Moving on from Automatic modes
In this article we are looking at moving on from automatic modes in your camera.
If you have have already read our article Learning Exposure then hopefully you will have a better understand of what ISO, Shutter Speed and Apertures are.
I recommend that you try out the little experiments that I have suggested in each articles as it much easier to do rather than to read.
Auto and Programme modes
Depending on what type of camera you use it’s likely that if it is a DSLR then you will have at least two Automatic settings. They are AUTO and P (Programme). There isn’t really anything wrong with these settings, your camera is pretty smart at taking an image with a good exposure. But as I’ve mentioned before, your camera is always looking for an average ISO, and average shutter speed and an average f stop (aperture). What results is an average image.
First I’m going to just go through the differences between AUTO and Programme modes. You might hear P being referred to as Professional mode. Trust me this is done in jest. The biggest difference is that AUTO mode will take control of everything, if it is dark your flash will pop up and the camera will also control your ISO.
In Programme mode your camera will only control the Aperture and shutter speed. You can of course set your ISO to auto but honestly I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that.
Move your camera setting to M (Manual) and you have the full control. The flash will only pop up if you tell it to (or if you have one attached to the camera). You control the Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO.
Now the only thing to do is to work out how to get a great exposure.
Capturing a great exposure
There are three ways to do this and with all of these I do recommend checking the back of your camera (but only as a confirmation). This will let you know that you are on the right path.
The preview image on the back of your camera is fairly accurate but it’s not really designed for calculating exposure. Yes you could use the histogram but I’m not going to get into that right now!
Here are your three options for taking an exposure reading
1. Rely on years of experience and guess what the exposure is.
2. Use a light meter
3. Use your camera’s built in light meter.
The chances are you’re probably going to start off with the third option. Different cameras have various light meter setting from spot metering to average readings.
Start of simple and use whatever your default setting is, most likely an average setting.
You’ll see by looking through the viewfinder a digital exposure needle moving left to right depending on how you change your settings. Get that needle in the middle and there’s your average light setting.
Bare in mind that you could have very bright areas of your scene and very dark. This is typical in landscape photography so you might want to adjust your settings to compensate.
Choose three different settings with different types of light source. For example; A wide landscape, an interior shoot with natural light coming through the windows and something in the middle like a portrait taken outside in the shade.
Set your camera up on a tripod to keep the same position
Take at least three images of each scene.
One image with the meter reading meddle dead in the middle
A second image with the meter reading needle set to -1
A third with the meter reading set to +1
You can extend this to two more shots per scene -2 and +2
Take a look at the images and see how they change the exposure for different scenes. Make a note of preferences for future use
Aperture and shutter priority modes
We’ve talked about moving on from Automatic modes on your camera but there’s still the small matter of those other two settings on your camera’s dial A and S.
What do they stand for then?
A stands for Aperture priority mode. This is pretty much the same as program mode inasmuch as you still have control over your ISO and flash control but you have control over your Aperture and your camera decides your Shutter speed.
S stands for shutter priority and is exactly the same but this time you have control over the shutter speed and your camera takes care of the aperture.
Why use Aperture Priority?
Typically if you want to achieve a consistent depth of field then you would use Aperture Priority. For example, if you where photographing a scene where you wanted everything from the foreground to the background in focus then it’s likely that you’d want to shoot on something like f11 or even f22. If the area you are photographing is quite dark then on automatic mode you camera would tend to use a faster aperture (closer to f2.8). Obviously this will give you a shallow depth of field and either the background or foreground will be out of focus.
The reverse is also true. If you are photographing a portrait in bright sunlight but still wanted the background to fall out of focus then you would want to use a wide open fast aperture like f2.8. If you use Aperture priory in this situation then your camera will compensate but using a fast shutter speed (to let less light in).
Why use Shutter priority?
Capturing movement in an image can be really creative and control over your shutter speed is paramount.
I you are photographing action, then a fast shutter is needed. In shutter priority your camera will then use a wide open aperture to let as much light into the camera to compensate for the fast shutter speed which won’t let much in.
Again the reverse applies. Slow shutter speeds are great for photographing streams for artistic seascapes as they blur the water to an almost mystical effect. I you are doing this make sure you use a tripod to insure the rest of the scene which isn’t moving is perfectly focused and not the victim of camera shake.
I thought I should do mention this as automatic ISO settings work very well with shutter and aperture priority settings. The problem is in consistency. A high ISO image will have lots of grain and won’t perhaps work well in a landscape scene. It’s also a problem if your are photographing a sequence of images and you need a consist look. By pointing the camera just slightly in one direction you can not only dramatically change the amount of light needed for a good exposure but your camera could change the ISO considerably too.
I would personally shoot a couple of frames on AUTO ISO to begin with and if I am happy with the suggested ISO that the camera is giving me then I would dial in that ISO manually and continue on whatever priority mode I wanted to shoot on.
For Aperture priority
Photograph a portrait in three different settings using Aperture priory with a fast f stop of around f4 or lower.
Three lighting setting could be bright sunlight, window light and artificial light (inside)
Photograph these three setting first on auto ISO and then on an ISO of about 400
For Shutter Priority
Find that overpass with lots of fast moving cars or even a waterfall.
Set up your camera with a tripod
Start with your setting on S and shutter speed on about a second
Continue taking images whilst changing the shutter faster and faster until you reach its limit.
Do the same on an ISO of around 400 and on AUTO.