P Mode, Schmeee Mode

Want more creative control over your photos? Read on for tips to shoot in foods that start with the letter Q! Err…. I mean modes that don’t start with the letter P!

Sony a100; Sony 50mm 1.4; 1/640 f2 ISO 100
Aperture priority because f2!

Before we get to the nitty gritty, let’s familiarize ourselves with the most important polygon in photography… the exposure triangle. Outside of ambient light, there are 3 variables that will affect the exposure and characteristics of the photo. Here is a quick b-b-breakdown:

  • ISO (sensitivity of the camera sensor or film to light): Low ISO is less sensitive, but nice and tidy. High ISO loses detail and increases noise/grain.
  • Aperture (the size of the hole in the lens which allows light to enter the camera): Small aperture (high f-stop) increases depth of field and will get more of a photo in focus. Large aperture (small f-stop) will decrease DoF and isolate the subject.
  • Shutter-speed (the length of time the sensor or film is exposed to light). Fast shutter-speed will freeze objects in motion. Slow shutter-speed will capture movement.

Wow, those seem pretty important. Why would you want to let the camera decide them for you?

Sony a350; Sony 50mm 1.4; 1/60 f8 ISO 100
Shutter-speed priority used to consistently capture motion as cars passed in and out of shadows of the overpass

Shutter priority mode. The camera will automatically calculate the aperture setting required for proper exposure. ISO and shutter-speed are set by the user. Exposure cam be tweaked up or down via exposure compensation dial or by auto exposure lock (AEL) button.

This is good for moving subjects in dynamic lighting. An example would be the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. Cars race through a park and there are many trees alongside the track. Exposure will vary as cars pass in/out of the shadows. Shutter-speed can be set low (for panning) or high (to freeze) and the camera will adjust aperture on the fly.

Aperture priority mode. The camera will automatically calculate the shutter-speed setting required for proper exposure. ISO and aperture are set by the user. Exposure cam be tweaked up or down via exposure compensation dial or by auto exposure lock (AEL) button.

This is good for stationary subjects in dynamic lighting. Using our previous example of the PVGP, outside of races there is a car show on the golf course. On a partially cloudy day, exposure will vary as the sun drifts in and out of the clouds. Aperture can be set large (low f-stop) for detail shots or small (high f-stop) to capture the scenery and the camera will adjust shutter-speed on the fly.

Noob tip: make sure the camera isn’t calculating a shutter-speed slow enough to introduce unwanted hand shake.

Manual mode. You are master of your domain here. Exposure can be tweaked up or down via the selected ISO, aperture, or shutter-speed. Think of it like A+B+C=D. Simple arithmetic a 2nd grader can do, right? A, B, and C are ISO, shutterspeed, and aperture (f-stop). D is the available light, or Ev. In a static situation, Ev does not change. If you adjust A, you must also adjust B or C (or both) to compensate and maintain proper exposure.

Manual is also good in any situation outside of dynamic lighting though. Here are some general tips for shooting M:

  • Digital: Generally speaking, you need to consider which element(s) of the exposure triangle are the most important in the shot you want and set the camera in that order. The ‘compromise’ (if any) should almost always be the 3rd, or least important, setting.
    • For example: You should know roughly what shutter-speed you need to be at to avoid handshake and/or capture your subject in the way you want (frozen or with motion). You should also know roughly what aperture you need to be at depending on whether you want to isolate your subject or have the back/foreground in focus. So, set aperture and shutter-speed, then select the ISO needed for your desired exposure.
  • Film: The thought process mirrors digital, but once that film is loaded the ISO is essentially locked. You will need to seriously think about the light at the location, whether you will finish the roll there, and the shots that particular ISO will allow you to take. Many times, if I’m headed somewhere and there is dynamic weather, I’ll pack a couple of rolls with different ISOs. Having rolls with different ISOs handy will give a little bit of wiggle room. Likewise, you could just pack Tri-X and push or pull in development haha.
Sony a900; Minolta 80-200 f2.8 APO @ 80mm; 1/90 f2.8 ISO400
Manual because I wanted a clean look, shallow DoF, and little bit of motion

So whether you are shooting cars or a quince (it’s a food that starts with the letter Q!), take creative control of your photos back from your camera. Give aperture, shutter-speed, or manual mode a go.

Thanks for reading!

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