A Free Excerpt from the Bosque Site Guide November 2010 Update: Working in Manual Mode

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This Blue Goose was photographed with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400: 1/1250 sec. at f/9 set manually. I clipped two primary tips when this adult bird wheeled in flight to avoid a midair collision. I used the techniques detailed in Digital Basics to add canvas and those in Robert O’Toole’s APTATS I to repair the missing wingtips.

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This is a JPEG that represents the original RAW file. Note the nasty sensor dust…. I used my Lens Pen to clean the sensor quickly and easily and used the Patch Tool as described in Digital Basics to remove the spots from the images.

Working in Manual Mode

What follows is a free excerpt from the Bosque Site Guide November 2010 Update that I have been working on for two straight days. It has been slightly modified for this blog post. It was in turn adapted from The Art of Bird Photography II (916 pages on CD only). It is important to know how to work in Manual mode at Bosque because the birds in flight often drop below the horizon where varying exposure compensations would be needed if you were working in Av (Aperture Priority) or any other automatic mode.

Many professional and serious amateur photographers work in Manual mode most or all of the time. (Doing the latter can be a big mistake at times…) I often stick with Av mode with exposure compensation when the background if of relatively constant tonality as doing so is easier and faster. Av (or Tv when creating pleasing blurs) is also best when the light levels might change ten stops in an instant….. When the background tonality is changing from moment to moment and the light is constant, it is best, however, to work in Manual mode. In either case, I rely on Evaluative Metering. Here are some examples of rapidly changing backgrounds: a shorebird on a rock along the edge of the ocean with waves breaking behind it. Birds flying against a blue sky with occasional white clouds. Cranes flying by in front of a variety of backgrounds that might include sky, mountains, yellowed grasses, or water.

As many folks are confused as to how to work in or set exposure compensation when working in Manual mode, I offer the following basic tutorial.

#1: When you work in Manual mode you select and set the shutter speed and you select and set the aperture. With my Canon cameras the default has you changing the shutter speed with your index finger dial and the aperture with the thumb wheel.

#2: After selecting Manual mode, point your camera at a scene or stationary subject and lock your tripod head so the framing remains constant. Next select and set the desired aperture. Then adjust the shutter speed until the analog scale in the viewfinder nulls out to zero. With Canon pro bodies this scale is laid out vertically along the right side of the viewfinder display (when you are working in horizontal format). With many of the Canon pro-sumer bodies and with pretty much all Nikon bodies the analog scale is laid out horizontally at the bottom of the viewfinder display. The zero or null indicator is at the center of the analog scale. With Canon pro bodies the three full stops above the null symbol (marked in 1/3-stop increments) indicate overexposure. The three full stops below the null symbol (also marked in 1/3-stop increments) indicate underexposure. If you change the aperture and you do not see the small square moving, check either the top or the bottom of the analog scale. You will note a small triangle at the top if you are way overexposed or a small triangle at the bottom if you are way underexposed. If the former, rotate the dial and choose a faster shutter speed, if the latter, choose a slower shutter speed. In either case, you will soon see the small square moving up or down the analog scale. At first, you will simply want to practice nulling the meter, that is, getting the small square to rest on the null symbol. This indicates that you have now set the metered exposure (as determined by the camera’s Evaluative Metering system).

#3: When you work in Manual mode you do not actually set an exposure compensation value as you do when working in an automatic mode like Av or Tv. To come up with the exposure that you wish, simply change the aperture or shutter speed as above until the small square indicates the amount of over- or under-exposure that you desire. If you wish to work at +2 stops, you need pick either a slower shutter speed or a larger aperture until the small square rests on the symbol that is two full stops above the null symbol. If you wish to underexpose by 1/3 stop, you need pick a faster shutter speed or smaller aperture so that the small square rests on the symbol that lies just below the null symbol indicating -1/3 stop.

With a bit of practice you should quickly become comfortable whenever the need to work in Manual mode arises.

In case you missed the blog post entitled “Flight Photography Considerations: Wind and Sun Direction & Subject Tonality,” click here for a great tutorial on coming up with perfect exposures when photographing Bosque’s geese and cranes. In addition, you will find some great info there on the connection between light angle and wind direction and its importance.

Shopper’s Guide

Here is a list of the gear that I used to create the Blue Goose image above.

Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body

And from the BAA On-line Store:

Gitzo 3530 LS Tripod
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head
Double Bubble Level

If you are considering the purchase of a major piece of photographic gear be it a new camera, a long lens, a tripod or a head, or some accessories be sure to check out our complete Shopper’s Guide.

2 comments to A Free Excerpt from the Bosque Site Guide November 2010 Update: Working in Manual Mode

  • avatar M. Bruce

    Art – When you refer to “Evaluative Metering” are you always excluding other metering options such as “Center-weighted average” or “Spot metering”? And thanks so much for this very helpful “Manual Mode” reminder!

  • avatar James Saxon

    I have been referencing your Bosque site guide for my last three visits and find the information in the guides and updates a valuable tool for successful photography at the Bosque. As a side note my wife says thanks for the recommendation of K-Bobs. I could not get her to eat anywhere else on our recent visit to Socorro. The food is good, reasonably priced and the staff is friendly. Thanks again for all you do for photographers.