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Shooting in manual mode

olbell 10 47 1 England
9 May 2010 12:35PM
Hello all.

Despite been into photograph for about 3 years now I am rather embarrassed to admit that I never shoot in manual mode, primarily utilising the aperture and shutter priority mode.

If any of you have seen my portfolio you will see that I am particularly interested in seascape photography and also longer exposures and I would be very grateful I you would give me some advise of what I should be looking to do when shooting in manual (this is in a bid to improve my photography!).

I like to think I have a relatively good understanding of what sort of settings to use and how changing them will alter a picture but I would say I am rather lacking in understanding of metering.

If you could perhaps outlines the steps you do when taking seascape or landscape photography when shooting in manual I would be very grateful!

Thanks in advance....


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miptog 12 3.6k 61 United Kingdom
9 May 2010 12:43PM
Great link here Zone System Metering originally posted by another EPZ member
olbell 10 47 1 England
9 May 2010 12:53PM

Quote:Great link here Zone System Metering originally posted by another EPZ member

Thanks i will check this out!
thewilliam 9 6.1k
9 May 2010 1:00PM
I thought that "manual" meant "once a year".
JohnParminter 11 1.3k 14 England
9 May 2010 9:08PM
Hi Ollie,

Manual mode isn't complicated but needs a bit of understanding, firstly how the camera meters then how to apply the settings.

A camera has 3 metering modes, overall scene, centre waited and spot. In each case it is measuring reflected light. In manual mode the meter is not connected to the exposure controls so you can have full control over what you desire. The meter will indicate a correct exposure at 18% grey so when the bar graph it centre then this will be a correct exposure for 18% grey, somewhere between white and black.
To control exposure you have three controls, ISO, aperture and shutter speed to adjust to bring the bar graph to centre. This is the simplistic version as 18% grey or correct meter indicated exposure may not be quite right for the particular scene you have as there may be very bright or dark areas that the meter has ignored or averaged out. I also never meter for the centre bar graph as I prefer to underexpose for better contrasts and colours.

So you can now adjust 3 things to obtain a correct or desired exposure.

ISO is sensor sensivity to light, low ISO = need more light for a given exposure and vice versa. Noise increases with higher ISO.
Aperture is the size of the iris if you will, smaller iris = less light in. This also determines depth of field. A large aperture (f/2.8) = low DOF, small aperture (f/22) = large DOF
Shutter Speed, slow shutter lets more light in and vice versa. This is used for motion as you are likely aware.

So typically for a landscape I do this:

Set ISO low to 200.
Set my desired aperture for what DOF I want, usually f/11 or f/16 for large DOF and front to back apparent sharpness.
Check the scene in manual exposure mode and spot meter. Meter the important areas such as foreground, midground, sky etc and note down the differences. I then adjust the shutter speed to give me a desired exposure for the foreground usually but could be for the brightest area if I want other areas to fall into relative darkness.

So typically I could end up with
ISO 200
aperture f/11
and speed 1/30 sec
this would say give me a perfectly exposed foregound and midground but the sky is a bit too bright, I know this and have allowed to use an appropriate graduated filter to correct it.

For images where shutter speed is the creative factor then set ISO and speed then adjust the exposure with the aperture.

Hope it half makes sense.

olbell 10 47 1 England
9 May 2010 11:53PM
Thanks John really helpful!
RichBrew 8 151 England
10 May 2010 7:27PM

If you are getting the results you want by shooting in auto mode, why change? The only time I shoot in manual is when I'm faced with a tricky light situation. Otherwise I use Matrix metering and aperture priority for almost everything else.

Just Jas Plus
16 26.2k 1 England
11 May 2010 12:18PM

Quote:Otherwise I use Matrix metering and aperture priority for almost everything else.

