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Get off Auto Mode: Mastering Manual Exposure


On this lesson page you will find:

  • the .pdf workbook
  • the zoom link for the live workshop
  • the workshop recording
  • any other materials, information or resources 

Here is a diagram of the exposure triangle. If you find it helpful, use it, if not… don’t!

The problem for me with the triangle diagram is that it feels misleading. Eg,. if you have your shutter speed at 1/2000 you’ll need your ISO at 1600? Or why are they at the same end of the triangle? Does 1/30 go together with f/22? For me, the triangle as a visual doesn’t work so well.

I therefore made these diagrams as an alternative way to try and show how the 3 parts of the triangle go together, representing one side of the scale as making the image darker, and one side of the scale as making it lighter.

Therefore, if you adjust one setting toward the dark end, another setting will need to go toward the light end in order to keep your exposure where it was. 

Similarly, if you want to make your photo lighter, you would need to adjust one or two sliders toward the “lighter” side of the scale.

Below the first “scale” are some hypothetical scenarios where you would need to change the settings of your camera. I will put answers beneath each shortly.

You have two options here.

One could be to slow the shutter speed to 1/400 sec. I wouldn’t go any slower than this or I begin to notice a lot more unusable photos due to motion blur. So going slower than 1/400, while it WOULD make the photo brighter, may result in less sharp photo, or fewer useable photos.

If the photo is STILL too dark, the only other option is to raise my ISO, since my aperture is already as wide as it can be – letting in as much light as it can.

ISO 200 isn’t very high, so even if I had to go up to ISO 400, 640, or 800, for a lot of newer cameras this isn’t a big deal. Of course, it depends on your equipment!

First, I would lower my shutter speed. It doesn’t need to be this fast any more as my subject isn’t going to be moving around. I could lower it all the way to 1/400 or 1/500 of a second. This is going to make the photo a lot brighter

I could also widen my aperture. It must have been at f/2.8 to give myself a better chance of getting the dog in focus while it was running, by having a slightly wider depth of field. But now that it’s standing still, I might want to have a softer background. Of course if my lens is soft when “wide open” I might not want to go all the way to f/1.8 but find the “sweet spot” where it’s sharpest.

Finally, because I know the photo is going to be much, much brighter due to the slower shutter speed letting more light in to the sensor, I know I would need to lower my ISO. Here is actually a handy calculator to figure out how much you’d need to lower it by. You’re trying to match up the EV since the calculator obviously doesn’t know what the lighting conditions are.

On mirrorless this is much easier as you can just adjust the ISO and see how the photo will look. 

Assuming the photo was correctly exposed with the above settings (eg., not underexposed for highlights), then dropping the shutter speed to 1/500 and the aperture to f/1.8 would mean our ISO would be around ISO 200.

There are two possible options but only one of them makes sense.

If I had been doing action photos and wanted to CONTINUE shooting action, I wouldn’t want to touch my shutter speed (ok, MAYBE it could go to 1/1250 but let’s say it’s fast for a speedy boi). In this case, the only option for more light is to raise the iSO. Lowering the shutter speed will result in blurry action photos. 

On the other hand if you were doing portraits and had the shutter speed up because of the previous bright sunshine, then it would make more sense to keep your ISO as low as possible, and instead drop the shutter speed. If the dog isn’t zooming around, you could safely go down to 1/400 or 1/500 second – you may not even need to go this slow. It depends on how dark it got!

The answer to this greatly depends on your camera and its dynamic range (eg., how much detail it can store in the darkest areas). It also depends on how confident you are with underexposing and editing, and whether you can be bothered dealing with blown highlights or not. 

For me, in this situation, I would opt to underexpose, at least a little bit, to save SOME of the highlights – if it’s not possible to save them all. See the lessons on underexposing for more. 

This means making the photo darker.

So if we assume that the settings above were the correct exposure, there are only two options, and only one of them really makes sense.

On one hand, we could theoretically make the shutter speed faster. That WOULD make the photo darker. But then we have ISO 500 for no particular reason, and a fast shutter speed for no particular reason.

