Controlling Camera Manually

  • Sophisticated modern technology has brought us cameras that are capable of making technical decisions about photography completely unaided. Gently press the shutter release of an autofocus SLR, and the landscape snaps into sharp focus in the viewfinder. Press harder and the camera assesses light levels, focal length and perhaps even subject contrast before setting the aperture and shutter speed and taking the picture. The result is technically perfect: correctly exposed and needle-sharp.

  • But let's take a closer look at what we mean by "technically perfect". Cameras are designed to cope best with average scenes: those that are an approximately equal mix of dark and light areas, with the most important subject in the middle of the frame. If you point the camera at a scene that's widely different from this rather arbitrary "average", you may not be so happy with the result.

  • For example, even simple cameras can cope adequately with a riverside landscape that features trees, pale rocks and water in roughly equal proportions. The brightness of the rocks compensates for the dark trees and, taken overall, the scene conforms to our hypothetical "average". A ploughed field fringed with yew trees presents a different problem, though. The whole of the subject is dark, and reflects perhaps only a third as much light as the average scene. Even the most advanced camera has no way of knowing this, and will blindly set what it thinks is the "correct" exposure. In practice this is the exposure which will produce an average print or transparency. Unless you intervene and actively control the camera, all parts of the picture will turn out to be too light. In this example, you will wish to set the camera manually in order to take a picture that more closely resembles the original landscape. But often you'll want instead to use photographic controls to create an image that expresses how you felt about the landscape. There's no way to literally capture searing heat in a picture, but by slightly overexposing a desert scene, you can at least suggest the blinding glare and soaring mercury of an equatorial noon.

  • To really get a feel for how each of these controls affects the image, you need to go out and take pictures. To avoid confusing the effects of several different factors, you may find it helpful to take several pictures of the same scene, changing just one control at a time. After all, it just takes some clicks.

More things about cameras settings


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