Reading the manual

For the last couple of years I have mostly used my camera in aperture priorty mode, occasionally in shutter priority mode, but never in full manual mode. This means the camera is always deciding some element of the settings for me, rather than me choosing all the settings based on a particularly lighting situation. “Cameras are so intelligent these days,” I would say to myself lazily, switching the camera to AV mode, lying back on the couch and peeling myself another grape. However, as I’ve slowly discovered, my camera isn’t smart enough to deal with things like spotlights, and the camera doesn’t know the shot I’m trying to get. Also, I’m more intelligent than my camera. At least I fervently hope so. And given all those things, I’m the best person to pick the settings to get the shot I’m after, and that means getting off the metaphorical couch and learning how to shoot properly in manual mode.

While technically I know how to change the ISO, aperture and shutter speed, I still feel somewhat unsure about what shutter speed is right for different situations. Unfortunately getting better at that is just a matter of practice – taking a lot of photos until knowing the right settings becomes automatic. And now that I have my new camera body I really would like to get better at shooting in manual, so that’s going to be my approach – switch the camera to manual mode, not let myself change it back, and take a lot of photos until I get a little better at it.

I’m also giving myself a few assignments to complete in an effort to get to know the camera better and improve my manual shooting skills. (Because I couldn’t think of a nerdier weekend project than setting myself photography assignments. Believe me, I tried.) So! My thrilling photography assignments du jour, which I will work on over the next few weeks:

Assignment 1: Meter locking! Where is the button or setting for it, and what difference does it make?
Assignment 2: White on White! Take shots of some white on white still lifes to improve exposing for contrast.
Assignment 3: Macro! Trying to use my macro lens on manual settings. Which I foresee is going to be a little difficult as I find it quite a tricky lens to use on auto. Or! Potentially my camera is too stupid to figure out my macro lens and perhaps it will become much simpler to use in manual mode. I guess it’s possible.
Assignment 4: Focal Point! Figuring out how to adjust them with this new camera which has about two screens worth of menu settings regarding focus, none of which I understand.
Assignment 5: Black and White! Figure out how to do a better conversion in Photoshop than the basic action I currently use.

Once I feel like I’ve got a handle on manual shooting I’m thinking of some other things like trying shooting in RAW again (ugh). But first, manual all the way, until I can claim ninja photographer status and make myself a nice homemade cardboard badge saying as much.

2 thoughts on “Reading the manual

  1. Your photos are fantastic, so I thought you were fully there on manual etc. Imagine what results you’ll get now!

    Every now and then I think I will try shooting in RAW and then I remember how much I HATE post-processing. If cropping and auto-contrast in Picasa don’t make my photo better than how I took it, I bin the photo. BUT I’ve seen people use RAW with my kinda camera (pro-sumer) and get fantastic results I’ve not been able to achieve and I think … maybe I’ll try RAW again … “Ugh”, however, describes it exactly.

  2. Oh, thanks Oanh! I’m already seeing a difference with how much control I’ve got over exposure. I think once I feel I’ve got a handle on that I might give RAW another go, despite my displeasure at the idea.

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