Instead, it would be better to lower the ISO to get the best image quality with the lowest amount of noise (especially when underexposing!) and keep the shutter speed where it is.

I wouldn’t do anything.

Trick question, sorry!

While you COULD underexpose more, at ISO 4000, you’re potentially (and probably) going to notice a lot more noise if you need to brighten up your underexposed photo, than you would at a lower ISO.

By about ISO 2000+ I stop underexposing much, and by ISO 4000 I’m not underexposing at all – even if that means blowing the highlights. Because if my dog is underexposed at ISO 4000 and I need to brighten him up, there’s going to be a LOT of noise, and a large loss of image quality. 

Workshop: Back to Basics – Learning Our Camera

Dynamic Range Optimization:

From Sony’s website:

Dynamic Range Optimizer/D-Range Optimizer (DRO):

The DRO function analyzes the contrast and produces an image with optimal brightness and recovered shadow detail. You can use this function while the subject is moving or during continuous shooting. The image may appear noisy because the image is corrected with image processing.

But to be honest, when I used it, everything just became insanely dark. Maybe I should try again, because optimal brightness and recovered shadow detail sounds great but it really, really sucked when I had it turned on.

Chat Transcript:

19:57:02 From Rosalind Phang : hii
19:57:12 From irenenyrud : I hear you 🙂
19:57:16 From Alice Nentwig : Hello… I can hear you fine 🙂
20:01:25 From lenorehedemark : I forgot and someone else reminded me 😅
20:02:42 From lenorehedemark : I’m eating donuts in a sweatshirt so my camera won’t be on today 😂
20:03:13 From Rosalind Phang : Baking a cake atm 😛
20:05:04 From Tracey : Emily have you pressed record?
20:06:37 From Tracey : Lol, ok good!!
20:11:15 From olivia : took me ages to figure out my new camera after Christmas after using my old one for 2 years 😂 think I’m still figuring things out accidentally as time goes on 😂
20:11:33 From lenorehedemark : I have mine set up the same! It kept annoying me the other way
20:16:53 From Tracey : I have a nikon d7200 cant find shutter speed
20:17:02 From Rosalind Phang : yes
20:17:15 From Rosalind Phang : Its the dial on the top of the camera
20:17:18 From olivia : dial
20:17:20 From Rosalind Phang : Just move it around with your thumb
20:18:02 From Tracey : oh good!
20:18:23 From Tracey : playing
20:18:33 From olivia : it was aperture on my new Nikon d750 I couldn’t find for ages, it’s a dial on front of camera haha
20:19:03 From Jessica Liu Ek : Anyone with Nikon who knows how to change the shutter button? Like changing which button that affects the shutter. If that makes sense?😅
20:19:07 From Rosalind Phang : yes
20:19:55 From Agnes : I always forget which dial is which 😂. I know it normally but I forget in action
20:19:59 From Jessica Liu Ek : I mean like the dial. So i want the dial that affects the aperture to affect the shutter speed instead
20:20:31 From Rosalind Phang : Jessica, go to menu,
20:20:41 From Jessica Liu Ek : Okay thanks I’ll try to find it
20:20:42 From Rosalind Phang : Then go to the pencil n the left
20:20:57 From Rosalind Phang : It takes you to the controls menu, and then you should be able to find customise command dials.
20:21:14 From Rosalind Phang : Does that help?
20:21:32 From Jessica Liu Ek : Oh yes thanks Rosie. I’ve been looking for that one for ages
20:21:38 From Rosalind Phang : great;)
20:25:38 From lenorehedemark : I’ve had Sony for a year and didn’t even know the fn button was there or did anything til like a week ago 😂
20:25:44 From lenorehedemark : ‘
20:29:23 From olivia : I think this is what I struggle with: focus area
20:30:05 From lenorehedemark : I feel like I switch my focus settings like everyday. I just can’t get it right lol
