How often do you use Manual Mode for your photography? I don’t use it often, but I’m so glad I know how to use it because there are times when I really need it!
Exposing for the city using slow shutter speed
When I’m shooting a sunrise or sunset, I generally use Manual Mode.
When I arrived at this vantage point outside Gordes, France, the sky was completely dark. I’d hoped for some clouds in the sky to reflect the dawn and make it more colorful, but I still had the city lights scattered around the hillside to use for interest. I knew a high f/stop (narrow f/stop) would create a starburst effect with them.
My secret weapon was my tripod. With my camera firmly attached to it, I could set my camera to Manual Mode and control all three variables.
I started by setting my ISO to 100, to avoid digital noise in the shadows. Then, I dialed in f/11 to create the starbursts. Finally, I balanced the exposure with my shutter speed. As the sun rose and lit the city, I would need to adjust the shutter speed to compensate. When I captured this photo, my shutter speed was set to 15 seconds.
Do you remember the book and show, A Year in Provence? This is where Peter Mayle lived when he arrived in France.
Use Manual Mode for Fireworks
I have a fun way of capturing interesting photos of fireworks. It involves a tripod, a remote, and a small piece of black foam core.
I fasten my camera to the tripod and attach the remote trigger. Then, I wait for the very first volley to start. I open and lock the shutter using the remote trigger. Now, it won’t close until I release it. Then, I quickly cover the lens opening with the foam core after the volley is done. And wait for the next one, when I’ll uncover the lens again.
This is more of an art form than a science. In the end, I’ll have a complex photo of fireworks that looks like the grand finale, but without the thick smoke. I’ll link to a post I wrote about this technique at the end of this post.
The settings can be deceptive. In this case, they were f/8, ISO 100 and 25 seconds. However, the lens was covered for most of that time.
Making tourists disappear
Sometimes, tourists are inevitable. Instead of resenting them, make it into a game.
I was out for a walk at about 8:15 on a May evening in Seoul, South Korea, when I took this photo. I had hoped to avoid the heavy rush hour traffic by coming that late. However, I was not alone! There were people everywhere.
Fortunately, I had my tripod with me and planned to use Manual Mode. I scouted out a good angle that would include both the statue of King Sejong in the foreground and Gwanghwamun Gate in the background.
Then, I set my ISO to 100 and my aperture to f/16. Finally, I used my shutter speed to balance the exposure. The resulting shutter speed of 25 seconds allowed most of the people to disappear. The shadowy ones didn’t disappear completely because they were standing fairly still, but I think they offer an interesting hint of humanity.
No tripod? Can we make it work?
For this photo of Château Frontenac in Québec City, Quebec, Canada, I started with a disadvantage. I’d gone out for dinner with my camera but not my tripod. I knew the light in the sky would be gone if I raced back to the hotel to grab my tripod, so I decided to see what I could do without it, by using Manual Mode.
I found a building nearby that I could lean against. Then, I set my camera to Manual Mode. I was hoping for a slow shutter speed to blur the people. Since the blue hour light was fading, I didn’t have much time to try different settings. In the end, I settled for f/4.0, 1/6 second and ISO 400. If I’d had my tripod with me, the shutter speed would have been slower and the ISO would have been 100.
I felt like I’d pulled it off but vowed not to make the same mistake again. Leaning against the building had allowed a slower shutter speed but not one slow enough to make the people disappear. However, my settings did allow a balance between the foreground light and the light of the sky.
Use Manual Mode in bright light
One Saturday morning, I decided to take my tripod to the Farmers’ Market in Williamsburg. I had a secret weapon in my camera bag. I had packed a Neutral Density Filter (ND filter), which is like sunglasses for your lens.
I set up the tripod in a safe area away from foot traffic so I wouldn’t trip anyone. Then, I attached my camera to the tripod and screwed the ND filter to the lens. With an ISO of 100 and an aperture of f/22, I was able to get a good exposure with a shutter speed of 6 seconds.
Since the people were moving away from me or towards me, they didn’t completely disappear. (They need to move across the scene instead.) But this did impart the busy pace of a morning at the Farmers’ Market. Can you see the dog in the foreground? He wasn’t moving much at all. I’m so glad because it allows his elegant costume to be seen.
Use Manual Mode for action
One of my favorite uses for Manual Mode is action photography. Once I’ve determined the correct settings, I leave them and shoot away, searching for the perfect moment.
Our Boston Terrier, Kenzie, is incredibly fast. Sadly, we had a squirrel’s nest in our yard one year. She managed to kill all four baby squirrels when they tried to leave the nest. We filled the nesting space after that so the mother squirrel would have to choose a safer place for her babies.
I love to shoot photos of Kenzie in action, but it can be dangerous. Skip threw her ball towards me one time. Because I was on the ground looking through the lens and shooting, I didn’t have the perspective I needed to realize that she was headed directly at me until she hit my lens. The camera survived. I ended up in physical therapy… 😎
To capture her when she’s chasing a ball, I need a shutter speed of 1/2500th second. I start with that setting and then try for a low aperture number, like f/4. I balance the exposure using the ISO, which ended up at ISO 400 for this photo.
Once I’ve chosen the settings in Manual Mode, I don’t have to worry about them changing if I’m suddenly shooting towards the sun. I know I’ve set the proper exposure for her.
Now it’s your turn
Gather your camera and tripod and head out at dusk or dawn. Start by setting your camera to Manual Mode. Then, set the ISO to 100 (or the lowest number). Your aperture setting will depend on the scene and the available light. It can be raised to allow less light to reach your camera sensor. This will allow a proper exposure at a slower shutter speed. Finally, balance your exposure using your shutter speed. If it’s not slow enough, increase your aperture.
To learn more about Gordes, click here for a detailed article.