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A hack into shooting with manual mode

A little back story for this article. Back when I was first starting out photography almost a decade ago, manual mode was a strange thing to me and I thought it was only being used by pros. The little egoistic in me who wanted to look pro and show off to my friends forced myself to shoot only in manual mode. With some beginners luck, I accidentally stumbled upon the sunny 16 rule while I was experimenting with the settings. (I obviously do not know it was even a rule back then, I just coincidently happen to know it works). Well as the name already suggested, it only works perfectly during sunny days so yes I did screw up photos when I enter shaded areas. After that incident I pretty much avoided manual mode when shooting in a fluctuating lighting condition.


As much control that manual mode gives you, it also does take away the convenience of photography unless you are well verse or some expert in reading light. I can tell you that it is very difficult even after shooting manual for so long. I can only read light with an approx 70% accuracy without a light meter. To make sure that I don't screw up the 30% and also increase conveniency. I came up with this hack which is to combine manual settings with auto ISO. This will allow me to control the settings (both shutterspeed and aperture) that I want with the ease in mind not to worry about the exposure all the time as long as I stay in between the lighting range that my camera can compensate. Some may say why not use aperture priority? Well, those who know me personally, they will know I can be very fussy with my settings at times from obstaining a specific depth to getting that perfect motion blur to shooting with the lens ideal aperture to avoid diffraction.


To understand how this hack work. You will first need to understand the theory behind it. This method requires you to understand 2 things. Your camera metering mode and also how far you can increase you camera's light sensitivity (ISO) without introducing digital artifacts (commonly known as noise). Camera metering is what a camera rely on to read the value of light in terms of "stop". A typical camera will usually have a scale of "-2.0 to +2.0". A reading of "-2.0" or lesser on the scale means your photo is underexposed (too dark) and vice versa. Usually we will try our best to get an accurate reading of 0 which means a perfectly exposed photograph balancing both shadow and highlights. Putting metering mode in layman terms, it means how you want the camera to read light. Example, matrix or average weighted metering means that you want the camera to read light averagely from across your frame and center weighted means that you want the camera to read approx 70% of light from the middle section of your frame. ISO on the other hand is the reading for camera's light sensitivity. A typical camera will have a range of ISO 100 to ISO 6400. Higher ISO value means higher sensitivity hence resulting a brighter photograph, lower value will mean the opposite. However do keep in mind the higher you go, it usually will results a "noisier" (grainier) image.


After understanding both terms above, let's dive into the application. Essentially this hack is all about leveraging auto ISO to your highest advantage. Before you start using this hack, you should first set your desired shutter speed and aperture. (I assume you do know what you are doing here). The second thing to set will be the min and max Auto ISO range. (Typically a range from ISO 100 to ISO 3200/6400 will be good enough). The last thing to set will be the metering mode which usually will be on matrix/average weighted mode but depending on your shooting style, you might want to experiment with spot metering. After you have done all the above, your camera is now ready. When using this hack, the only one thing that you need to keep an eye on is the metering value. Control your camera's metering dial and make sure it falls on your intended value. So long as the reading falls within the range of -1.0 to +1.0 of your intended value, you will be fine in post. Anything beyond that might be disastrous. Your experience and understanding on lighting condition and your camera's capability will help you in estimating the value you need.


Quick tips for all of you. It will be advantageous to dial your settings in the brightest environment. Allow me to recommend you these steps if you are first starting out, first begin with setting your desired aperture (depth of field) and then set your ISO to auto. After that dial your shutterspeed until you get the ISO at its lowest setting which means ISO 100 in most case. This will allow a buffer for your camera to increase its light sensitivity when you moved into a shaded environment (If in any situation your ISO is not able to compensate, you can always reduce the shutterspeed to allow more lights in to the sensor). Once you have mastered this technique, you can play along with whichever settings you may want but do keep in mind to always check the metering value or check the image preview to make sure you are still on the right track. With this technique, hope you guys will have a more pleasant shooting experience!

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