20:30:55 From Rosalind Phang : Do you use auto focus for self portraits?
20:32:03 From Alice Nentwig : With action shots: do you use expand flexible spot, flexible spot or zone??? I never seem to get the eyes in focus…
20:33:11 From olivia : yes! thank you that’s very helpful!
20:33:45 From irenenyrud : Did it work to send a photo? I don’t understand what the «L+tracking» do.. I have a canon Eos R.
20:35:24 From Rosalind Phang : Helps to have eye tracking! Haha! Mine doesn’t do any continuous tracking or any tracking.
20:36:50 From olivia : I managed to get a couple of action shots today by pre-focusing on the obstacle the dog was jumping over because my camera hates my black dog running at speed 😂
20:37:45 From irenenyrud : Ah, I dint know it was a face 😀
20:38:00 From irenenyrud : Hahaha
20:38:47 From Rosalind Phang : Nope
20:39:01 From Rosalind Phang : I have to keep moving the focus point to focus
20:39:07 From Agnes : Metoo d750 😂
20:40:03 From lenorehedemark : Do you have a dial or something to move your focus point or do you have to go into the menu?
20:40:04 From Rosalind Phang : Ahh ok got it!
20:40:25 From irenenyrud : Me neither 😀
20:40:28 From Tracey : Im glad you asked that Fiona!!!!
20:43:57 From lenorehedemark : I love back-button focus. I set it a few months ago and have been obsessed 😂
20:45:19 From irenenyrud : Do you keep half pressing the shutter at the same time as you hold the «af on»?
20:47:45 From lenorehedemark : Hmm smart! I’ve never thought to do that!
20:48:08 From Rosalind Phang : Thank you! Was always wondering about that
20:48:39 From Jessica Liu Ek : That’s so smart! I was so annoyed when it kept re-focusing before I discovered back focus
20:52:07 From lenorehedemark : Oh I asked a question I think you missed
20:52:25 From lenorehedemark : Do you have a dial or something to move your focus point or do you have to go into the menu?
20:53:21 From lenorehedemark : I have a joystick I think but it just doesn’t work to move the focus point
20:55:12 From irenenyrud : You answered my question about half pressing the button – thank you 😀
20:55:21 From lenorehedemark : Ok thank you. That is what mine does and it’s just a bit of a hassle when shooting so I wanted to know if there was something different
20:55:58 From lenorehedemark : I did but it came in with a broken sensor so I sent it back
20:59:46 From Rosalind Phang : When you took the self portraits with your dogs, I thought you were using your phone as a remote but I didn’t see your phone in your hand?!
21:01:57 From Rosalind Phang : HAHAHAA
21:04:27 From lenorehedemark : I love the “post to instagram” reminder 😆
21:05:39 From lenorehedemark : Oh gosh I definitely need that. My photos are always crooked and I always have to fix it in post
21:10:44 From lenorehedemark : Omg that’s super helpful. I never knew that existed 😂
21:17:03 From lenorehedemark : RAW is a huge lifesaver for events
21:19:36 From Agnes : Colour space: srgb or adobe rgb, or in case raw it is not important?
21:20:43 From Agnes : Thanks 😊
21:23:01 From Teresa : what does the Dynamic Range Optimization do?
21:24:01 From lenorehedemark : What is it supposed to do?
21:24:34 From lenorehedemark : I’ll turn it off and see what changes
21:25:06 From lenorehedemark : Is that DRO?
21:25:20 From lenorehedemark : Oh nice it’s already off
21:26:20 From Teresa : ah thanks!
21:27:19 From lenorehedemark : I don’t think I have anymore. Thank you so much!!
21:27:26 From Rosalind Phang : Thank you:)
21:27:33 From Alice Nentwig : Thank you so much as always!
21:27:44 From Jessica Liu Ek : Thank you Em!
21:27:48 From lenorehedemark : Have a nice night!
21:28:05 From lenorehedemark : Oh yes I won’t forget this time 😂
21:28:21 From Tracey : Thanks Emily, i’ll need to watch again but appreciate your patience with us. xx
21:29:20 From Agnes : Thank you so much 😊