How to Nail Exposure using Manual Mode

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my Instagram account is full of images

like this and there are very deep

shadows and I'm making sure and I've

made a video about this in the past

called protect your highlights that the

brightest highlights and image are

exposed correctly and everything else

can fall very dark and a lot of my

street photography is shot like this


one of the biggest questions I get asked

about this sort of photography is how

are you exposing for that shot

what sort of metering are you using

specifically are you using aperture

priority shutter priority auto ISO you

in full auto exposure compensation where

are you setting it or using spot

metering or evaluative metering and the

answer is I take all of that stuff out

of the equation and I only shoot in

manual mode now let me say right up

front I don't think I'm better than

anyone because I shoot in manual mode

and I'm not some kind of snob that says

you should always shoot in manual mode

or you're not a real photographer

because that's obviously rubbish if you

shoot aperture priority or whatever you

choose to use as a mode and it works for

you absolutely carry on but I want to

share in this video about why I choose

to shoot in manual mode and why for the

sort of photography whether it's studio

photography or portraits outdoors or

street photography for me shooting in

manual mode I actually find it easier

and I find it faster they get the

exposure that I actually want in camera

I still shoot aperture priority every

now and again for events or when things

are moving fast is definitely the way to

go but for 95% of the photography I do I

have the time to set the exposure

exactly the way that I want to and

because I'm a little bit of a control

freak I want to take full control and

not let the camera do any of the

thinking for me and it took me a while

to get there when I started out in

photography I lived in aperture priority

I just stuck the aperture as low as

possible because that's what you do when

you get lenses that have a nice shallow

depth of field and I just shot

everything aperture priority and I

thought that was the way to do things

and it was less an artistic decision if

I'm honest on my part and it was more

because I was afraid of shooting manual

because I assumed it was so complicated

I wouldn't be able to get a handle on it

so I'm gonna demystify manual mode for

those of you who might be a bit

intimidated to go to manual and that's

why you're sticking to metering modes

it's really not that complicated and

there's only a few things to think about

and anyone who wants to go professional

in the long run it's a great thing to do

to know how to take full control of your

camera balance the different elements to

get exactly the exposure you want

because I think you'll work faster and

you'll be more consistent in the shots

that you get so let's explain this okay

so let's start out with the basics every

camera is basically to differ

elements and the one is going to be your

lens and the other is going to be your

body obviously this is a camera split in

half sort of down the middle so this is

the basically out of an old DSLR but

mirrorless it's the same principle as

well we now have three different

elements that we can change within our

camera to change our exposure the one is

going to be ISO the other is going to be

shutter speed and the last one is

aperture okay and within these three

elements this is how we can change the

exposure using our manual mode ISO

relates to our sensor over here this

would have been film in the old days and

this could be made more or less

sensitive to light coming into the

camera in the old days you would choose

a higher AAS a number so if you wanted

to shoot indoor events or something like

a music gig at night you choose 1600

film speed if you're shooting in the

bright sunlight you choose 100 so this

is usually denoted by some kind of

number from a hundred sort of through to

1600 obviously much higher now with

modern cameras so this is our ISO in the

middle here we've got a shutter speed

this is usually a mirror on a DSLR that

flips up to reveal the center for an

amount of time and the amount of time it

stays open

obviously lets more light through to the

sensor to be caught in the image so that

amount of time that it's left open to

let light in is called shutter speed

shutter speeds usually denoted by a

fraction unless you're shooting long

shutter speeds so one over 4000 would be

a fast shutter speed right through to

say half a second would be quite a slow

shutter speed that's the amount of time

that slopes open to let light through in

to be caught on the sensor and the last

piece is our aperture aperture is

denoted as as the as the little ring

inside the actual lens which opens and

closes to let light in that is

determined the bigger that hole is this

aperture obviously is open it lets more

light in through as the mirror opens and

