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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 those 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 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 you use the other modes.

When to use Manual (M) mode

  • When learning how each exposure element interacts with the others (Figure 4.12)

    Figure 4.12

    Figure 4.12 I set the camera to Manual so I could ensure the exposure for the lit signs was correct while also using the slowest possible shutter speed to blur the motion of the people.

    ISO 100 • 1/5 sec. • f/22 • 80mm lens

  • When your environment is fooling your light meter and you need to maintain a certain exposure setting (Figure 4.13)

    Figure 4.13

    Figure 4.13 Beaches and snow are always a challenge for light meters. Add to that the desire to have exact control of depth of field and shutter speed, and you have a perfect scenario for Manual mode.

    ISO 100 • 1/400 sec. • f/6.3 • 22mm lens

  • When shooting silhouetted subjects, which requires overriding the camera’s meter readings (Figure 4.14)

    Figure 4.14

    Figure 4.14 I used Manual mode to push the person into silhouette.

    ISO 100 • 1/250 sec. • f/8 • 200mm lens

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 lower-left portion of the back of the camera (if the camera’s info screen is not visible, press the i button to turn it on, and then press it again).
  3. Highlight the ISO option, and then select OK.
  4. Use the Multi-selector to select the desired ISO setting, and 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 right, 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 left 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).

Remember that when you are using Manual mode, it is up to you to decide what is the most important thing to worry about. Do you need a fast shutter? Do you want narrow depth of field? You decide and then you take control. It’s really one of the best ways to learn how each change affects your image.

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