Question about outdoor portraits and settings?

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by jenn76, Sep 1, 2008.

  1. jenn76
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    jenn76 New Member

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    I shoot a lot of outdoor portraits, and am just starting to learn (again!) about manual settings for my camera (Canon 20D). My question is... Do you guys who know how to use manual settings ever shoot in auto, or do you always shoot in manual? Right now, I still trust the camera more than myself to decide which settings to use, so although I'm practicing in manual a bit, I'm still using auto for shoots.

    I don't have as much time as I would like to practice since I'm married with 3 small kids and a full-time job, as well as the beginnings of a photography business (I hope!). I practice every chance I get, but I can hear the laundry calling my name even now... :D

    Any advice is appreciated!
  2. ksmattfish
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    ksmattfish Now 100% DC - not as cool as I once was, but still

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    I shoot in manual because I truly think it's simpler than the auto settings. I'm not trying to be cool, I'm just trying to make it easy on myself. The reflective meters in cameras measure the tones they are pointed at. If the tones change then the exposure changes; slightly recomposing the scene can do it. I normally want the exposure to remain the same unless the light actually changes.

    For outdoor portraits first I pick the aperture based on the depth of field I want: usually f/4 or faster. Then I set the shutter and ISO to get the background exposure I want. With the aperture opened up the problem is usually too much light, particularly if you have to deal with a flash sync speed (with some flashes you don't). On a sunny day at f/4 and ISO 100 I might need a shutter speed of 1/2000th to avoid blowing out bright skies. I like using polarizing filters, so I can eat a stop or 2 there. Finally I set the flash power or flash to subject distance to get the subject exposure that works with the aperture setting.
  3. mblanton
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    mblanton New Member

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    Most photographers who use manual for every shot are those that started with fully manual film cameras back in the day, and it just comes natural for them. I have the 10D and I use 4 exposure modes the most: manual, shutter priority, aperture priority, and program...in no particular order. Let me give you examples of what I use each mode for.

    Program - snapshots of family gatherings...christmas, thanksgiving, birthdays. Program allows me to shoot and really not be involved with the camera. That way I can concentrate on spending time with my family and just point and shoot.

    Aperture Priority - use this mode anytime you need to control depth of field. I would use this to take a outdoor portrait of my daughter. That way I can throw the aperture wide open on a telephoto lens and completely blur the background, so the photograph is about her.

    Shutter Priority - use this mode anytime you need to control movement. I might choose to preset my shutter speed to 1/500th if I were photographing pee wee football. I might also slow the shutter speed down to several full seconds if I were trying to blur the movement of water.

    Manual - If I'm shooting something that I would frame and display, I'll usually shoot in manual. It gives me the most control.

    This is just the beginning. There is an endless number of reasons that you could use any of the modes that are available with your camera. My advice would be to experiment and see which works best for you.

    Good luck and I look forward to seeing your work.

    Mike
  4. jenn76
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    jenn76 New Member

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    Thanks to both of you. Those were exactly the types of answers i was hoping for. Especially when just learning manual settings, this helps me to make it make sense in my mind. I should mention that I shoot with a 420EX flash. I don't know how to work it yet, except to put it on there and let it do it's thing. :D But that's my next lesson!
  5. anubis404
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    anubis404 New Member

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    I nearly never shoot in auto, always manual. I don't trust the camera, and it tends to overexpose sometimes. I also sometimes go for a certain look. Sometimes I want the shot slightly overexposed or slightly underexposed. I only shoot in auto when I don't really care what the picture looks like, I just want what is in the picture to be seen (ex: when shooting groups of people or friends).

    There are different levels of manual modes, but I believe MB explained those. Good luck!
  6. NateWagner
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    NateWagner New Member

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    I will say that I usually shoot in AV (aperture priority), and will probably continue to do that unless I get a light meter and meter on my own. however, I quite frequently adjust the exposure compensation in order to balance out the mistakes my camera makes. If I see it's blowing the photos out I'll under expose the next photo a bit, and so on, so forth.
  7. Christie Photo
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    Christie Photo New Member

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    I've made a few outdoor portraits.

    My approach: Find proper lighting, and shoot there. This sounds simple, but it takes some us a while to learn this... to learn how to see light. I look for soft, directional light falling on my subject and a deep background with no or few hot spots.

    Remember... this is how I work, and not the only way to do it.

    Once I've settled on a setting, I put the subject(s) in place to make sure I'm satisfied with the lighting. Then I take a reading off a gray card to set exposure and color balance. Like ksmattfish, I usually choose an aperture around f4 with a focal length that is "twice normal" for the camera format. With the 20D, that's about 80mm.

    With digital, I expose for the highlights.

    I always shoot manual with the slowest ISO (100).

    I always use a tripod, so (with adult subjects) I will work as slow as 1/15 of a second if necessary. I prefer 1/30 or faster.

    Every time I change the setting, I take a new reading. Always.

    I'm not sure I know how to use any of the auto settings on my cameras. I might just be making things harder on myself. But, coming from a film background, I just HAVE to know what is happening when I trip the shutter. I want to make all exposure decisions.

    -Pete

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