Manual Exposure

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by zoart, Jan 18, 2017.

  1. How do you guys quickly get manual exposures in ever changing lighting situations during a wedding day?
  2. Simple answer: practice.
    Only slightly less simple answer: practice — and don't let yourself work any other way. In other words, go to full M and stay there. Forget that PAS settings are on your dial.

    Now, getting into the details: It's not nearly as hard as you may think. Even when I started shooting in the late 1960s, pretty much everybody shot in full manual because we didn't have any choice. So shooting M was just like learning to drive a stick shift: it seems like an almost impossible challenge today but really, even mediocre photographers like me learned how to do it reasonably well. Among other things it teaches you that getting the exposure right is just about the most trivial thing about photography. I've taken thousands upon thousands of well-exposed photos that are still lousy photos. None of the greatest photographers had priority modes or program mode. I'm thinking of greats like Cartier-Bresson, Kertesz, Capa, Brassai, Doisneau, Stieglitz, Sander, the young genius Lartigue, and many more. Doesn't seem to have held them back.
    You asked specifically about weddings, so I'd mention that, in addition to working with your camera until everything is simply second nature, experience at weddings is a huge help, because you know how to anticipate what's going to happen and so you can think ahead and if a change is needed to your settings, you can make it ahead of time.
    And I have to push back against your premise a little bit. The light does not really change constantly, that is, from shot to shot. Inside the church or at the ceremony the light is probably pretty constant. Ditto at the reception. I remember at one of the first weddings I shot, I wrecked some photos when we left the church and stepped out into the afternoon sunlight. I'd been running to get outside and just forgot to adjust my settings. Never made that mistake again. But otherwise, in general, you get into an environment, set your aperture, shutter speed and ISO and you stay in that ballpark for a while.
    Second, you're generally not adjusting everything on every shot, that is, it's simply not the case that you start every shot with all your settings "zeroed out" and you adjust the exposure from scratch. So you're generally just tweaking the settings and you might not even do that for a number of shots in a row. The exposure meters in modern digital cameras and in particular the live displays in mirrorless cameras make getting the right exposure drop-dead easy, compared to the old days shooting film or even the early days of digital.
    This is where it gets a little complicated to talk about in the abstract, but I'd say that the thing about shooting full manual is mainly that you learn to be conscious of your settings at all times. Most of the time I would decide that a given aperture (say, f2.8 or f3.2) was good and I'd leave that alone unless I really wanted more depth of field (say, doing a group shot). For me, shooting M was mostly about adjusting shutter speed depending on what was going on. While the couple are standing fairly still, I'd shoot at shutter speeds down to 1/30th sec. (I've always used bodies with terrific image stabilization.) If somebody's moving and/or if I'm using a longer lens, then I adjust shutter speed up to something faster.
    Occasionally when the body I was using allowed me to use auto-ISO in M, I'd do that. Pentax has a lovely Aperture+Shutter "TAv" priority mode but auto-ISO in M does pretty much same thing on Sony and Nikon. I sold my big cameras a couple years ago and switched to micro four thirds and regret that none of my MFT bodies permit auto-ISO in M. Yeah, it's not "pure" or "full" Manual, but nobody would shoot M in order to be "pure". It's not a moral decision! It's a practical decision.

    And what's practical about it?

