Friday, April 26, 2013

A Rant On Using Manual Exposure Mode On Your Camera

Raw images are notoriously dull.  Straight out of the camera there’s no sharpening, no contrast or color adjustment, no here’s Nikon’s (or Canon or Sony or whoever) best guess as to what the finished image should look like.  Take a look at this past Monday’s post.  It has a before (right out of the camera) and after (the lead image) and demonstrates where an image can be taken to by developing a RAW image.  Typically photographers fall into a few categories.  Those who shoot exclusively RAW and will develop an image.  Those who shoot exclusively JPG and let the camera make the decisions.  Those who consider what they’re shooting and why and decide either to shoot RAW or JPG.  If they’re shooting personal stuff that might become a portfolio piece, they shoot RAW.  If they’re shooting a local high school baseball game, they shoot JPGs to get the shots to the newspaper or school without needing to do additional work.  Then there’s another, rather odd duck, sort of shooter.  He/she will shoot everything in RAW.  If the images will be developed or printed as is, they still shoot RAW.  It’s rather bizarre.  Another case would be something that I came across the other night.  I was out doing some test shooting with some friends.  We have a night shoot coming up and were trying to get the parameters down.  Somehow the subject came up and one of the women said she only shoots in Manual mode.  She was very proud of that fact.  Now, she has one of the more expensive cameras out there.  I don’t understand why someone would buy an expensive computer (the camera) and then use it as if it was a shoebox.  Knowing her, she’s just not that capable enough to determine exposure just by looking at a scene.  It appears she’ll take a shot, say “oops, it’s too dark (or light)”, fiddle with the settings, try another shot and keep going.  Again, another bizarre thing to do to get an image.  I understand why she doesn’t shoot sports.  As we were shooting she would make comments like “I was at F10, but it was too dark.  I’ll switch to F 9 and try again”.  Really, was she so close to a great exposure that she was changing by 1/3 stops to get the absolute perfect exposure?  No, she was closed to 3 stops off than 1/3 of a stop.  I suggested she change it by a full stop.  She said she had, from F 10 to F9.  Where’s a rim shot when you need it?  (Music term, not photography.)  To find out my thoughts on using manual settings on a camera, hit the “Read More”.

Believe it or not, I’m all for people understanding what a camera does in manual modes.  I just don’t think people should use Manual once they have that understanding.  If you understand that you’ll get the same exposure by using any of the combinations in the table below it means you have the nuts and bolts down.

F 16
F 11
F 8
F 5.6
F 4

 The camera can calculate those equivalences faster than the human mind can.  My thoughts are that the creative decisions should be made by the human and let the computer do the math.  I typically use Aperture preferred mode.  I decide what’s important.  Am I shooting a portrait?  I’ll want short Depth of Field, therefore I want a large lens opening like F2.8.  As long as there’s enough light to get a reasonable Shutter Speed I really don’t care if it’s 1/500 or 1/750 or 1/1250th of a second.  Actually, the faster the better.  Faster Shutter Speed will cut down on the possibility of camera shake.  The exposure will be correct because the camera (the computer) did the math.  I made the creative decision. 

Same goes for doing landscapes.  The “creative decision” would be to go for a small lens opening.  F 11 or F16 perhaps.  I know the Shutter Speed is going to be slower, so a “technical decision” would be to use a tripod or not.  (Use a tripod.)  Again, once the human decisions are made, let the camera do the math.  I don’t care (to a point) how long the Shutter is open. 

The “(to a point)” reference above is there because there might be mitigating factors.  Are you shooting the skyline of New York with a boat sailing down the Hudson?  If you are you probably don’t want the boat looking like a streak in the water.  There you need to make a creative compromise.  You’d probably want to open the lens to give a faster Shutter Speed. 

As long as you’re making the decisions, let the computer (the camera) do the heavy lifting.