the U.S. Army pop green smoke to indicate their location during a joint operation with the Iraqi police in Baqubah, Iraq.
Lens (mm): 55, ISO: 160, Aperture: 5.6, Shutter: 1/750, Exp. Comp.: -0.3, Program: Aperture Priority
(S or TV) or Shutter Priority
Shutter Priority is also a semiautomatic mode in which the photographer selects a desired shutter speed and the camera sets the proper aperture, again rendering an average exposure.
As a former aerial combat photographer, a great deal of my time was spent in the air. I’ve photographed all types of aircraft in the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps arsenal. Shutter Priority was definitely a handy tool for assignments involving propellers. For those who aren’t familiar with planes and helicopters, propellers (or props) are the blades that spin and give aircraft momentum and helicopters lift. You want to see the motion of the props to give the sensation that the helicopter or plane is in flight. To do this, set your camera to Shutter Priority mode and use a slower shutter speed to catch the rotation. Let the camera determine the necessary f-stop to make a decent exposure without missing the moment (Figure 4.12).
Figure 4.12. A Marine CH-53E helicopter blows sand and rocks as it takes off in Harar, Ethiopia.
Lens (mm): 35, ISO: 125, Aperture: 14, Shutter: 1/125, Program: Shutter Priority