Master manual mode: how to use your exposure level indicator

Master manual mode: how to use your exposure level indicator

Manual mode gives you greater control over your camera, and your exposure level indicator is key for getting perfect exposure. Here’s how to use it.

Master manual mode: how to use your exposure level indicator

To display the exposure level indicator, your camera must be in one of the ‘creative’ exposure modes (typically, P, Tv, Av or M).

If you look through the viewfinder with one of these modes selected and depress the shutter button halfway, you’ll see a scale represented by a dotted line and marked -2, -1, +1 and +2.

This is the exposure level indicator, and on many cameras it can also be displayed on the top-plate and back LCD panels.

In the middle of the exposure level indicator is an exposure level mark or needle. When you are shooting in P, Tv or Av mode this needle will be in the middle of the exposure level indicator.

This means that you’ll be able to capture an image at standard exposure, as determined by the camera’s built-in meter.

If you set any Exposure Compensation then this will be indicated on the scale by the needle, which will be lined up with one of the exposure level increments, for example +1 or -1.

The exposure level indicator is especially helpful when shooting in Manual mode. It’s worth emphasising here that shooting in Manual is not about guesswork, because you are still using the camera’s exposure meter, and the exposure level indicator is providing you with exactly the same information as when shooting in other modes.

When shooting in Manual the exposure level indicator provides the vital information to ensure correct exposures.

Using your exposure level indicator in manual mode: shooting midtones

Shooting a midtone scene
When shooting a scene that requires no Exposure Compensation, adjust the aperture and/or shutter speed settings until the needle is in the middle. Where a large depth of field is needed, select f/16 and adjust the shutter speed until the needle is centred.

Using your exposure level indicator in manual mode: shooting dark subjects

Shooting very dark subjects
If you photograph a very dark subject with the needle in the middle of the indicator, the subject will be over-exposed. To arrive at a correct exposure, adjust the aperture or shutter speed so that the needle moves to the left – to -2, for example.

Using your exposure level indicator in manual mode: shooting light subjects

Shooting very light subjects
Light-coloured subjects, such as a snowy scene, will often be under-exposed, so you need to adjust the exposure settings so the needle moves to the right. The amount of adjustment for light and dark subjects can be guided by the histogram display.

READ MORE

44 essential digital camera tips and tricks
99 common photography problems (and how to solve them)
Get vibrant colour in-camera
What is Live View telling you: free photography cheat sheet