Have you ever been about to shoot a landscape, patiently awaiting that fleeting moment of perfect light…
The moment arrives, you take your first shot then you take a quick look at the back of your camera at what you hope will be “the money shot”…
Only to find it’s turned out overexposed?
So you take another shot…
And it’s underexposed…
The sun is going to pop behind that cloud in a few seconds, so you keep firing off shots hoping that your camera gets it right just once before the good light is gone….
And in the end you just have to rely on a little bit of luck…
Well if this has ever happened to you in the past, then read on.
Because when folks ask me why this happens to them and I give them my diagnosis, I’m usually met with the same question…
It comes in different forms and with different words each time, but here’s the gist of it:
“Do I really need to shoot in Manual mode? It seems too complicated.”
Shortly after I got my first DSLR camera many moons ago, I discovered “Shutter Priority” mode and it was probably the single biggest turning point that made me want to really dig in and get serious about learning Photography.
When I saw the effect of using a slow shutter speed on moving water I was instantly fascinated.
And for a while using Shutter Priority mode to “set and forget” a long exposure setting was good enough.
But it wasn’t long before I started to experience problems with relying on this mode all of the time.
Because it’s all about control.
And when you’re using anything but Manual mode, you’re handing some of that control over to your camera.
I.e. you’re picking the shutter speed, and the camera picks the rest of the settings based on what it thinks is the best exposure.
Now the problem is that:
your camera doesn’t always know the best exposure!
Because it can only make it’s exposure decisions based on what it can see at that precise moment when you half-press the shutter to lock it in.
And when shooting a long exposure with light or objects (especially water) moving and changing in front of the camera, the problem is that the “correct” exposure is constantly changing.
(For example, a wave crashes on the shore and white – bright – water floods your scene, then a moment later the wash dissipates and the sea is dark again).
And when this happens and you’re shooting in any of the automatic camera modes, the shot will probably end up either over or underexposed.
Or even if it’s “just about right”, if you’re taking a series of images then they’re still all likely to be exposed slightly differently to each other.
No matter what type of scene you’re shooting, letting your camera make your exposure decisions can still give you headaches if you’re shooting in anything but “normal” light…
Like high-contrast sunsets/sunrises, or night time and so on.
The only way to get it right consistently in these types of landscape scenes is to take all the decisions away from your camera.
Only when you set your aperture, shutter speed and ISO manually will you be able to get a consistent exposure that you can rely on.
So long story short, my answer to the question at the top of this blog post is this:
Take the time to learn how to get out of auto and start to use your camera in Manual mode.
It might seem complicated at first, but like most things it gets easier.
Only then will this stuff no longer be a barrier standing between you and the best shot possible when that critical moment comes.