to be caught on the sense that the

smaller its open obviously it will let

less light through and aperture is

usually denoted by an F number so very

very wide open

a really big aperture would be something

like 1.4 and say f-16 would be quite a

small aperture and these are the only

three elements we have to learn about to

be able to balance our exposure manually

okay so once you know the three elements

that make up any exposure you know the

basics of your exposure triangle and the

three things are again ISO shutter speed

and aperture okay once you know these

it's just a case of balancing these out

these three elements to get the correct

exposure the light in the correct place

in your image so let's say that we want

to iso is going to run let's say from

100 to 6400 okay there's cameras

obviously they go way past 6400 that's

not the point this is just for

illustration SiC so down this end this

would be a darker exposure and at the

top here this would be a lighter

exposure bringing in more light for our

shutter speed let's put our darker

exposure down this end let's say one

over eight thousandth of a second would

be a very fast shutter speed that

wouldn't bring in much lighten up at our

bright end here let's say we had

something like eight seconds okay like a

landscape photographer leaving the

shutter open for a long period of time

brings in a lot of light they have to

control but also it'll slow the motion

down which will look great okay and

everything in between and obviously

there's stuff outside these ranges every

camera is different for aperture

priority let's say f-22 right at the top

is a very very small aperture opening

wouldn't bring in much light and on this

end let's say F 1.4 that's quite a wide

aperture opening you can get lenses a

good answer naught point 9 5 and other

things but just for the sake of example

now to create any exposure all I'm going

to do is balance these three elements

against each other so if I want more

light I could bump my ISO up I could

slow my shutter speed down or I could

open up my aperture any of those three

if I'm looking at my exposure saying

it's too bright I could darken it down

by closing down my aperture by speeding

up my shutter speed or by dropping my


those are my three options and all you

need to know to make a good exposure is

what the trade-offs are for each of

these sites so shutter speeds trade-off

is movement okay and that just means

that when you close down or speed up

your shutter speed what it's going to do

is affect how movement appears up here

if you shot something with eight seconds

shutter speed it's going to blur but if

you shouldn't want eight thousandth of a

second it's going to freeze your motion

okay so you need to know when you are

playing with your shutter speed the

slower your shutter speed is going to

blur motion and the faster your shutter

speed is going to freeze that's the

trade-off for shutter speed ISO your

trade-off is going to be noise okay up

here 6400 is going to give you a high

amount of noise in your image down here

it's going to give you a low amount of

noise in your image at ISO 100 so if I

introduce more ISO I might be bringing

more digital noise into my image that is

ISOs trade-off okay an aperture priority

or your aperture is going to introduce

depth of field

okay depth of field speaks about how

much of your image is actually going to

be in focus you might want a very

shallow slice a very shallow depth of

field if you're shooting a portrait with

just the front of the faces and focus on

everything else is blurred or a

landscape photographer might want a very

deep depth of field to keep everything

in focus the hallway shoot through the

shot from foreground to background so up

here at f-22 you're going to get a

deeper depth of field then you would

down at one point four which is going to

give you a shallow depth of field so

when we are deciding should I darken

things down by closing down my aperture

I'm gonna deepen my depth of field

should I darken things down by speeding

up my shutter speed I'm gonna freeze

action there's gonna be less motion blur

should I darken things down by lowering

my ISO that's great because there's

gonna be less noise in the image if I

want to brighten things up with my

aperture I'm going to shallow up my

depth of field I need to be aware of

that if I slow down my shutter speed to

brighten things up I need to be aware

that movement is going to start to blur

more and if I open up my

so to brighten things up I need to be

aware that I might be introducing more

noise and when you understand each of

these three things are going to control

your exposure and each have their

trade-offs once you know what those

trade-offs are you can start to make

decisions because maybe you want to blur

the movement maybe you want to shell out

your depth of field and within all of

this you're also going to get exactly

the correct exposure that you want to

achieve that might sound a little bit

complicated but actually it leaves you

