A Friend Steve, the Moon, and Shooting Manually

The night was still and so was the sea. It almost looked frozen, with practically no waves. My friends and I stood at the shore of the Dead Sea and watched the moon rise above the tall mountains of ancient Edom. Then Steve pulled out a tiny folded tripod and after attaching the camera to it, stationed it to take a photo. We all stared it him. “A photo of the moon?” we all questioned, now that would be cool to learn. After watching him adjust something in his camera, I handed mine to him and asked him to teach me to do the same. And so went my first manual exposure lesson on the deserted shore of the Dead Sea. All I could remember was his instructions to bring that number on my camera setting to as low as possible, “Some cameras go down to 2.0, others to 1.2 he said.” I didn’t argue, and kept scrolling that number down. Then he positioned my camera on a poll nearby and pushed the shutter. I was ecstatic looking at my own picture of the moon, hardly blurry.

Two years later I happened to be walking in Jerusalem later in the evening. The sun already set and only the street lights were illuminating the ancient city walls. With the sky deep blue behind the tall walls and the lanterns with their soft yellow light, the view was beautiful and picture worthy. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered Steve and his nifty little tripod. Not having anywhere to hurry on a warm summer night, I started looking through the menu options to find that one setting. After some trial and error I brought the number to its lowest setting and positioned my camera on the ground. What happened next you might ask? I spent over an hour shooting the different views of Jerusalem at night from the ground, then from a railing and whatever other solid object I could find to stable my camera, thanking Steve for the trick he showed me.

Looking back to that night on the shore of the Dead Sea, I smile at how much I have learned since, almost seven years after. But the truth is everyone has their own start and mine happened to be right there. What Steve taught me is that manually setting your camera will go a long way for you, maybe even into a professional. I hear people often state that my camera probably costs thousands of dollars, but it has little to do with the gear. If your small camera has a manual setting like mine did, you can rock out stunning images even of the moon. It can get tricky, but anything can be learned with consistent practice.

Recently at a wedding the father of the groom asked me to take a photo with the newly weds and their vintage ride. It was all good, except the car was standing in direct sunlight. It’s hard to see anything in the back of your screen with the noon light, so I switched to an auto mode and it gave me this photo, not exactly what I want to showoff.

I then switched back to manual, metered the light and I got this image! So much nicer even with direct light.

The camera set the f/stop to 7.1, which I never shoot at. I set mine to 2.8. The first image has way too many things in focus, while the second one focuses on the subjects. If you look closer, in the manually exposed image the subjects’ faces are much smoother, concealing the effects of harsh light on the skin. Manual also allows you to shoot in RAW mode, which can be then easily controlled for light and temperature. There a lot more than can be sad on exposure and light, but the point is, don’t rely on an expensive camera, rather learn to shoot manually. Happy Wednesday!

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