Computers rule our lives and are starting to make decisions for us. In some ways this is taking creativity away from us. I believe this leads to mediocrity. Taking back some of this control can be liberating. I read so many internet camera reviews that pan cameras based on their auto focus accuracy. This is interesting. Do cameras really make mistakes or are we expecting just a little too much from them. I find using manual controls on my camera liberating. But most importantly, you must know how to control your camera for those times when the computer can’t get things just right.
There are two aspects of this weeks exercise. Firstly there is manual control over exposure and secondly there is manual control over focus.
Put your camera in M for the week. And see what you can do?
Turn off your auto focus for the week and see what you can do?
Post your photographs and techniques.
How to use M in some cameras. Once you put your camera in M, you can adjust the aperture and shutter speeds independently. In some cameras you can leave your camera in auto ISO, and you get an automatic camera still. So to do this exercise properly, you need to be setting your ISO as well.
You may have to turn to the manual to figure out how to adjust these three variables (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) to get the right exposure. Most cameras have a scale or lights with arrows that show you which way to adjust the settings to get the exposure to be correct.
If you have a mirrorless camera, make sure it is set to give you an accurate rendition of the exposure in the viewfinder. Some camera manufactures have this setting turned off when you buy the camera. Once this is correct you can set the exposure by just looking at how light and dark the exposure is and adjusting accordingly. I tell people these days, there is no such thing as correct exposure, just get the look you want when you take the photograph. I must admit I still set my exposure by using the histogram that I can see in my viewfinder.
Focusing the camera is a bit harder. I love my fast lenses and bright digital viewfinder for manually focusing. Some electronic viewfinder cameras have focus peaking, which acts as a focus aid. I personally find the colouration of the sharp edges in a different colour distracting for my sense of composition. So I don’t like this method. Instead I turn up the sharpness to maximum which gives a white crisp edge when in focus, which is almost focus peaking. I can usually see the plane of focus as I turn the focus ring move. Having a fast lens helps here.
Many DSLR cameras have removed the focus screens that made focusing easier in the days before auto focus. You used to be able to swap them for one you enjoyed using. Unfortunately this is now a thing of the past. And you will have to find a different way to focus the camera.
If you can’t see the focus in the viewfinder, you might like to try zooming in to where you want to focus so you can see what you are doing. Some cameras allow you to move the zoom in point to where you want to go before you zoom. For a dslr this will require you to use a tripod and live view.
Focusing, requires skill and for you to practice. Did you know that we don’t just turn it to the point of in focus and stop. We focus by going past the point of focus into out of focus, then come back again, and perhaps again and again. Until we get a good sense of where the focus is. Imagine it like this. Out of focus, turn the ring, getting sharper and sharper, opps too far, going out of focus again, change direction… getting sharper again… ooppps too far again.. it is somewhere in the middle… oh… there it is… Hey I am still not sure it is the sharpest point, but I have had enough of that and that will be good enough.
Cameras keep the lens wide open for focusing, so it is easier to focus them. They shut the aperture down when they take the picture. If you have a manual lens you need to do the same. This is how I focus my Voitlander lenses, which I love, focus them wide open. Stop down to shoot, open them up again to focus again.
I prefer manual focusing and use it more often than auto. I prefer manual exposure and only use auto when I am feeling lazy.
Here are some of my photographs that I have taken with manual focus.
Photographs and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2019