The exposure compensation controls can usually be used where appropriate.
miptog 12 3.6k 61 United Kingdom
11 May 2010 3:24PM
Whether shooting in manual or the auto modes its crucial to know what to meter off in the scene and how to compensate accordingly. In the auto modes the camera is always going to make an adjustment, based on its internal memory of exposure values and library of scenes to try and give you the best exposure. Manual gives you total control without the camera intervening.

Which is better? The one that suits your way of working the best.
Stubill 10 107 England
11 May 2010 4:12PM
Hi Ollie,

As well as the good advice already given, I tend to use the histogram quite extensively to obtain the exposure I am after.
I just dial in the shutter speed until the pointer is mid point, then take a shot and check the histogram.
Adjust the shutter speed as/if required and shoot again. Repeat until happy with histogram.
I have tried all the different metering modes, but tbh, it doesn't make a great deal of difference for me on seascapes. I just leave on matrix metering to average the scene.
I suppose a more calculated and methodical approach to metering could mean taking less shots, but I tend to just crack on
with it Smile
Hope that helps.
ade_mcfade 14 15.2k 216 England
11 May 2010 4:17PM
best thing is to learn M metering with a spot meter in loads of situations - backlighting, front lighting, light thing in front of a dark thing - all those tricky situations. You need to choose which thing you want to expose correctly...


Caucasian bloke in front of a very bright window...

how do you meter that ?

Bung the spot on his face, dial in +1EV on the meter, click - his face should be correctly exposed but the window will be blown out.

Bung the spot on some green trees outside the window - dial in 0EV, click - the tree will be correctly exposed, but the blokes face may well be a silhouette.

When you do that without thinking - at all - then you understand exposure.

Also, then you know where Av and Tv modes will work and fail.

Its the best thing you'll learn about camera control.
thewilliam 9 6.1k
11 May 2010 4:29PM
Exposure is just like focus in that you need to decide what is most important in your intended pic. Then you meter for this part of the image. Better still, read a book about the Zone System.

The downside of any control is that it allows the inexpert to make the picture worse than you'd get from an unthinking auto setting.

Nikon matrix metering, used on auto, has "scene recognition" which gives correct exposure in a surprising number of situations!
olbell 10 47 1 England
11 May 2010 5:15PM
Thanks guys - some interesting views. I think I will just have a play around with it and see what my results are like. I understand what you are saying though that it doesn't mean my images will automatically be better! I think to be honest i would just like to get to grips with exposure more and understand what settings different tones require.

RichBrew 8 151 England
11 May 2010 7:45PM

Quote:Otherwise I use Matrix metering and aperture priority for almost everything else.

The exposure compensation controls can usually be used where appropriate.

This is what I do. Getting to know your light meter, and applying judicial compensation when deemed necessary works wonders.

samfurlong 12 2.5k United Kingdom
11 May 2010 8:44PM
I maintain the best thing you can do is to start on an old manual camera - sure film is a pain in the bum but a nice old nikon fm / oly om10 / canon f1 or something like that is totally unbeatable for learning the basics and I am so glad that I learned my trade (and worked for a while) on manual gear.

Johns advice is excellent, couldn't have put it better myself, but if you fancy going in the deep end and really learning then get on ebay, get a nikon fm or similar with any old standard lens or something and spend a few weeks learning that. Put the digital in the drawer and literally forget about it for a few weeks, don't think about it, don't look at it , don't touch it and DEFINATELY don't take any pictures with it....

A friend of mine bought himself (after many years break from photography) a nikon D2H a number of years ago, it was the top of the range nikon digi at the time and a really nice bit of kit. He was totally overwhelmed by it, all the bells and whistles on served to confuse and distract him from getting the basics right so he took my advice, got an FM2 and spent a couple of months playing with it. On his return to digital his pictures were much better because he had remembered the basics..

If you don't like the sound of that then here's one that has worked well for me over the years.... green grass is more or less 18% grey. When you look at a subject don't try and work out the tone, look at it and think 'now is that lighter or darker than grass..'

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