- Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
- Exposure and Understanding the Histogram
- Bryan Peterson's Understanding Composition Field Guide
- Bryan Peterson's Understanding Photography Field Guide
- Understanding Flash Photography
- Composition: From Snapshots to Great Shots
- The Complete Photo Manual: 300+ Skills and Tips for Making Great Pictures
- Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second
Digital photography has attracted so many people, both amateurs and professionals, because the electronics of modern digital cameras make picture taking essentially automatic. DSLRs, and even some point-and-shoot cameras and cell phones, have the technology to read light levels, set the exposure, adjust for white balance, determine the correct focus, etc. With all those automatic functions, many photographers have no interest in understanding how to control their cameras, manually. There is still great value in thinking manually, however, even though you are in an automatic mode.
A meaningful argument can be made that the more you know how to use your camera manually, the better photographer you’ll become. That is not the focus of this article, however. What this PhotographyTalk.com article does explain is the value of learning how to balance exposure with a manual approach, when you’re shooting in Av mode (Aperture Value). This concept begins to make more sense if you first consider aperture a more important creative tool than shutter speed. Plus, aperture relates most directly to depth of field, which is often a priority when composing many photos.
In Av mode, the camera selects the correct shutter speed, so you can keep the aperture where you set it. As you’re shooting, you must check the shutter speed, so it is operating at a speed that will produce sharp photos. If you notice that the speed is too slow, then you can select a higher ISO setting, which will result a faster shutter speed. Be aware that you may reach an ISO limit that will then require an aperture adjustment.
Learning Your Camera’s Exposure Limits
Digital cameras are like any electronic devices: They have a range of what they consider “normal” operations. Once you understand your camera’s exposure limits, it will be easier to know when you must take control of the exposure, manually. For example, digital cameras do not read and react to total white or black very well. Take a picture during your skiing vacation on the brightly lit slopes and your camera will tend to underexpose. Your camera reads white as causing bloomed highlights. Conversely, it will read 100% black as the cause of clipped shadows and overexpose your image.
Balancing exposure correctly works differently on the various brands of cameras. For example, if you shoot with a Canon xxD DSLR and are in either Av or Tv mode, adjust the dial on the back of the camera to set the right exposure. In Av, moving the dial in either direction will help you determine that balance with an adjustment of shutter speed to control the amount of light entering the camera. In Tv, the dial modifies the aperture to control the light. This exposure compensation will also be represented graphically on the LCD screen or the viewfinder. At zero compensation, a mark appears in the middle of the exposure meter. The mark moves plus or minus, as you turn the dial.
For Canon Rebel series and Nikon camera users, check the Aperture Value (Canon) or Aperture Priority (Nikon) sections of the camera manual for information about how to balance exposure.
The primary benefit of shooting with a manual approach is that it will save you time, or allow you to shoot more photos in less time. This is because once you learn how to compensate for your camera’s exposure limits, you can expect the shutter speed setting to be correct virtually all of the time. Set your aperture, and shoot. The camera will automatically select the right shutter speed, so you can concentrate on composing and capturing better pictures. If the camera’s exposure system starts trending toward its limits, then it’s probably because the lighting of the scene is changing, which only requires a bit of exposure re-balancing on your part. That’s easy and quick, however, because you understand the concept and how your camera is thinking.
In the final analysis, the value of thinking manually is that it provides you with total control of your camera, if it’s required. Shoot in a studio with consistent light on the subject and you know the exposure won’t change once it is set. The same applies to shooting toward the sun. Digital cameras may be very automatic, but there is still a role for you, as the photographer, to take control when your camera reaches its exposure limits.