with only two questions to ask yourself

at any exposure you make number one is

how do you want your depth of field to

appear and that will be shallow or deep

and that is going to obviously relate to

your aperture and number two is going to

be how do you want movement to appear do

you want it to freeze or do you want

movement to blur and the reason I say

obviously this is shutter speed and the

reason I say there's only two questions

is because the third question would be

how much noise do I want in my image and

the question I mean that's not a

question we always want as little noise

as possible so I so should always be as

low as possible that's always where you

want to think so in terms of creative

questions that you want to ask yourself

how do you want movement to appear how

deep or shallow do you want your depth

of field to be these are the two

questions you're going to use and

they're going to inform how you balance

those three elements to get the correct

exposure okay let's use a quick example

just to drive this home I've got my

aperture my shutter speed and my ISO and

let's take two different photographers

okay the first is going to be a sports

photographer and the second is going to

be a portrait photographer and they are

both shooting in manual mode okay so

your sports photographers gonna ask

himself those two questions what do I

want my depth of field to be what do I

want my shutter speed to be but shutter

speed in his case is going to be way

more important because motion is very

important and he wants to freeze the

action so he's shooting a soccer game

football game and there's lots of stuff

moving around he wants to freeze that

action as

happening he's going to select something

like one over four thousandth of a

second to freeze that action okay then

he's gonna go wall let's put my ISO as

low as I possibly can say it's a daytime

game so he's gonna be able to get away

with ISO 100 and his aperture is going

to be say you know when he does

everything in you checks his exposure

it's looking good at f/4 now if he says

to himself f4 is actually too shallower

depth of field because she's shooting on

a long lens and he needs to deepen that

depth of field out if he decides to go

to f/8 he's going to have to bump up his

eye so to compensate because closing

this aperture down is gonna let in less

lights he needs to make his ISO more

sensitive to compensate for that but he

wants to keep that most important thing

which is his movement frozen let's say a

portrait photographer there in a studio

they know that he's shooting on an 85

mils a and he wants F 2.8 is going to be

the depth of field that he wants he

knows but the most important thing is

depth of field first that's the most

important question for this guy

so 2.8 on an 85 mile is gonna give him

the depth of field that he wants now

he's going to have to work out his

exposure so in a studio let's say that

he's on ISO 100 because he's got a

strobe light so he can get his ISO down

as low as possible keep the noise out

but that's going to give him for example

let's say one tenth of a second shutter

speed now let's say that one over tenth

of a second is introducing some shake in

the cameras hand holding the subject

moving around slightly introducing

slight amount of blur and the thing

isn't as sharp as it should be so now

how does he get this to a better shutter

speed that's gonna freeze that action a

little bit more and not give him a

blurry image or with with handshake so

let's say he takes it to 1 over 100 of a

second he needs to now bump his ISO up

to compensate because he's given himself

a faster shutter speed he needs to

increase his ISO to make it more

sensitive to capture the light that's

been lost by the fact that this shutter

speed is firing faster and his most

important element here is his depth of

field that's where he starts that's the

question he's going to answer for

himself and any photographer if they are

balancing these three elements with each

they're starting with those two

questions what do I want my movement to

look like what do I want my depth of

field to be keep the ISO as low as


can answer any question to work out any

equation what their settings should be


so that's the technical stuff the xposed

a triangle and everything else let me

show you how I actually shoot when I'm

on the street so there's a nice little

slice of light over here with some

dappled light coming in from the leaves

and a little bit of an angle off the

wall there so if I'm looking at this I

know I want to expose for the brightest

highlights in the Sun so I'm gonna start

with my ISO of the exposure triangle

because on a bright day like today

there's no reason to have any noise so

I'm gonna set my ISO at 100 that's

locked in that's probably not going to

change and the reason I set that first

is because that won't change that's the

thing that I'm gonna change the least

throughout the day the next thing I'm

going to look at because I then have to

