Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Don't use your camera on manual settings

Antwerp successfully preserves a sense of tradition and history, here with the horse drawn carriage and the famous Cathedral in the background, making it attractive to tourists, while at the same time boasting some beautiful modern architecture.

The picture above was a split second grab shot. As usual my Canon EOS 5D was set to AV (aperture priority) and I trusted my light meter to give me the correct exposure. As it happened the background sky was extremely bright and the foreground in deep shadow, so the background was a bit overexposed. Using the RAW file's information I was able to retrieve detail everywhere important.

Read any guide to improving your photography, listen to photographers advice and you'll be told to set your camera to manual. Using program mode is strictly for amateurs we're told. Well I beg to differ and respected photography tutor John Wade shares my viewpoint.

Camera design these days has advanced tremendously and automatic metering has become reliable and accurate 99% of the time. If you used your modern Digital SLR on manual and took the same shot on program mode you wouldn't see any difference. John, in a recent article suggests looking at magazine pictures and asking yourself how many of the images would have required a setting different to the one the camera would have given the photographer if the camera was set to automatic program mode? Very few.

Letting the camera do the technical work frees you up to be creative and concentrate on the important part, taking pictures.

I can just see the die-hards shaking their heads at this blasphemy. Camera on program mode indeed.

So when do you use the camera on manual. Well in my case virtually never. The most important element for me to control is depth of field, so I work in AV (aperture priority). I keep a close eye on my shutter speed to see that it is not going too low, risking camera shake. If I see that there is a risk of camera shake, I up the ISO. I'm continually riding the ISO and changing apertures. The low noise handling of the 5D means I can shoot in very low light. When I do want maximum depth of field and a silky smooth images at 50 or 100 ISO, and the shutter speed would be too slow to hand hold I use a tripod or flash.

On the other hand when I want to control the creative effects I get by using the appropriate shutter speed, for example to blur water in a waterfall or stop sports action, I switch the camera to shutter priority.

But what about situations where traditionally the light meter would be fooled for example a very dark or very bright background? Here I rely on checking the histogram and then using the exposure compensation settings. This solves everything 99% of the time.

Our modern Digital SLRs are fantastic pieces of technology. They're designed to make taking pictures easier and to deliver reliable, high quality results. So my advice is: don't handicap yourself by using your camera on fully manual. Choose program mode for fast convenient results, aperture priority to control depth of field creatively and shutter priority to stop action or allow motion to be visible in your image.

Focus your energy on taking creative pictures not camera settings.
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