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The Importance Of Using Your Camera In Manual Exposure Mode

During my Introduction to photography classes, in Washington DC,  when introductions are made,  one of the questions I ask is,  what is it that they’d like to get out of  the class.

Most, if  not all, of  the class wants to learn how to “make better pictures”. That’s a fairly vague statement so, usually, I  press the question what does a “better picture” mean?

For most photographers, if not all, a better picture means “getting the picture to look like what we want it to look like”.

The  only way to do that is to start to learn and understand the “craft” of photography. The only way to learn and understand the craft  of photography is to begin  understand how your camera works and how to work your camera in manual exposure mode.

When you work your camera in manual exposure mode you, not your camera,  pick your aperture, shutter speed and ISO(exposure settings). When you are working in an auto exposure mode your camera does this for you.

The advantage of learning to work in manual exposure mode is that  you begin to see and understand the visual outcomes of your exposure setting choices. Once you begin to make your exposure setting choices with visual effects in mind you are using exposure creatively and you are now using a thought process (instead  of  an auto-program in your camera) that will make your photography uniquely yours.

What does “making better pictures” mean to you?

Learn To Work You Camera In Manual Exposure Mode

18 thoughts on “The Importance Of Using Your Camera In Manual Exposure Mode”

  1. I think there are several elements to making better photographs.

    1. There are the mechanical/technical aspects of photography…that is to say, learning how to use the camera to capture the subject with the exposure, depth of field and focus bringing the eye of the viewer on the subject YOU HAVE SELECTED to show to the viewer.

    2. Then there is the IDEA of what you are showing. Is it some sort of social or poltical commentary? Someting humorous? A landscape? A mood?

    3. At some point you need to make a judgement about the idea you want to present. More often than not, much of what is presented to us as “art” or “social commentary” is a trite or well-worn cliché.

    1. Hi John,

      I see number one as the understanding and application of craft.

      Number two as subject or concept.

      Number three as how you, as the photographer, present that subject or concept.

      I agree most images are a trite or well-worn cliché.In this case I think the photographer is doing what they see as “safe”.

      The other option, which if done correctly, will not produce a trite or well-worn cliché. This option requires the photographer to try to visually communicate their personal experience or perception of what they are photographing. Since none of us experience or perceive the same thing in the same way, I see this as the only way to produce a truly unique photograph.

  2. I think there are several elements to making better photographs.

    1. There are the mechanical/technical aspects of photography…that is to say, learning how to use the camera to capture the subject with the exposure, depth of field and focus bringing the eye of the viewer on the subject YOU HAVE SELECTED to show to the viewer.

    2. Then there is the IDEA of what you are showing. Is it some sort of social or poltical commentary? Someting humorous? A landscape? A mood?

    3. At some point you need to make a judgement about the idea you want to present. More often than not, much of what is presented to us as “art” or “social commentary” is a trite or well-worn cliché.

    1. Hi John,

      I see number one as the understanding and application of craft.

      Number two as subject or concept.

      Number three as how you, as the photographer, present that subject or concept.

      I agree most images are a trite or well-worn cliché.In this case I think the photographer is doing what they see as “safe”.

      The other option, which if done correctly, will not produce a trite or well-worn cliché. This option requires the photographer to try to visually communicate their personal experience or perception of what they are photographing. Since none of us experience or perceive the same thing in the same way, I see this as the only way to produce a truly unique photograph.

  3. honestly, i’m taking this class in order to understand how to work my camera in manual mode. i am pretty pleased with my “photographic eye.” i like the composition and subjects i use. however, i shoot solely in automatic mode. and i know that my photos could be even better if i could better control the aspects that make up the entire photo – not just its composition.

    1. Hi Melanie,

      Those other aspects that you’d like to control are elements of composition too. If you’ve been working your camera in auto mode the only elements of composition you are controlling are framing and content.

  4. honestly, i’m taking this class in order to understand how to work my camera in manual mode. i am pretty pleased with my “photographic eye.” i like the composition and subjects i use. however, i shoot solely in automatic mode. and i know that my photos could be even better if i could better control the aspects that make up the entire photo – not just its composition.

    1. Hi Melanie,

      Those other aspects that you’d like to control are elements of composition too. If you’ve been working your camera in auto mode the only elements of composition you are controlling are framing and content.

