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Shooting Mode: Manual

Lesson 11 from: The Beginner Photographer’s Crash Course

Khara Plicanic

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Lesson Info

11. Shooting Mode: Manual

Next Lesson: Flash

Lesson Info

Shooting Mode: Manual

Talk about manual mode. (laughs) My favorite place. But of course, you don't have to shoot in manual mode. Maybe you hate it. That is totally fine. But if you are a control maniac or I think it's also nice, even if you don't ever intend to shoot in manual mode, if you really want to understand how this all comes together and works, at least try it. You will learn so much. And then, you can shoot in the other mode, not because you can't do anything else, or you don't know how, but because you're like, I just don't want to spend the brain power having to work out so much when I'm shooting pictures. So the other modes can save you time and mental effort because you don't have to think about it as much. So that can be nice too. But there are cases where manual mode is really your only choice. They may be rare, but they do exist. So, for example, that one that we talked about earlier in the desert. So let's talk through this picture because I think it's kind of shocking when you look at the...

before and the after. So we were spending the night in the desert camping actually in the Sahara, and I took this photo, as I said, this is just an auto, I just point and shot, and it was, as you can see, very dark, so I couldn't even really see what I was, to compose the scene I was just kinda like, I think this will be good, I don't know. I don't even know what was really being focused on. But I took the picture and I got this horribly gross result. So what's going on? Well, the camera measured the situation and was like, whoa, where are we? In the middle of the desert? (laughs) What are you doing to me? So, it's like, I need flash. 'Cause the camera gets it's a little lazy, right? So, it's always going to reach for the flash unless you explicitly tell it not to. So of course it reaches for flash, because it's like, I don't want to work too hard. Just flash that thing. So it throws the flash out and just hits whatever it hits, some little structures over here, those are the camels you can kinda see their eye reflecting in the flashback. There's little dots there. And that's what we get. The flash of course only goes out six, eight, or so feet. So we have this little ring of light happening, and then of course it's just the black nothingness of the desert. But that was really disappointing 'cause it's actually gorgeous view when we were there. So I thought okay. Let's get this done right. So, for illustration purposes, I actually did put it into night portrait mode 'cause you might be like, well I'm going to shoot a night portrait of that camel. So bust out night portrait mode. And it yielded almost exactly the same result as this. The slight difference, and I didn't include it here, 'cause you really can barely tell, the only thing that it somehow did was you could see slightly more cloud in the sky. That was about it. It really didn't make, 'cause remember that it slows the shutter, but like barely. So it slowed the shutter but not by the extreme amount that we needed to pull off this shot. You could also try some of the other modes, but, and maybe they would work, but it might also take a lot of trial and error, and I was like, I just want to get this and be done, so for me it was like, I'm gonna jump straight to manual mode and just get this. So I switched over to manual mode, it still was not perfect shot, I still couldn't see. I wanted to focus on the camels, but I couldn't see what I was doing, so actually I think the sand in the front is what's in focus right here. And I just set the camera down in the sand, it was on a little, that mini little tripod, just in the sand. And I just guessed, because when you shoot in manual mode, as we'll talk about in a moment, you do have some tools you can use to help you arrive at the correct or good exposure. But you have to be able to see them and I mean it was just dark and my little point and shoot, and I was like, I don't want to spend all night getting this. So I just guessed. And through years of practice, you get better and better at guessing. So this was my guess and I was shocked. I really didn't know what was gonna happen 'cause I really couldn't see very well what I was doing, but I was like, whatever, 15 seconds, let's try it. And the ISO was not very high. The aperture I don't recall. I wanna say it was like middle of the road somewhere. But it wasn't like I maxed out everything. Except the shutter. I think the longest on this camera is 15 seconds, and I just jumped straight to that, and I figured I'd backtrack as needed, and then this popped up on my screen and I was like, whoa, I'll keep it. That's great. Back to the bonfire. So that is really the difference that can come from manual mode or not. 