February 02, 2010

The Fantastic Manual

I have a friend at my church who is an amateur photographer, like I am. A few months ago, he started reading Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. While we were talking one day, he suggested that I start shooting in manual mode in order to improve my understanding of exposure; he got this tip from Bryan’s book. When I first heard this suggestion, I thought that it was a bit misguided. Surely I could take good photos by shooting in program auto (P), shutter speed (S) or aperture mode (A), right?

Yes, I can – but I’m starting to think that I can take better photos when I turn my camera’s dial to “M.” In P mode, the camera controls both the shutter speed and aperture, though I’m still able to generate different combinations. In S or A mode, I control the corresponding setting, but the camera controls the other one. Relinquishing control to the camera can work either for or against you, especially if the composition of a potential photo is constantly changing. In M mode, I can have more control of my photographs and feel a greater sense of accomplishment when I’m done.

Case in point: at the WinterCity shoots on the weekend, I was planning to shoot in aperture or shutter speed mode. My thinking was that either option would have been easier on my fingers in light of the cold weather, even though I had my new gloves on. If I shot in manual mode, it would have been necessary to simultaneously scroll the command wheel and press a button in order to change the aperture setting. Nonetheless, after finding out that my new glove setup worked very well, M mode was the only way to go.

Mind you, since my DSLR’s rangefinder doesn’t work in manual mode, shooting becomes a bit more difficult, especially with moving subjects. The only way I know I’m in focus is the appearance of a dot in the bottom-left corner of my viewfinder. Having said that, I’ve gone manual for my last few shoots and this has proven to be a minor obstacle.

Chalk up another milestone on my quest to take better photographs. Thanks for the tip, Brian (and Bryan).

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