  5. Making better pictures means two things for me: slowing down to see the everyday as if for the first time and knowing my camera/computer well enough that working it is second nature and it becomes an extension of my eye.
    I was walking around DC yesterday and passed by a dry cleaners near Dupont where I heard the sound of a French horn. Instead of doing what I’d normally do — walk by — I went in and listened and struck up a conversation with the dry cleaner/musician. After asking permission and taking a few shots, I saw how yellow the images looked — I’d forgotten about changing my white balance. Knowing how to do that saved the day, and I now have visual reminders to take a moment and check the WB setting before I shoot.
    I also have some nice, true-color pictures of this hard-working gentleman who stands in his shop and practices from a Korean hymnal so it’ll sound sweet on Sunday.

    1. Hi Pete,

      Your comment is an excellent example that good photography is a thoughtful process.

      In your case the process involved exploring something that grabbed your attention, developing a relationship with the person you intended to photograph and then composing your picture using your personal perception and the controls on your camera to get the picture that you wanted.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. Making better pictures means two things for me: slowing down to see the everyday as if for the first time and knowing my camera/computer well enough that working it is second nature and it becomes an extension of my eye.
    I was walking around DC yesterday and passed by a dry cleaners near Dupont where I heard the sound of a French horn. Instead of doing what I’d normally do — walk by — I went in and listened and struck up a conversation with the dry cleaner/musician. After asking permission and taking a few shots, I saw how yellow the images looked — I’d forgotten about changing my white balance. Knowing how to do that saved the day, and I now have visual reminders to take a moment and check the WB setting before I shoot.
    I also have some nice, true-color pictures of this hard-working gentleman who stands in his shop and practices from a Korean hymnal so it’ll sound sweet on Sunday.

    1. Hi Pete,

      Your comment is an excellent example that good photography is a thoughtful process.

      In your case the process involved exploring something that grabbed your attention, developing a relationship with the person you intended to photograph and then composing your picture using your personal perception and the controls on your camera to get the picture that you wanted.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. Stephane Beserra

    Hello Sam!
    I’m registered to take your next External Flash workshop and I was wondering if you could maybe help me choose a good one to buy.
    I’m not looking for the most expensive, fancy stuff, since I’m not really into using flash; I want a good deal – a flash that is good and gives me the basics.
    I shoot with a Canon 7D. Do you have any suggestions?
    I know it’s up to me and all, but since I know nothing about flashs, I just thought I’d ask.
    Thank you for your attention!
    Stephane.

  8. Stephane Beserra

    Hello Sam!
    I’m registered to take your next External Flash workshop and I was wondering if you could maybe help me choose a good one to buy.
    I’m not looking for the most expensive, fancy stuff, since I’m not really into using flash; I want a good deal – a flash that is good and gives me the basics.
    I shoot with a Canon 7D. Do you have any suggestions?
    I know it’s up to me and all, but since I know nothing about flashs, I just thought I’d ask.
    Thank you for your attention!
    Stephane.

  9. Bryan,

    You’ve pointed out exactly why shooting in manual mode is so helpful.

    Not only will you be able to create more thoughtful compositions, but since you have a good understanding of photography, you can learn more easily from your mistakes.

    I hope all is well with you too and I’m happy to learn that you are enjoying my posts and the content on the site.

    Thank you for your participation.

    Sam

  10. Bryan,

    You’ve pointed out exactly why shooting in manual mode is so helpful.

    Not only will you be able to create more thoughtful compositions, but since you have a good understanding of photography, you can learn more easily from your mistakes.

    I hope all is well with you too and I’m happy to learn that you are enjoying my posts and the content on the site.

    Thank you for your participation.

    Sam

  11. I still and always shoot entirely in manual mode, and this is how I continue to push myself, think through taking pictures, screw up and figure out what I did wrong, or nail it and know what I did right or like about it. I like having the control over what I’m taking, and also the accountability for how the photos turn out.

    Hope all is well with you. I’m enjoying your posts and content on your site. Thanks for all you’re providing!

    Bryan

  12. I still and always shoot entirely in manual mode, and this is how I continue to push myself, think through taking pictures, screw up and figure out what I did wrong, or nail it and know what I did right or like about it. I like having the control over what I’m taking, and also the accountability for how the photos turn out.

    Hope all is well with you. I’m enjoying your posts and content on your site. Thanks for all you’re providing!

    Bryan

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