Switching to Manual

15 Oct

“If you understand light, you can be a great photographer.”

With these words, our group stopped looking at our array of DSLR Panasonics, Nikons and Canons between us and raised our eyes to the sky, perhaps hoping a beam of sunlight would suddenly enlighten us as to the mysteries of what makes that acceptable shot, a remarkable one.

Nine of us stood, bathed in the thing we were meant to understand, at Sydney’s Circular Quay, all hoping that in one day we could learn a few tricks of the trade that would transform our photographs into something, well a little less mediocre.

I was looking at my camera, at the switches and buttons I have simply ignored but to turn to ‘Automatic’ and scrolled through the digital touch-screen menu of variables, which briefly made me want to go back to the days of buying a point-and-shoot disposable at the local chemist. Automatic meant the camera was in control and took an average of all those variables. Manual means I have total control. This pleases me. I was not to be defeated. How hard could it be?

“So on a day like this, we’ll stick to 100 ISO, one shot focus, use the lowest possible f stop and we’ll experiment with the shutter speed before moving on to look at exposure compensation.”


I vaguely remember the days of buying 35mm films, and later APS films, for my annual holiday snaps and getting told to buy the lower ISO because we were going on holiday (so it was ‘bound to be sunny.’) Now I understand and what’s more I can change it at the touch of a button.

Our professional photographer guided us all through the technical functions of our cameras and suddenly all the letters, numbers and flashing crosses in the viewfinder started to make sense.

Despite our teaching ground being Sydney harbour and its fantastic views, we were not there to take pretty pictures, but to learn how to take very ordinary pictures, well. Suddenly what previously was an easy case of framing a shot and clicking, became a minor maths test before I could even press the shutter button. Numbers for depth of field, shutter speed and light metering whirled around my head but finally I was starting to see the difference between taking a photo in automatic mode versus manual.

We practised taking moving cars on the highway, not exactly scenic, but difficult not to get the blur – or to blur the background, not the car.

We tried out different techniques as we walked around – my favourite being the silhouette. Here are a few samples from the day:

On Sunday James and I walked to Bondi so he did not escape either!

I think my pictures may actually take a turn for the worse while I play around at being Annie Liebovitz and try to get used to the different settings but hopefully over time, it will become second nature and I can be a little more ambitious. I am going to try and keep the camera in manual and not be tempted to slip the dial back to automatic. From now on, I, not the little box around my neck will be in control, and although the ‘average’ pictures may have turned out all right so far, there are no prizes for average.


One Response to “Switching to Manual”

  1. vonschlapper October 27, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    Glad the day went well. I like the pics, esp the lifeguard flag.

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