A Story of Manual (or why I shoot on manual)

I wrote recently about how to shoot on manual and received some very interesting responses. Thank you all for your commenting and support. I am still amazed at how difficult I found it trying to explain and encourage people to shoot with manual. I think I’ve distilled it most by saying : It’s all about the craft man!

Anyway, I wanted to respond to all your comments with a Story of Manual.

I’m walking in the woods. There are sights, sounds and smells and I’m making an effort to totally absorb it all. I am very much present.

All is good. The sun is high. The light is hard and strong filtering down through the high pines. I know I want fine detail and good depth of field for the images I’m about to make. Contrast and latitude come to mind.

I set my exposure in camera and in memory – giving aperture priority though I watch my minimum shutter speed. ISO was chosen before walking into the woods… I make images. Through the trees I see a clearing in full sun. I think +4-5 stops of light. I see potential shots just moments in the future by observing the light through the trees.

Making my way to the clearing my fingers adjusting exposure that -4-5 stops, without looking once at the camera, just mentally counting clicks. I don’t have to be spot on. I want it close so I don’t have correct by 12 clicks when a potential shot arrives. Just 2-3 clicks max. That is enough to get the base exposure set.

I know it’s best to have my exposure set for the light not for the subject. I know if I set it for the subject then it is most likely going to come too late…I need it set BEFORE the shot comes WHATEVER it may be.

I get to the clearing, my exposure already set. Or at least very very close. On the opposite edge of the field I spot Bigfoot standing in the dappled light of a slanted sun through leaves. He smiles at me. Shutter speed I think! Again the fingers move in a reciprocal fashion simultaneously towards a faster shutter speed exposure as I raise the camera – a re-prioritization in an instant. I see an EV of -2/3rds. Close enough. Click.Click.Adjust.Click.Click. I think “tone” mood” “key” – what am I feeling right NOW. I’ll make adjustments quickly and instinctively. Click. Over exposure seems appropriate to capture full shadow detail( don’t want someone telling me my Bigfoot was just a tree due to terrible shadow detail!)

I walk off the field into the open shade of a mountainside. Again I know this is a +4-5 stop change from the previous base exposure I was using. ISO comes to mind. I change my exposure for soft open shade light. I choose a nice balanced exposure not really prioritizing shutter or aperture as I am not sure what I will find ahead of me yet. I can get a good base exposure as long as the light remains the same. I will not think of exposure again for awhile I know.

My eyes are keyed into slight changes of the light – heavier shade or dark recesses, brighter dappling of light, these will need small adjustments, or not – Adjustments of less than ⅓ to 1 stop of exposure are made on a per image basis and not for “correctness”, but for tone, key and mood.

Across the field and out of the woods I come upon a sea. The sun is now low just a few degrees from the horizon. The cirrus clouds are plentiful for golden hour and there are few low clouds on the horizon. Conditions are good for colour and dynamic light. A wide lens goes on and aperture again takes priority. The tripod comes out. Now things have really slowed down. I know I will be in this spot for awhile making a photo every few minutes, but mostly just watching it all happen and feeling most alive! Shutter times get longer as the light leaves. As dark approaches aperture is widened. The stars come out and ISO increases.