The Intimacy of Manual Mode in Photography

If you want to shoot your camera in manual mode, be prepared for long walks on the beach and hours of one-on-one meetings with your resident dSLR. Manual mode photography requires intimacy. If you aren’t ready for that commitment, don’t bother or you’ll just get frustrated.

In manual mode, you have control over everything: shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, focus points and a whole host of other intricate settings deep within that amazing machine you’re holding in your hands. Control! Taking over the photographic world!

…crud. Control. What do you set where to capture the perfect photograph?

Ranch Bronc Riding at the Palouse Empire Fair RodeoNight rodeo=challenging conditions. The photo was taken at f/2.2, shutter speed at 1/250 and ISO-800.

Because you have control over your settings in manual mode, you have to understand exposure, how light is impacting the subject you want to shoot and how that light changes from shot to shot. It’s overwhelming, and it takes a lot of practice. I sometimes still have throw-away shots where I was under- or over-exposed because I chose the wrong settings.

So why shoot in manual mode if you risk not getting the shot?

That answer won’t be the same for every photographer, but for me, photography is art. I know what I want that photo to look like, and I can’t achieve that look consistently if my camera is making the decisions. I know what depth of focus I want (aperture) and I know how I want the action stopped (shutter speed).

Shooting in either shutter priority or aperture priority allows me to control one of those settings but not both. While ISO can be manipulated in both those modes, I prefer low ISO to reduce noise.

In addition, the more familiar you are with how shutter speed, aperture and ISO play together, the better photographer you will become. Or maybe a more appropriate adjective is “consistent”. Light is what makes photography work. If you understand how to manipulate your shutter, aperture and ISO settings to make the most of available light, you are well on your way to mastering photo shoots in all types of settings.

On a final note, I don’t think shooting in manual mode makes you a better photographer. I’ve seen a few articles bordering on snobbery from people looking down their noses at those who shoot auto or semi-auto modes on a dSLR. Rubbish.

The art of photography relies on the relationship between photographer and camera. Manual mode simply deepens that relationship and helps you understand how your camera captures those once-in-a-lifetime memories.

Photography: How I Shoot

Photography is like picking up a clod of dirt. It gets under your fingernails, and it’s hard to get clean. Ever since I started playing with my mom’s 35mm point and shoot film camera in the 90s, I’ve loved this art form. Photography is saving memories. Capturing that moment of that day that you can never relive. It’s amazing. It’s powerful.

First, a quick bit about how I shoot.

  • I shoot mostly outdoors. Get me inside, and I have some struggles because I don’t have a good light or strobe system. I’m getting better with it as I become more intimate with my equipment.
  • Speaking of intimate, I shoot in manual mode but only in the past few months. Before that, I used shutter or aperture priority. More on intimacy and manual mode below.
  • About 95% of the time I’m on single point focus and rarely the center point.
  • I shoot in RAW format, except for time-lapse photography.
  • I shoot Canon, but I love the feel of Nikons – especially the shutter release – so I’m an equal opportunity employer of camera equipment.

I haven’t even begun what I really wanted to say, and here I’m already three ‘graphs in. I’m taking that as a sign, so I’m going to save my intimacy/manual mode spiel for next week.

If you’ve got some spare time dangling from your fingertips, give Digital Photography School a scan. It’s packed with information, and the forum is a great place to learn from other photographers.

Landscape photography of north IdahoA recent shot I kind of dig.

Chasing Butterflies

Life is short. Chase butterflies while you can.

Summer Grass & Bull Fights

The cows came to the mountains a week ago for summer grass. Less than 24 hours later, the fence was all tore apart from an alleged bull fight.

Cow waiting on the truck to be turned out to summer grass.

Waiting to unload from the truck.

Cow-calf pair mothered up and ready for summer grass.

Cow-calf pair mothered up and ready for summer grass.

Busted up fence due to a bull fight.

Busted up fence due to a bull fight.

She’s still out there riding fences.

I’m spending the weekend riding fence with two of my favorite boys and singing “You Just Can’t See Him From the Road” by Chris LeDoux.

But he’s still out there riding fences,
Still makes his living with his rope.
As long as there’s a sunset he’ll keep ridin’ for the brand,
You just can’t see him from the road.

Gus - bay horse headshot

Gus, the cowhorse, sticking out his tongue

Gus, bay quarter horse with mouth full of grass

Gus, bay quarter horse

Doc, border collie cow dog

Life is a highway.

