Josef “Jeff” Sipek

Manual Exposure Thoughts

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently bought a Nikon D750. There is one big thing I did not anticipate happening—I have been shooting mostly in manual mode. (On the D70, I was almost always in aperture-priority mode.)

Using manual mode makes me think about the exposure which leads to thinking about the other stuff—composition, DOF, etc. I am not going to say that my shots are spectacular as a result, but I certainly think that they are better thought out. I do not know how long it will be before I decide that it is a terrible idea and I revert to aperture-priority. :)

I always thought that manual mode was too slow to set up for capture-the-moment type photography. It turns out that in general, it is not slower than semi-automatic modes like aperture-priority.

The secret here is that one can get close to the correct exposure way before the decisive moment. For example, while walking around on a sunny day, one can meter the surroundings and select a good ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Then, when something interesting is happening, it is a matter of tweaking the exposure—by changing the aperture or shutter speed a little bit. This is something one has to do anyway in the semi-automatic modes. Of course as one continues walking around one needs to notice the light changing and adjust the approximate exposure.

Worst case, the exposure is off a little bit. Shooting raw however means that even if it is off by 2EV, the shot is not lost. This is very similar to how things were back in 35mm film days.

While it sounds like extra work, it really is not. Even if one is in a semi-automatic mode, one needs to have a reasonable exposure setting to begin with. On my D70 in aperture-priority mode, I have missed a number of shots over the years simply because I was at f/22 and it takes forever to scroll through 5EVs worth of aperture settings in 1/3 EV increments, or worse yet my ISO was set either too low or too high. Had I paid attention to available light and pre-adjusted the exposure in anticipation of taking a shot, I would have lost fewer shots.

With that said, semi-auto modes make a ton of sense in certain situations, but I am sticking with manual-mode for now.


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