Back to Basics
Why going manual isn’t as hard as you think
Taking the mystery out of shooting in manual exposure mode
MANUAL exposure mode, which is indicated by the M on a camera’s mode dial, requires you to set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO in
order to make an exposure. Actually, you can leave the camera to handle the ISO, a feature which we’ll come onto shortly, but you still have to be on your game when it comes to deciding on the best combination of aperture and shutter speed to get the effect you want. It’s not all about the brightness of a picture, you see, but the look that different apertures and shutter speeds can give the image.
Manual mode isn’t as convenient as shooting in one of the camera’s advanced auto-exposure modes. Most of the time, the majority of us can probably get away with shooting in Aperture Priority and dialling in some exposure compensation to fix exposure errors. Shooting raw also offers a safety net, as you can always make the image brighter or darker when you process the file. Of course, you won’t be able to fundamentally change the
exposure – the combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO – so you need to get this right in-camera as the picture is taken.
Where Manual mode trumps all others is in consistency. Once the exposure has been set on the camera, it will stay locked in. As long as the lighting doesn’t change, the level of exposure will be consistent from shot to shot. Auto-exposure modes will adjust the exposure according to what’s being metered. When you shoot a coastal landscape, for example, the exposure can change as breaking white waves crash onto the beach, then roll back down to reveal darker rocks and sand. A manually set exposure wouldn’t show this fluctuation between frames.
Although Manual mode enables you to fix the exposure at the optimum setting, the drawback is that it’s down to you to
Where Manual mode trumps all others is in consistency
aperture Need control over the depth of field – the amount of front-to-back sharpness? Set the aperture first when making a manual exposure.
Shutter speed Shooting action? Set your preferred shutter speed first. You may need to open up the aperture or set a higher ISO to achieve this. sensitivity Low ISO settings give optimum quality, but increasing the ISO allows you to use smaller apertures or faster shutter speeds – or both.