Life is a highway.

Just to be clear, we sing the Chris LeDoux version of this song – and ONLY the LeDoux version – in my household. Just LeDoux it, friends, we’re near Friday.

6 Tips for Taking iPhone Photos

iPhone photo, Face time with a black Angus heiferThe iPhone goes with me just about everywhere. It’s handy for email. Checking the weather. Quick questions for Google. But a lot of the time? I’m using the camera. Are iPhone photos (also known as iPhoneography) real photography?

Yes. They can be. I don’t think iPhones will replace dSLRs, because they can’t offer the capabilities of a professional level Canon or Nikon. But if you’ve heard it said, “The best camera to use is the one you have with you.”, it’s because it is true. The iPhone is about as portable as cameras come. And they are rarely left behind because of all the other things we use them for.

The strength of the iPhone camera is that it forces you to get back to the basics of photography. Forget the zoom; it degrades the quality of the photo in quick order. You get one button to push, and that’s the one snapping the photo. All the rest of the work has to be done before you push that button.

6 Tips for Taking Photos with an iPhone

  1. Composition. Balance your photo. Consider the rule of thirds. I have that grid turned on all the time on my iPhone.
  2. Zoom with your feet. You’ve got two legs. Move them.
  3. Angles. The iPhone is lightweight, easy to hoist above your head or crouch down low. Interesting angles grab attention. Use them to your advantage.
  4. Maneuver until you get the best lighting possible. The iPhone is picky about light. Tilting it a bit can change the exposure. Taking a step back to allow a ray of sun to light your subject can make a photo pop. Indoor shooting is a challenge, especially in poor light. The iPhone’s camera capabilities really shine in natural light settings.
  5. Use both hands. It may seem silly since the iPhone is so small, but you’ll get better photos with the angles you want, the lighting you want and the subject in the proper place if you use one hand to steady the phone and the other to press the shutter button.
  6. Be judicious in editing. I use the PS Express (photoshop) app to edit photos if needed. And due to the iPhone’s limitations, I do use the crop, sharpening and exposure features on a regular basis. But I’d far rather get what I want when I push the shutter button. Editing takes time. I’d rather spend my time creating new things than fixing old things.

Both photos on this page were taken with an iPhone. They haven’t been altered in any way. No crop. No exposure, sharpening or blur effects. With patience and practice, the iPhone camera is useful. And it’s complete gold when you want to crawl up the side of a loading chute to get an aerial view of a pen of calves.
iPhone photo, barb wire fence

Relationship Glue

This boy still makes me laugh after nearly three years together. That’s relationship glue, right there.

“Lovin’ Life”
He is a ridiculously happy dog. Except for his late tendency towards emo-ness and moping around on the porch until we go do fun things.
Border collie dog smiling

“End of the Performance”
He “bows” about 19 times a day. Usually he’s stretching. Sometimes he’s being a goof. This time? He’s giving the eye to one of his favorite toys…a dried cow pie.
Border collie dog bowing

This is his “you are acting like such a child, why don’t you grow up?” look.
Border collie dog

Photojournal: Ranch Life

Yesterday was a gorgeous northwest day. Loads of sunshine. Warm temperatures. Amazing scenery. A few hours in the saddle. Total bliss of a day.

I just can’t cut the team anymore than I have so you get all these pictures today.

Snake River canyon pastures

Snake River canyon pastures

Gus, the cowhorse


Mares standing in corral

Ladies in waiting.

Wooden rail fence

Black Percheron mare lying down by Snake River

Peggy or Polly - I can't ever remember who is who.

Snake River

Snake River

Turk, black Percheron draft horse


2012 Supermoon Photos

There was a supermoon (or is it super moon?) tonight. My fondness for moonlight dates clear back to when I was little and had to walk out into the pasture to turn the windmill off after dark. I thought it looked like most normal full moons outside of the weird vertical glow it had going on, but I tried to take pictures of it anyway. Hey, the more I type “supermoon”, the more it looks like supermoron. Yes? Anyone else? Psh. Here’s your 2012 supermoon from north Idaho.

2012 Supermoon Photo

2012 Supermoon Photo and Pine Tree

2012 Supermoon Photo Behind Clouds

2012 Supermoon Leaves Silhouette2012 Supermoon Leaf Silhouette Photo