'Cause that would be pretty sad if you were all the way there, having this great experience, and that, I mean if you like this photo, and that's what you wanted, then good for you. (laughs) Yay, you are so easy to please, lucky you. But if you're like, I can do better. We're all the way here. Let's do better. Then it's great to be able to know enough to do better. So how do you do that? So if you're shooting in manual mode, how on earth do you know what you're doing? Or what your settings should be? Well, I'd like to say that it's just 'cause you're really good, and gifted, and talented, and brilliant, but really there's this thing called the light meter and it tells you. It tells you basically what to do. At least it tries. I don't always listen, but it tries. So if you've ever looked through your viewfinder, and you have seen this, but you may not recognize it. People look at stuff on their cameras all the time and don't have any, they don't know what they're looking at, so they don't remember. And they'll tell me, I don't have that. And I'm like, yes you do. And they say, no I really don't. And I look, and like it's right there. So you might see this when you look through your viewfinder, or something similar. So we'll look at how this looks like. So it's probably some place down at the bottom. It might be in the center, it might be off to one of the sides, but it's some sort of little gradient I want to say, but spectrum like this. So it's a little range, okay? And you also will possibly see it at the top of your camera, when you look down on the little display. You might also see it if you look on the back, like on your LCD screen. Although, here's a tip for you, turn that off. Just turn it off. Because it drains your battery. To be choosing your settings by looking at your LCD, it's gonna drain your battery. And really, I think it's a better practice to be used to controlling it while you look through the viewfinder. 'Cause it's just I think in the end a more streamlined approach. And it'll save you battery so that's good. So you wanna get used to making decisions and controlling your camera and stuff from looking through your actual viewfinder and dealing with what is there. So what that is telling you is that's this. That's your whole exposure triangle talking to you. That's your camera saying I'm measuring light and here's what you've got to work with. And then it's your job to balance it out. So how do we balance it? So they had that question in the previous segment. So how do you rebalance this or what does this work? So here's your answer. Sorry that I pushed it all the way to this segment. But here's how you do it. So if you're shooting in manual mode, you're balancing that out. So let's just really simplify this, and again I'm not gonna get in to specific numbers because they do not matter. They do not matter. What matters is that you understand more light, less light, that's about it, 'kay? So I made this graphic that I hope is very clear and simple. So on the left we have that sun up there at the top. That's representing more light. (laughs) The sun at the bottom is representing less light, right? Then, this triangle here is split out into amounts of light. So we have the S for shutter speed, and how much light the shutter speed is letting in or not, the aperture, and the ISO. How much they're influencing the exposure, I should say. And then over here we have, what the camera meter is reading. So if you're shooting in manual mode, and we'll walk through this in the bonus video for anyone who buys the course, I'm going to walk through this process with the camera taking pictures, but, so I'm in manual mode, I'm gonna look through my viewfinder, and I'm pointing the camera at the scene, the camera's measuring the light, and it's communicating to me how much light there is or isn't with this little meter. So it reads from minus two to plus two, and some cameras are different. They may say plus or minus five, but usually two, maybe three. So it's showing minus two means that whatever scene I'm pointing it at, with my current settings whatever they are, who knows what they are, it's just saying my current settings combined with my current scene is not enough light. By it's at least two cups full of light off, or away from what it thinks is good. Now its definition of good is totally up for debate, but we gotta start somewhere, okay? So it's telling me hey, you are like so under. You do not have enough light. Whatever my settings are. Doesn't even matter. So, when I look at that, I'm like, oh, okay so it's too dark. What are my choices to fix that? Well, I can do three things. Let's just say I choose to adjust my aperture first. So, I adjust the aperture, so that there's more light coming in, right? So if we go back we see my fancy graphics. We see the aperture, look at that, woo! It's letting in more light. So we have more light coming in now. To do that, we would change the aperture to make it wider, right? So the numbers would go down, so like F four instead of F 11, or something. So we're opening the aperture, more light is coming in, and look at that. Our meter now says, congratulations. Now you're only one cup of light. One F-stop away from a good exposure. So let's say our aperture is open as wide as it can go now. But we're still not having enough light. Well then what do we do? Well, we still have shutter speed and ISO. So let's say, we go to the shutter and we slow it down. That adds more light, and now the meter says, oh good job, you did it. (laughs) Yay for you. 'Kay, so maybe that works for us. We take a test shot. And luckily for us, in this digital era, we can see right away if we're still way off or what. Right? When I was in school doing all of this stuff, first of all, my camera was so, I mean it was not digital at all, you could operate the whole thing without batteries. You could take pictures, there were no batteries, the only thing that the batteries powered was the light meter. And the light meter didn't even tell you plus or minus two or, the little ticks in between are thirds of a stop, right? So each number on the meter is considered a stop. Remember how we talked about light is measured in stops? So those are thirds of a stop. So this little meter on this camera it just, it had a plus and a minus, and it just was a needle. Like an actual, physical needle, not a digital display, it was a physical needle that went oh, more light