What makes a good photographer ? Well lots of things. The advice that I got many years ago was just get out there and shoot.. as much as possible. Good advice, but if you really want to starting thinking like a “photographer” instead of just another “happy snapper” then learn the basics.
Exposure – Aperture / Shutter speed / ISO… the fundamental principles. All three combine to control the exposure each time you hit the button , how much light… how long that light will expose for and how sensitive the sensor (or film ) is to light . Too much and it’s blown out or over exposed, too little and its way too dark.
Sure you can just shoot on auto and let the camera figure it all out, but what will you learn if you never try and figure these things out by yourself… not much.
By learning to shoot in manual you can fine tune that exposure using aperture ( quantity of light ) or shutter speed ( how long that light exposes for ). Both of these also posses creative possibilities, aperture – depth of field and shutter speed controls time or movement. Adjusting the ISO lets you elect custom vales of both of these so you have full creative control of the medium you are working with – LIGHT.
Remember the camera’s meter is not 100% accurate , it’s calibrated to produce an average result (mid or 18% grey as its known) which it does pretty well, but more often than not it is not the correct exposure .. that is your decision.
The correct exposure is also a creative choice, again your choice.
Example – Namibia Dunes at dusk
Shooting in manual allows you to master the exposure of each image that you take. For example setting the ISO to a minimum vale of 100 minimises noise and nasty pixels in the shadows. Then I’d select my aperture, in the example below I need around f11 or a decent depth of field ( front to back sharpness ). Then using the camera’s meter as a guide I dial the shutter speed to get the cursor to the centre just as the camera does in auto.
Next shutter speed, the camera is tripod mounted so it doesn’t matter how low the shutter speed goes, camera shake is zero. I make an exposure, then evaluate the result with the LCD screen first, then bring up the Histogram. The majority of the image is in shadow… so the camera’s metering compensates by over exposing to give an average. The resultant image would be predominantly light as the meter has by default tried to set an average. The meter doesn’t know what the main feature or subject is and I want to hold the shadow detail so I manually compensate by adjusting the shutter speed (increasing it.. lets less light in) to darken or underexpose the image. This result shows enough detail in the shadows, the highlight detail in the sky and the detail in the mid-tones, the lit side of the dunes.
Thats it, manual exposure based on my creative choice. It might sound confusing but once you’ve attempted this a few times it makes sense. Over time it will become second nature and your images will improve as your now taking creative control of the exposure process. Practice Practice.