    My basic view is, do what works for you and don't do what doesn't. If you can put the camera in P and get great photos, by all means, do that. For me though shooting full manual has always been the best way to get good photos. And not just manual exposure modes, but generally I preferred to work with two bodies each of which had a prime lens, so no zooming. I was a little less rigorous about focusing modes and in the end found myself using manual focus only when shooting on tripod. But working with fixed focal lengths and having to think carefully about exposure settings worked for me because.... Well, I started to say that it worked precisely because it slowed me down, but that's not quite right. It didn't slow me down much. Certainly didn't make it impossible for me to get candid shots, say, at a reception. No doubt years of shooting sports, always in M, helped! Not it wasn't that shooting M slowed me down but rather that it made me more a more deliberate shooter. It kept (and keeps) me honest, keeps me from getting lazy.
    You ever know one of those people who always knows EXACTLY how much money that have on them? That's kind of what shooting manual is like. Knowing how much money you've got in your pocket or your purse doesn't make it harder for you to buy something, it simply makes you think a little harder about whether you want to. Same thing for shooting in M. You learn quickly to be mindful of all of your settings, which strikes me as an inherently good thing. I found that I worked a little harder to get shots right. My goal always was to shoot fewer photos but have more keepers. I have always taken too many photos, most of them indifferent at best.
    Anyway, I return to my first two paragraphs: Practice and force yourself to use M exclusively. Try it for six months. You might surprise yourself. And if you find it's not for you, that's okay, too. After the shot is taken, whether it's lousy or great, nobody cares what exposure mode you used!
    Good luck.
  3. I just like to add that as Will said, the light doesn't change all the time. But to answer your question I'd say it's knowledge/experience more than practice, even if the two go hand in hand.
    If you look at the camera meter in auto it will change the exposure a lot but the light doesn't change as much. It's the camera that can't determine the difference between a black subject in bright light or white subject in low light. This is of course especially apparent in weddings where people are often dressed in all white or all black.
    My suggestion to fast track learning manual exposure is to become a student of light. Buy a small light meter, one that can take incident readings and show light levels in EV. I have the Sekonic L308. On that particular one you want to set it to ISO 100 to get the correct EV readings.
    Simplified, EV is light levels measured in stops. So if you take a reading outside and it shows 14.3 and you go into the shade and it shows 12.3 the difference is 2 which is two stops. So the shade in this case was 2 stops darker. So if you were shooting with a camera you had to increase the exposure two stops going from sun to shade. That could be done with aperture, shutter speed or ISO. Either way it would still be two stops.
    On older SLRs that has an aperture ring on the lens, changing aperture is the fastest way to change the exposure and only takes fractions of a second. On DSLRs with dials for aperture or shutter speed these can be changed relatively fast while change ISO usually requires some extra maneuvers.
    Step one for the student of light would be the incident light meter and EV readings. And study all different scenarios. No need for a camera yet.
    Step two would be learning spot metering in the camera. Camera in manual exposure of course. When you learn how reflectivity affects the spot meter you could easily adjust your exposure and not be fooled like the automatic modes of the camera.
    Another tips for the manual shooter is to only have constant aperture zooms. It's a hassle when you dial in your exposure and have to change it every time you zoom in.
    When you have the knowledge how light levels change in a room and outside you already know what you need to change in the exposure before even being in that situation. That means you can change the settings while moving and have them be right before you even raise the camera. That makes it very fast.
    With the spot meter you can easily double check your exposure without firing a frame. It's the most precise use of the in-camera meter. It's especially useful for weddings where you have a lot of black and white where you don't want to blow out the white and you don't want to underexpose the black. If you know the light and understand light levels, the spot meter would mostly be for fine tuning and double checking your estimates. A quick sweep over some black and white in the scene will take no time and then you can shoot in that light with the settings you have until something changes.
    And obviously after firing off a shot you can use the histogram, blinkies etc.
  4. I just want to say that the two answers above are very good.
  5. Excellent advice given above. I am from the school of Manual exposure settings. That said I will flip the advice. There is no reason not to use the auto settings with todays cameras. The only people who will think less of you are other photographers. Who cares! Your clients are the ones who matter and as long as you get the shots and you have the right exposure, no one is going to care how you got it. That being said, Learn to take pictures in manual settings first both for available light and using the flash in manual. So what am I saying? I look at it this way, auto settings are really advance settings that you need to fully understand in order to use them correctly. More people mess up jobs in auto settings because of the lack of knowledge of photography exposure. The last advice is use the custom settings on the camera. You have 3 custom settings. Think of 3 entirely different scenarios that you often run across on a job and program them in so you can quickly switch between settings during fast pace scenarios. Weddings can be a fast paced job and the lighting can change quickly so use the auto settings, custom settings and manual exposure to your advantage. Know when to use them and yes, practice, practice, practice. Good luck.
    Dave Gardner likes this.
  6. When Joe Bussink told me he often used Program mode when shooting, I had the gall to tell someone shooting Hollywood weddings for 30-50k the M stands for manly and P well, another name for a cat. We laughed and he explained a technique I don't often see. In P, when he walks to another lighting situation, he spot meters on an 18% gray item and locks exposure. As long as in that area, he is there. Just another way to skin that cat. An approach I like is the dress is super important. I know where the histogram falls short of the right side when it is properly exposed. Spot an area of the dress you want detail and adjust til histogram right end an appropriate distance from right side of the histogram. I like to drive the train and make aperture choices. Easiest and fastest for me is in manual, I spot on the cheek below the eye where main falls, not in shadow, and half click for focus, adjust meter to 2/3 to 1 stop brighter while recomposing. Click. Have what I need in focus, the eyes and exposure is close enough for government work and usually dead on. Move the camera and include more or less darker or lighter background, it doesn't matter because you are in manual and you are set on the bride's skin and the meter won't be tricked and you don't have to guess at compensation. Also, I used to adjust compensation then forget I had applied it. That problem is eliminated. Can check histogram for where the white dress falls while waiting for the next shot/expression/pose.
  7. How would you handle on-stage situations where a powerful spotlight can change the light requirements randomly depending on where the subjects are standing?
  8. Nish, you kind of have 2 choices. You can use the spotlight as your main light source and set you camera to that light
    source, such as florescent on manual mode, or over power it with your flash unit. I prefer to have complete control, for the
    worries of strange shadows on faces, so I would overpower using an on camera flash or off camera strobes.

