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Taking control

In this blog entry I thought I'd share my thoughts on using the dreaded 'M' for Manual camera function. Why would you bother? After all, with an automatic function, and on many cameras a multitude of other presets which are a part of the cost of and simplicity of operating the camera, it should be expected to drive itself. Manual seems so last decade or last century.

For all the technology packed into the camera body though, none of it takes care of the intangible. The camera cannot read your mind and really know exactly what you see and what sort of image you want to capture. If you use the set and forget preprogrammed functions like aperture priority, shutter priority, landscape mode, portrait, beach, sport, night or a host of other functions many cameras offer, you'll probably get a pretty good photo, but only probably. Probably may be good enough but if you want to apply some creativity, using the Manual option allows you to override and maybe outsmart the camera presets. You can 'tweak' the three important settings of shutter speed, depth of field, and ISO, the latter determining the level of graininess, otherwise known as 'noise' in the image. ISO is a matter for future discussion. 

My 'Toki' pendant. Signifies strength, control, determination, focus. 1/160sec, f/2, ISO 200

My 'Toki' pendant. Signifies strength, control, determination, focus. 1/160sec, f/2, ISO 200

Using a Manual setting for fast action 'need for speed' shots is not recommended. Manual mode should be confined to use in a non-rushed situation otherwise by the time you have set the camera up and fiddled with the settings the magic moment when for example, the alien in your garden gives you a wave, may be gone. Manual is no good for sports, birds in flight, or a fast moving UFO. It can be very good for landscapes, waterfalls, still life, or portrait photography though.

One of my daughters, and one of her twin daughters. 1/160sec, f/1.2, ISO 1600

One of my daughters, and one of her twin daughters. 1/160sec, f/1.2, ISO 1600

In a relaxed situation, but not so relaxed so as to be in a trance, for a landscape photo the camera could be mounted on a tripod allowing use a slow shutter speed to maximise light recorded by the camera and a high f/stop number to maximize depth of field. In the following photo I have used f/18 which has given quite good depth to the image. A low ISO setting could also be selected to minimize the amount of graininess or 'noise' in the photo. A number of experimental photos could be taken slightly tweaking each setting to give a higher chance of getting a 'that's it!' image. Some cameras (mine included) have a function called Bracketing. With my Olympus E-M1, if I use the bracketing function, when I click the shutter button it will take three photos, each with slightly different settings and then I can choose the most appealing of them.

Misty morning stillness at the end of my street. 1/400sec, f/18, ISO 1250

Misty morning stillness at the end of my street. 1/400sec, f/18, ISO 1250

Photography is all about available light and sometimes lighting situations can be too difficult to get a great image even using Manual mode and you will need to improvise with either additional lighting in a dull dark situation or some sort of light diffuser in a very bright situation. 

Shine a light. Mauao, Mount Maunganui, NZ. 1/250sec, f/10, ISO 200

Shine a light. Mauao, Mount Maunganui, NZ. 1/250sec, f/10, ISO 200

This is just an overview on using Manual mode from my perspective. There is a wealth of on-line and written tutorial information on this and other camera modes. 

My photo choice

I took this photo last year while touring a section of the west coast of Ireland from the Cliffs of Moher up to Galway and Westport. It is Kylemore Abbey set in a beautiful location in Connemara. It is regarded as Ireland's most beautiful castle.

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Ireland. 1/80 sec, f/14, ISO 400

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Ireland. 1/80 sec, f/14, ISO 400

Kylemore Castle was built as a private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London whose family was involved in textile manufacturing in Manchester, England. He moved to Ireland when he and his wife Margaret purchased the land around the Abbey. He became Member of Parliament for County Galway from 1871 to 1885. Construction of the castle began in 1867, and took one hundred men four years to complete. The castle covered approximately 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2) and had over seventy rooms with a principal wall that was two to three feet thick. The facade measures 142 feet (43 m) in width and is made of granite and limestone. There were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a ballroom, billiard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room and various offices and domestic staff residences for the butler, cook, housekeeper and other servants. Other buildings include a Gothic cathedral and family mausoleum containing the bodies of Margaret Henry, Mitchell Henry and a great grand-nephew.

The Abbey remained in Henry's estate after he returned to England. The castle was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1909, who resided there for several years before being forced to sell the house and grounds because of gambling debts. In 1920, the Irish Benedictine Nuns purchased the Abbey castle and lands after they were forced to flee Ypres, Belgium during World War I. The nuns continued to offer education to Catholic girls, opening an international boarding school and establishing a day school for girls from the locality. The school acted as the main educator for most girls from Renvyle, Letterfrack and further afield for almost a century but it was forced to close in June 2010.

The Estate includes large walled Victorian Gardens. Since the 1970s these have been open for public tours and 'nature' walks. The Benedictine community has restored the Abbey's gardens and Cathedral with donations and local artisans in order to be a self-sustaining estate. (Ref: Wikipedia).