Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Intro to Shooting in Manual

If you've ever wanted to break away from your camera's control of the galaxy (ok, ok, your photos) then it's time to learn how to control your camera. We're gonna start cracking the whip here and decide when to use flash. When we want stuff blurry in the background. When we want dinner! Oh wait, my camera refuses to cook me dinner. Well we are going to learn how to shoot in manual. Let's start with an introduction, shall we?

Reader: meet your camera and all it's glorious photo taking possibilities
Camera: say hello to that person who's always pressing your buttons with reckless abandon

I personify almost everything BTW. I'm weird like that. ;)

So here's the thing: when you shoot in automatic, your camera controls the big 3, metering, etc. and you have no say. Camera says "I do what I want!" Now If you shoot in aperture or shutter speed priority (aka training wheel mode) then you can control either aperture or shutter speed and the camera controls the others. Camera is still pretty much calling the shots. But when you shoot in manual you get to boss your camera around! And that's wayyyy more fun.

And now, an intro to shooting in manual...

Photography is light. We create pictures with light. Without light, we have no picture. Too much light results in a "blown out" or overexposed image. Too little light and it's too dark. But just the right amount of light and we have a correct exposure.

So how do you get a correct exposure? One that's not too light or too dark? You control the big 3:  Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Basically you'll always pick one first, then adjust the others accordingly to get a correct exposure. Once you learn how to get a basic correct exposure you can start to be creative and then decide if you want to blur the background or get everything in focus etc.  That's what we call the creative correct exposure. We'll get to that later. For this post we're just going to focus on getting a correct exposure. Not perfect, just enough light and dark to make a picture!  Here's the 411 to get you started:

1. Aperture
The aperture is the “hole” inside the camera that allows light into the lens. The larger the hole, the more light can enter. The smaller the hole, the less light. Think of it as the hole of a faucet. For creativity, the choice of aperture will control the depth of field of a picture. Pictures with shallow depth of field (aka subject in focus, background out of focus) require a large aperture such as f/2.8. Pictures with everything in focus (from front to back) requires a small aperture such as f/22. People get confused with this, because f/22 looks bigger than f/2.8 - I think of it as a fraction (this is kinda not technical but sorta true) so 1/2.8 is much bigger than 1/22. My mom likes to see it as a pizza. Whatever floats your boat!

2. Shutter Speed
The shutter is a “curtain” that opens and closes and determines the length of time light is allowed to enter the camera. Think of this as how long you keep the faucet running. When you're done, you turn the faucet off. Yep, that's it! For creativity, the choice of shutter speed will control motion in a picture. The faster the shutter speed, the more it will “freeze” moving subjects. So if your kids are running-all-willy-nilly fast shutter speed it is. The slower the shutter speed, the more moving subjects will “blur.” Painting with light? Slow shutter speed.

3. ISO
The camera’s sensitivity to light, or ISO, is best thought of as a “boost” of power for your camera. I like to say: it's a Red Bull for your camera.  It gives you wings! Well, a little wing anyway. For creativity, photographers often “bump up” the ISO settings to create a grainy effect in camera. Most of the time though we need the extra boost to shoot in places with less light, such as at the museum where flash is a no no.  Bumping the ISO enables faster shutter speeds in lower light with less blur.  The only thing, as with drinking a crap-ton of energy drinks, there's a trade-off. The higher the ISO the more grain there is in the photo. Either way, it's your call.

4. The Light Meter
The big 3 are super important and all, but really they're nothing without the light meter. To set the proper exposure (for the image you want) you have to use the light meter. The light meter is a device inside the camera that reads how much light is in a scene. Taking a “meter reading” on the subject or scene determines how to set your aperture and shutter speed.

Most DSLRs are automatically set with evaluative metering. How this works is the camera will "see the whole scene" so if you're at a beach, it sees a crazy amount of light.The sand is bright, the water reflects back light... WOW!!! We don't need this much light, underexpose, underexpose!! (that's the camera talking btw.) But really, you still need the light because now uncle Fred in his speedo is too dark. Switching your camera to SPOT metering will enable you to get your meter reading off your subject, whether it's a statue, your baby's face or uncle Fred's ridiculously poor choice in beach attire.

Good to know: the area your light meter takes a reading is usually signified by a big circle (or half circle) in the center of the viewfinder. Just walk up to your subject and fill it with that circle while choosing your settings. Then you can step back and compose the shot, leaving the settings you just chose.

5. Light Meter Indicator
This one little thing confused the crap out of me as a beginner. I kept taking classes and no one would point out this little basic thing: get the tick mark on "0." Anyway, you need the light meter indicator to see what your light meter is telling you and how to set your exposure. Basically all you have to do is make sure the little tic mark is set in the middle or on "0." Once you're on zero you pretty much have a correct exposure.

I say pretty much because the light meter is always a guide. You might find that it's still a little dark or bright and you can adjust for that. For example: you want to shoot in aperture f/2.8 - you set that.  Then you look in the viewfinder and set the shutter speed until the tic mark is in the middle. If the shutter speed is still too slow you can then bump the ISO to help the tic get to the middle. Guess what? You just made a correct exposure!

Overexposed images have too much light. The picture has lost details in my face, my wedding ring, my necklace. Sometimes you can bring back some of the details (if you shoot in RAW) if not, it's gone. When it is completely white we call that "blown out" and the details are gone, you can't recover them.

Not enough light! When shooting in automatic the camera will either pick a slow shutter speed or pop the flash if there's not enough light. When shooting in manual if there's not enough light your images will be similar to the one above or just completely black. No light = no picture.

Yes. A correct exposure. When photographing people take the meter reading off their face or the fairest skin in the group.

It's important to note that the possibilities are endless with shooting a correct "creative" exposure.  You can shoot one subject with different settings, get different results and correct exposure.

Now that we've gone over the basics of shooting in manual, try it out!

Don't worry about composition, perfect light, good focus or creativity... for now just pick an aperture (or shutter speed) then adjust the other to get your light meter indicator to "0" to capture a correct manual exposure. I call this process "setting the light" and just FYI when you get your light set for a certain scene, you don't have to keep reseting it UNLESS the light changes on you. So if you're shooting outside in the same spot for about 5-10 min. and the sun suddenly goes behind a cloud, then you would need to adjust your light and vice versa.

Also, try to be aware that you are not accidentally changing shutter speed when you think you're changing aperture and so on. This can happen easily with beginner cameras that have a button with multiple functions.