    The higher you set your ASA, such as 6400 you will pick us stage lighting, so if you want to overpower the stage lights use
    an ASA rating of 1600 or less. I prefer about 600 and let my strobes take over.

    Now sometimes it is fun to mix both lights together to get some special effects, but always cover yourself and get the main
    shot first. An example is if the DJ has one of the colored balls spinning around. A few shots is always fun, sometimes with
    a fish eye lens is a blast. But don't go wild, blue and green faces from the DJ. light ball won't make brides.
  9. With ettl. 90% of the time camera and speedlight, on or off camera, are on ettl at weddings. A lot of technology has gone into the manufacture of cameras so why not use it. There is still a place for manual but knowing how to use ettl does just fine with me. Manual is not the holy grail do what you find best
  10. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I understand that this question is NOT about using ETTL or using Flash.
    The question is about techniques to acquire correct Exposure, manually - i.e. the OP is asking "how to" using the camera in "M Mode" and the phrase "ever changing lighting situations" is referring to the Ambient Lighting Conditions.
  11. It is not "black magic."
    I will backup the above statements of knowledge and practice.
    When I shot film, way back when, it was manual everything (camera, lens and flash), and we did just fine.
    In the "old days of film," there was a piece of paper that was in the film box, and it gave you the recommended exposure for different lighting situations. This was remarkably accurate and did not require a meter. With practice your eye gets used to seeing and your brain to understand the difference between "full sunlight" and "shadow/shade," and the other light situations.
    And this falls back to the "sunny 16 rule." f/16 at 1/film speed, for a full daylight shot. Google "Sunny 16 rule."
    So for ASA/ISO 125 film, you shot at f/16 at 1/125 sec.
    As the lighting changed, you adjusted the aperture, leaving the shutter speed constant. This allowed one to change between film speeds by just changing the shutter speed.
    Granted this is ignoring the equivalent exposure. Don't want to shoot at f/8 at 1/125, then try f/11 at 1/60.

    Under most conditions, the lighting is NOT "ever changing." As mentioned, lighting is rather constant for a significant period of time or place.
    If the situation is people walking in and out of the shade, then use the sunny 16 rule, f/16 in the sun and f/8 or f/5.6 in the shade. IOW you measure the lighting in both places, and toggle between them. Similarly for changing lighting due to the clouds coming in and clearing, just toggle between settings.
    BTW, there is a trick that I was taught, which works on most film cameras, but not DSLRs (as far as I know). When you walk about be aware of the lighting and adjust the shutter speed and aperture of your camera 'without looking at the camera.' This was easy because both shutter speed and aperture rings had "end stops." So you turn to the end stop and count down. If you want 1/250, go to the end (1/1000), then count down 2 clicks (500 and 250), and you are there. Similar for the aperture; go to the end (f/16), count down 2 (f11, f8), now you are at f/8. IOW, you became one with the camera, and we did not use the meter in the camera. For many situations, this is even FASTER than an auto camera, because with a camera set to full auto, you don't know what the camera will select for aperture and shutter speed until you press the shutter. Then maybe you have to adjust shutter speed or aperture, to suit the subject. With the manual walk about method, you know exactly what the shutter speed and aperture is set at.
    For you in the 'auto' age is like me learning to drive on an automatic. When I decided to learn to drive a stick, oh man was it brutal. I was like the TV show; jerking the car, stalling the engine, rolling backwards on a slope, etc, etc. But eventually, I learned to drive the stick, well enough that one day I HAD to get on the highway FAST and merge into traffic. I went from 0 to freeway speed the fastest and smoothest that I ever did, and I did not think about release the clutch in 1st, 1st to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd, and 3rd to 4th, it just happened. My subconsious brain took over the shifting, I just steered the car. So if you put effort and time into it, you too will learn to shoot in manual mode easily or at least in comfort.
    gud luk
  12. Thank you, Bob Bernardo. Useful info.
    • How would you handle on-stage situations where a powerful spotlight can change the light requirements randomly depending on where the subjects are standing?

    This gets to why you need M in the first place. If you have spotlights that might get into the frame, and fool the meter, or windows that also might fool the meter.

    Or if the subject of the spotlight is in the frame, but isn't the subject of the photograph.

    In many indoor situations, having lights fool the meter is more of a problem than getting the right exposure manually.

    Otherwise, determine the manual exposure for the different situations, in and out of the spotlight, remember those, and quickly adjust for them.

    The important thing is to recognize those situations that fool the meter, and that P will get wrong. Use M with appropriate metering.
  13. I grew up using manual cameras when most were manual only and auto wasn't very good. You shoot and study your results and you'll learn it. Even though I have film cameras with auto functions and several digital bodies I never use an auto function. Ever. Honestly I don't trust it to see things the way my eyes see them and so I go with what works for me. I am able through much practice to simply see a situation where I know the light meter will be thrown off. My answer has always been shoot several frames and bracket exposure.