ask those two questions what's more

important is it depth of field or is it

movement and for me on the streets

movement is more important I want to

freeze movement so I know from

experimenting a bit that I need to be at

one over one thousandth of a second or

faster so that's the next thing I'm

going to lock in is one over 1000 in

terms of my shutter speed now I've only

got one thing to play with so while I'm

walking around there's only really one

element I'm playing with it is that that

third element of the exposure triangle

and that's my aperture so as I'm looking

at this highlight here I'm going to

expose it correctly so that there's

nothing blown out on it and looking at

my aperture

I'm at f5 so now I know I can shoot this

shot I can shoot up here where there's

like a building and there's bright light

coming off the wall down the alley over

here I could shoot over at the back here

I know no matter where I move because

the Sun is hitting all these as Sun is a

constant power at the moment it's not

changing drastically that my exposure

for my highlight is going to be correct

no matter where I look just to show you

how predictable it is when you're

walking around a bright sunny day

there's even a rule called the Sun e16

rule which is just for days like this

and all that says is that if I sit my

f-stop my aperture at f-16 then all I

need to do is set my ISO and my shutter

speed at corresponding numbers so if I

set my ISO at ISO 100 my shutter speed

needs to be 1 over 100 if I set my ISO

at 400 I need to set my shutter speed at

1 over 400 and if I do that on any sunny

day anywhere around the world your

bright highlights will be exposed

correctly personally I don't

want to use the sunny 16 rule because

like I said I want to freeze the action

I want one over one thousandth of a

second for my shutter speed and I don't

want ISO 1000 there's no reason to do

that in terms of getting the right

exposure in the camera there's a few

different ways you can do it some people

like to use that little meter at the

bottom to tell you whether it's under or

overexposed but if you look at this

scene now because there's like a slice

of light and there's a lot of shadow

around it my camera is going to probably

tell me that I'm underexposed and even

if a music spot metering I have to be

very very accurate where I put that spot

for it to tell me what I need to see so

I tend to use my histogram instead and

on my histogram I'm just making sure

that there's no hard line on the right

hand side of my histogram to make sure

that my supposed correctly and the nice

thing about using a mirrorless camera is

that I can actually live preview my

exposure it shows me what I've got on

the screen or through the viewfinder

because there's an electronic viewfinder

I could see exactly what exposure I'm

getting and I know the camera well

enough to know when it looks right so

that's how I'm judging it if you use a

DSLR the simple thing to do a nice to do

all the time

is literally just to take a test shot

and then see where exposure is dial

maybe you know a couple of stops down

half a stop down whatever it take the

shot again are you in the right place

and then you know you're good to go so

as you're walking around you're taking

that shot exposing for your highlights

and you know once you're locked in

you're good for highlights but if you

walk down an alleyway say and the lights

changed or a cloud comes over and you

need to adjust or someone walks through

the spot with a black shirt and then a

white shirt you need to adjust for those

reasons you're going to get to the stage

if you use your settings correctly on

your camera and you know how to dial

your settings in manually that it's

almost automatic it's just little clicks

and twists so on the camera I've got set

up this is my shutter speed dial on the

front I've got my aperture dial and my

thumb on the back which is what I'm

using the most for street photography

and then my ISO dial here and I find

that when I'm walking around I can walk

around a corner see it's a little bit

darker my thumb is already just clicked

third of a stop two-thirds of a stop

just to brighten things up before I've

even thought about it and because I'm

using it all the time like that I'm

getting to know exactly what I want the

camera to do and doing it almost

automatically so because I know my ISO

is gonna be locked off I don't want

noise and my shutter speed is gonna stay

same because I want to freeze motion but

my aperture is going to be what changes

and apertures we said affects depth of

field so I always need to keep it in

mind when I'm changing that that there

is going to be an effect when I change

my aperture and I've got a little app

that really helps with that so the apps

called do F stands for depth of field

and it's gonna help you calculate what

your depth of field is going to be

because depth of field is just an

equation between your sensor size and

your focal length your aperture and your

distance the subject so we can lock all