or less light. It was so goofy. But anyway, that was the only thing the battery powered. So that was nice. You could still get photos without it. But you had to guess. And you had to write down all your exposure settings, so you could refer back to them later. So digital is great. Let's say we go back now to, to being two stops under. Let's say we don't want to change our shutter or our aperture setting. Well of course then we could take the ISO and maybe we jack that way up. Maybe, oh I did adjust the, oh I guess the shutter speed moved too. I don't think I meant to do that. But we'll go with it. So maybe you adjust your ISO and your shutter because you really don't want to move your aperture. And then you can get zero. So the goal sort of is, ideally, is to get the meter happy. You want to just get a good exposure. That might mean that you get the meter to zero. It might mean that you push the meter past zero, or still leave it under. That will depend on your scene and metering, and we'll talk about that in the next segment. But for now when we talk about how would you approach manual mode and have any idea what you're doing, you just want to make sure that you're able to read the meter and adjust your settings accordingly. Does that make sense? And like we talked about in the previous segment, there's no right or wrong, it's just picking one or the other and, or a combination of them to get to the result that you want. What questions do you guys have about that? Jose? When you display it that way, sounds like your ISO is your point of reference, and then the F-stops are trying to get what it considers a full exposure on the ISO. Is that kind of? Well, I like to think of the ISO as the enabler. So it's actually, it's the last piece that I would ever mess with. Because it doesn't change time or motion, or depth of field or anything. It just enables you to get the shutter where you want, I mean hopefully, or the aperture. So usually when I approach a scene, if I'm just walking into a room, or like when I shoot weddings, and I'm like, okay, I'm in this building, and what am I gonna do? I'll look around at the light, and if it's a well-lit environment, I'll set my ISO to two or 400, and then I'm like, I'm just gonna leave it there unless something in the light really changes, and then I'll need to jack it up, or if suddenly they're like, and now the ceremony is gonna be lit by candles, then and all the lights go out, then I'm gonna jack the ISO way up as needed. But the ISO is the, usually it's the last thing that I worry about. So I might set it first, just because, then I can forget about it. And then, and usually because I like to shoot wide open, with the aperture wide open, so usually my approach is, I walk into the room, I look at the light, if it's really bright I'll set a low ISO. If it's really pretty dark, I'll set a high ISO. I'll make the shutter speed, or I'll set the aperture to like 2.8, 'cause I'm shooting with a shallow depth of field most of the time. So I usually just leave my aperture there. I leave my ISO based on the environment and then I really just adjust the shutter speed to equal it all out. If I get into a situation where okay now maybe the sun is going down, I'm starting to lose some light, and I'm no longer achieving a good exposure, without slowing my shutter past the point of like now I need a tripod, which is not feasible for me on a wedding day, then I'll start jacking the ISO up. So I use the ISO to be able to maintain or achieve whatever I'm trying to do with my shutter or my aperture. Does that make sense? Yeah, it does 'cause I too played around with film. And I remember there was like a ISO for a bright day, ISO 800 for a dark day. Right, exactly. And that's kinda how I set it in that reference. Right so, in a bright environment, you don't need as much ISO. And really with ISO you want it to be as low as you can quote get away with is what I say. Because it does add noise. Or it just makes the file a little less clean. So that's why you don't just walk around and be like, well I'll just leave my ISO on 8,000 or whatever, like all day, because then I have plenty of light. Well, yeah, but you don't need all of that light. And your shutter speed and aperture might not be able to cope with that much light. And so it's just that balancing act. And it really just changes all over the place depending on what you're doing. But the ISO is the one that I just, I leave it alone until I need to mess with it. Otherwise I keep it as low as I can. And with time it's really trial and error. And I know no one likes to hear that because you're like, I just wanna be good at this and get going right now. But only by suffering through this, will you, and really learning by fire, that's when you'll really just appreciate it, and it will make sense to you, and then you can so rock that because you just own it. Right? I mean it's great. Like I'm so glad that where I am now after years of doing this is I can walk into a room and be like, I'll try like ISO 400 and my aperture's almost always wide open. So I don't worry about that too much. So then I'm just trying to temper that wide open aperture with the lowest ISO I can and a shutter speed that makes sense. So, yeah it's a fun thing, but it really does take practice. So don't be discouraged. And you should also know, if you're at home trying this and you're in manual mode and you're like, oh I got my meter set to zero, and it still looks dark, or it looks, you should also keep in mind that this meter is a complete guide. It is a complete recommended, if we all just went with our recommended music on whatever music station we like or internet service, you'd probably be like, what, why do they think I like that? It's a recommendation. It's based on measurements but they may or may not be accurate for what you're trying to do. And we'll talk about that in the next segment about metering modes and how you can change that, and how it influences the way that the meter works. But very often, the way that I shoot, I like to backlight my subjects quite often. So that means that I have a bright light source behind them, regularly. Which confuses the heck out of the camera, right? 