Dog by Christmas Tree

The Transformative Quality of Shooting Manual

Just as the holiday season was kicking into overdrive, something really great happened: my iPhone ran out of storage space. No longer could I whip out my phone and take impulsive snapshots. Suddenly, when I needed to take a picture, I needed to grab my real camera.

When I first got the Lumix GH2 in early 2011, I put a lot of effort into digging into its menus, trying to learn as much about the camera as possible. It was the first advanced shooter I’d ever owned, and I was eager to leverage its power to my advantage. In particular, I focused attention on learning how to shoot in Manual mode.

All of the cameras I had owned in the past had been point-and-shoots, and I never tinkered around with their advanced settings. When I bought the GH2, I was determined to master it. Plus, learning how to shoot in Manual mode would empower me with mastery over any camera I happened to pick up.

The effort paid off. It took time to sink in, but eventually I got good at shooting in Manual. There’s something remarkably rewarding about capturing great-looking shots when you dial in all of the parameters by hand. You get a genuine sense of ownership over your images. You’re proud of them. They’re your babies.

It’s the complete opposite of taking pictures with a point-and-shoot or a smartphone. In those cases, the images are disposable. Easy to take, easy to share, easy to forget. When you capture a great shot in Manual, you’re more likely to preserve it. You get inspired to print. You keep the files organized in special folders. You make sure they’re backed-up. The whole nine.

My life became increasingly hectic in 2012. When I shot with my GH2, it wasn’t for leisure. I would grab the camera to take some quick family shots, or shoot some pictures for work. My camera became a utility, not an artistic outlet. Because I was more hurried, I would usually set the camera in Automatic mode, so I could shoot as quickly as possible. Because the Automatic mode on the GH2 is pretty darn good, my work turned out looking “good enough.” It was a satisfactory, yet wholly empty experience.

There were twelve people in my home on Christmas day 2012. We were sitting around the living room, enjoying one another’s company. I had the GH2 in my lap, and I would casually shoot pictures in Automatic mode as the day moved along. Reviewing the shots on the LCD after I took them, they looked decent, but I knew they could be better. After a while, I finally turned the wheel to Manual mode again, and started tweaking the various settings to get everything looking nice.

Because I was actively adjusting settings, I was shooting more and more. With my camera clicking away, the subjects in front of the lens started getting more animated, hamming it up. Before long I had the settings dialed in perfectly, and I ended up taking a few shots that everyone loved. I immediately started hearing “You have to print that out!” and “I want a copy, please send it to me!”

The feeling was mutual. By taking a couple of minutes to get the aperture/ISO/shutter figured out, my work transformed from snapshots to photographs, and I transformed from being a regular person with a camera to being a photographer.

Going forward, I may pop the camera into Automatic mode occasionally, to get a few cheap shots quickly, but my main method of working will be hashing it out in Manual. The convenience of cranking out easy and disposable shots in Automatic isn’t nearly as rewarding as doing it the hard way. Life is far too short and far too precious to forgo simple and meaningful pleasures like these.

The next frontier: turning off JPEG mode and shooting in RAW, and then learning how to process in post with Adobe Lightroom.

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Writer, musician, photo taker and video maker. When not writing somewhat longish articles for this blog, I write incredibly short things on Twitter: @SamMallery

4 thoughts on “The Transformative Quality of Shooting Manual”

  1. Great shot! Hope to get some hard copies of the fantastic pictures you took Christmas and the holidays!

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