    Rick H.
  14. I only use manual when the action has slowed down....and i can take my time...other then that i use aperture.
  15. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    We used to hand crank to start cars, use slide rules and calculators, cook over wood stoves, and yes, we all used Manual, because that is what there was. I use Professional, Aperture, Shutter and Manual as well. Once in a great while I admit I even use settings in Effects or Scenes. Any and all can and do produce excellent images used properly. I get profoundly tired of the religion of Manual. Technology is there for a reason. Luddites still survive on photography!
    ruslan and Dave Gardner like this.
  16. Back when I did some event photography, I had the advantage of spending a lot of time in the same venues. I often knew exposures off the top of my head before setting foot in. If I didn't I'd discreetly take some meter readings ahead of time.

    Basically, I'd then just tweak the exposure as needed-i.e. if I knew one corner of a church was two stops darker than the alter I'd just fix it as needed. Chances are, the alter isn't going to change through the course of a ceremony.

    The last time I got strong armed into doing an event(anniversary, not a wedding) the couple wanted "real" black and white which for me means grabbing an MF SLR and a bunch of Tri-X. Forget auto exposure-I don't have an MF camera with a built in meter. Fortunately, it was in my church's fellowship hall where, again, I know the exposures backwards and forwards, upside down and right side up also depending on the time of day. Even though I had my Minolta spot meter in my pocket, all I used it for was just to wander around before folks started arriving and make sure my memory was still correct. Had we ventured outside, I'd have gone with the meter behind my eyes and also adding in the filter factor(with B&W pan films, I'm always going to use a filter outdoors and of course have to take that into account.

    Fortunately, this even was a lot more laid back than a wedding and the couple was thrilled with the photos I gave them(I didn't print anything-they got scans and negatives). Since I did it as a favor, I also only charged them for the film+chemistry. Even so, it was enough to make me say "never again" :) .

    My point though is that you learn. If I have auto exposure, I tend toward shutter priority but also am constantly thinking if a given exposure makes sense. Depending on the body, sometimes it's easier to just switch to manual mode than to dial in exposure compensation or use AE lock to get the exposure correct. Granted if I'm not using digital I'll use negative film, which does afford me some lattitude(although the best prints tend to come from correctly exposed or POSSIBLY slightly overexposed negatives).
  17. Have not seen the OP for a while.

    I don't know if you are shooting film or digital.
    If you have a DSLR, set it on manual and spend a few weekends outside running on full manual
    Carry a sunny 16 guide to help you. In the film days, I used to tape the sunny 16 guide to the back of the camera.
    The reason I say DSLR is that you can immediately evaluate the shot. Did you get the exposure right or was it over exposed or under exposed. The immediate feedback is a lot easier for learning than waiting a week for the film to get back from the lab.

    Then shoot the typical lighting that you have at a wedding or event; bright sun to a cloud moving in, under a tree, etc.
    After a few days of this you will start to get the hang of it.

    This is a learned and perishable skill, if you do not practice it, you will loose it.
    In high school and college I was pretty good a eyeballing a scene and knowing what exposure to use. Now, I can't do it except for full daylight = sunny 16.
    Charles_Webster likes this.
  18. Like many here, I learned exposure on manual everything cameras ... mostly in the prehistoric days of film : -) My early Leica M cameras didn't even have a built-in meter.

    However, negative film had the advantage of great exposure latitude (especially in the highlights) that digital is only now beginning to approach. Many photographers who thought they were good at setting exposure were unknowingly saved by their lab (I have friends who run labs that told me this many times).

    I use any means and any settings to get the best exposure possible as often as possible. Sometimes it is aperture preferred when the lighting averages out to medium tones. But, I WILL use Program when in a stress situation ... I teach my students/assistants that "P" stands for Panic ... when flummoxed set the camera to P!

    The problem with most exposure guidelines is that too many photographers do not know the basis of exposure metering. if you use "A", "P", 'S" or "M" to meter a black wall, it'll show settings to make it medium grey ... meter a white wall and it'll show different settings to make that wall medium grey also.

    Modern meters are pretty smart, but when faced with a strongly back-lit subject, you'll get an underexposed subject. Or if the background is very dark, you'll get an overexposed subject. This happens a lot with ambient light wedding work. It is also the reason why so many wedding shooters use on-camera flash to even out the light between the background and the subject.

    A sort of revolution in using manual exposure has come about with the mirror-less digital cameras. If shooting ambient light, you set the camera to show exactly what you will get in the viewfinder. WYSIWYG ... What You See Is What You Get. I now use a Sony A7R-II for weddings and always set the exposure manually because I can immediately see the effect of any adjustment right in the viewfinder.

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