'Cause I also, I don't mess with changing my metering modes too much because it's just, I don't have time for that. I'm just like not into it. But you can, and that would give you a more accurate reading. Then you could more accurately rely on the meter, but I guess through trial and error, I've just gotten good at knowing when the meter's confused. And knowing in what way it's confused, and how much it's confused, and then I just leave my metering where it is. And I'll just know I probably want to choose my settings so that my meter says plus one. So the camera's going, oh my gosh, you are one stop of light too bright, and I'm like yeah, but I know that you're confused and this'll actually give me a good result. So there's that too. So you really don't have to live and die by that meter and whatever it's telling you. So I guess just really, that's a starting place, but I also like my images to be bright. And probably on the slightly overexposed side. I just, I love it. They have a more happy, ethereal look to them. And so I look for that. I look for environments where I know I can achieve that. And then that's actually what I'm doing. So when I am shooting, I am almost always, my camera's going, ah plus one, plus one. You know I always think of that movie, Gremlins. Oh, now I'm dating myself here. I don't know if younger people remember Gremlins, but when I was growing up, it was a movie in the 80s with a little creature and he was very sensitive to light. And he would always be like, light bright, light bright. And so sometimes I think the camera is yelling at me, like light bright, what are you doing? You're plus one all the time, and I'm like yes, I like it that way. So don't feel bad. And that's what's nice about manual mode is you can just change everything on a whim and get whatever you want. But it does take practice, so don't feel like oh man, I can't figure out manual mode. Just try it. And when you're trying that for the first time, don't make your subject a toddler or something really challenging because it is hard, and you're juggling those three settings, so practice on still lifes. Take a picture of your coffee mug, or your plant, or whatever is around that's not moving and that in a situation where you have good light too. I wouldn't suggest that you try manual mode and try this for the first time at night when you're in bed trying to read up on the stuff and then you're like, oh it's dark, and, no. Wait 'til the daytime, go by a window, set up a pretty little something, and then practice. Put your camera in manual mode, read the meter, whatever settings you're at, don't worry about picking your settings. That's the other thing. I think people are like, where do I start? You start wherever you are. So, don't worry about it. Look at your meter, and then just think, do I need to add more light or take away more light? And then change your settings accordingly. That's it, 'kay? That's why I purposely when I show this, and when I explain this, I don't have numbers here for your shutter speed and stuff because it doesn't matter. And it's nice when we, in books and stuff, you see exposure information included, and that's nice but unless you are in that exact scene at that exact moment in time, it's really irrelevant to you. Except for a very broad sense. So I just wish I could include photos like that and be like, fast shutter speed, slow shutter speed, squinty aperture or wide open aperture. 'Cause I think that's more helpful. A lot of times people will ask, well what was your exposures, and what's your shutter speed for that? And I'm like, fast enough. Or slow enough, right? So try not to get caught in the details. I think that freaks people out, and then it becomes a roadblock and a stumbling block, and you really just need to think more light, less light, how am I gonna get there?

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Bonus Video - Shooting In Natural Light HD
New Camera Setup

Ratings and Reviews

Kate Ambers

Khara is awesome! She really breaks down how the camera works, photography terminology, and technique. She does it all with a fun and entertaining personality and really makes it easy to understand what you are learning! I love this course!!! So worth it!

Holly Cooper

Loved this course and have recommended it to a friend who is looking to purchase his first DSLR. This course is perfect for beginners or someone who is self taught and who has picked a few bits up along the way; Khara then puts all these little bits of information together. I feel like the pieces have come together for me and I have taken my best/favourite photographs after watching these videos. Thank you CL and Thank you Khara x


I’ve taken a number of excellent courses from Creative Live, and this very thoughtfully organized, well taught class took me from “I love photography but I’ll never get how to do it” to “wow I get it!” It created a huge shift (finally!) for me. There is an intelligent simplicity that really does make for lightbulb moments. I’m extremely grateful for this class. Now I can go back and watch the others courses again and they will make much more sense and I can apply what I learned here.

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