those in so I've already set what my

camera is in the app then I'm gonna set

that I'm on 35 mil cuz that's the lens

I'm using for the street photography I'm

doing today I know that my aperture is

f5 because that's what I said it has so

now I can see that if I'm shooting

someone at 4 meters then I know that

everything from zuv to 0.75 meters right

their way through is going to be in

focus if I shoot someone at 2 meters I

can see that actually I need to be a lot

more careful because now just before 2

meters I'm already out of focus and

Beyond 2 and a half I'm out so I can see

that while I'm changing my aperture this

is how it's affecting my depth of field

with this focal length on this sensor so

I can be flicking away changing to get

the correct exposure but I just need to

be aware that then the closer my subject

is to me then I need to be more aware

whether in focus or out focus if if I

was to bump this up to something like

f/8 for example you can see that then I

got a lot more latitude if I'm shooting

someone at 2 meters now I'm way after 3

meters I'm still in focus if there are 3


I'm already got tons of room to shoot so

I just need to be aware that as I change

aperture it's going to change my depth

of field so there's nothing wrong with

shooting aperture priority or shutter

priority or auto ISO or full auto any of

those automatic modes if it works for

you carry on doing it but the reason I

don't is because I want to know exactly

what my camera is doing and sometimes I

don't trust the metering in cameras you

got a few options with your meter you

can evaluative metering which is taking

the exposure at the average of the whole

frame which isn't going to be useful if

you're trying to get just a slice of

light exposed correctly you could Center

weight but you'll have the same problem

or you could spot meter which is taking

that very very center point putting it

exactly on what you want to expose for

and pressing so that it exposes


taking the shot but the problem with

that is you have to be so accurate about

where that point is hitting to make sure

you get the correct exposure and if

you're trying to grab that every time

it's really difficult you could get it

right once and then exposure lock so

that it locks it in your camera but

because you're doing an automatic motor

using an automatic mode you don't

actually know what your other elements

are doing if you're an aperture priority

and you're at f/4 you don't know what

your shutter speeds doing every time

because you're letting the camera decide

you don't know what your ISO is doing

because you're letting your camera

decide I see a lot of people shooting

these automatic modes and using exposure

comp dials to bump it up or down but the

problem is you're not paying attention

necessarily to what those are the

settings are and if you are just shoot

in manual mode because you'll be there

in two seconds you know what your ISO is

you know what your shutter speed is what

its trade-offs are you know what your

aperture is and what its trade-offs are

and personally as a control freak I just

like knowing what everything's doing and

get no surprises when I get back and

look at the shot later


so I hope this gives you some courage to

go out there and more often to put your

camera in manual mode and take back

control the other part of this is I

genuinely enjoy shooting in manual mode

more than any other mode and I think

about it for myself like driving a car

personally I don't think I will ever buy

an automatic car and the reason for that

is me personally I like to change gears

I like clutch control I like being a

more mechanical part of getting to where

I'm going in the experience of driving I

find it fun and yes when I started off

driving I had to think about changing

gears a lot and you know clutch control

of what gear was in and what did I need

to go to with what was coming up ahead

of me but some way very very early on I

stopped thinking about the actual

process of doing that and just got on

with the experience of driving and now I

change gears and I haven't even realized

I've done it so that's my challenge to

you if you don't already try shooting

more in manual mode you decide what your

aperture is which a shutter speed is

what your ISO is and if you work at it I

promise you you'll be comfortable with

changing your own settings in no time at


I'm pretty sure it will expand the

possibilities for your photography as

well because in every image you're going

to be making decisions about how deep or

shallow you want your depth of field to

be you're going to be working out

exactly what you want movement to look

like in your shots you're gonna be

nailing your exposures so you're going

to define a style much quicker by making

these individual decisions not to

mention you're going to feel much more

confident as a photographer and if

you're like me you're going to enjoy the

process more as well thanks again to

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