In this blog, we delve into the captivating world of manual mode shooting, where true photographic mastery and creativity reside. Without trying to prescribe the best way forward in the photographic realm, I will attempt to unravel the invaluable benefits of shooting in Manual Mode and showcase a few adrenaline-filled moments when I have deftly switched between video and photography, all while capturing the beauty of the scene in front of me.
The Artistic Vision
Photography, at its core, is an art form that demands a deep connection between the artist and their subject. Shooting in manual mode bestows photographers with full control over the crucial elements that shape an image: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Having an extensive understanding of the interplay between these components allows you to truly utilise them to their full potential. It is in this realm that the true essence of photography is revealed, allowing artists to paint with light, freeze moments in time, and evoke emotions through their craft.
By shooting in manual mode, photographers unlock the door to unparalleled creative freedom. Every scene presents unique lighting conditions and compositions that demand individual attention. Manual mode allows for fine-tuning the exposure triangle to precisely capture the desired mood and atmosphere. Whether it’s a softly lit sunrise or a high-contrast silhouette against a fiery sunset, manual mode empowers photographers to mould the scene to their artistic vision instead of relying on the miniature computers inside the camera to do it for you.
The Fluid Transition
Imagine traversing the wilderness of Londolozi, documenting the awe-inspiring tales of nature, it is an incredibly unique and privileged role to have within the Londolozi ecosystem. But with it comes several challenges, firstly getting oneself into the sightings, and making the decision as to where am I most likely to capture something great. The primary goal is to capture a sequence that I can convert into a Virtual Safari. To film to the best of the camera’s abilities and process the footage afterwards into a standardised format, I choose to film in Manual Mode. This allows me to control the tri-factor that makes up the exposure triangle. So that is predetermined for me and it is just what it is.
Initially seen as a young male in 2016, this leopard only properly established territory on Londolozi in mid-2019
However many people say or recommend that when taking photos, use Aperture Priority, this allows the artist to control two of the three elements, aperture and ISO, leaving the camera to determine the shutter speed to get a perfectly exposed photograph. All is well if one has time as this helps eliminate any extra thought-processing while in the moment, however, I am often faced with a moment where I need to rapidly transition between video and photography. Remaining in Manual Mode, harnessing the power of complete control, I can deftly switch over and with a few swift rolls of the camera wheels get the settings to where they need to be to seize those rare moments of stillness amidst dynamic action.
One of two cubs to survive, the sister lost at five months. Still dependent on his mother, but is growing into an impressive young male.
Forced into early independence as her mother was killed by the Southern Avoca Males.
A general rule of thumb is that one must strive to have a shutter speed that is at least double your focal length, so if you are zoomed in to the max of your 100-400mm lens then you would ideally want a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second. This helps reduce the camera shake and freezes the scene into a crisp photo. What I have found while shooting in Aperture priority is that often the shutter speed is forced up towards 1/2000 or sometimes even as high as 1/6400. Now there isn’t anything wrong with this apart from it being a slight bit of overkill unless you are shooting at the Hungarian Grand Prix as Max Verstappen comes screaming around a corner. So for what we experience at Londolozi, the most one may need to go up to is maybe 1/1600th of a second as a cheetah is in hot pursuit of an impala through a clearing.
By being in full control of the camera in Manual Mode, I limit myself to 1/800th if the sighting is stationary and up to 1/1250th if the animals are moving quickly. This allows for the ISO to be low, the aperture wide and a result where the images are sharp, have a shallow depth of field, no grain or noise, and a rich, wide dynamic colour range.
Embracing the Challenge
In recent remarkable instances, the need for swift transitions between video and photography became evident. Picture this: the Black Dam Male Lions traversing Finfoot Crossing, with a magnificent herd of elephants as their backdrop. As the lions gracefully waded through the water, the temptation to seize a still frame, destined for the Fine Art Site and my home wall, proved irresistible. In this exhilarating moment, I skillfully filmed the lions’ aquatic journey, swiftly switching gears to capture a fleeting few seconds of still images. With the precious shot secured, I seamlessly transitioned back to resume filming, encapsulating the essence of their extraordinary crossing.
Another unforgettable occasion unfolded when the wild dog pups emerged from their den, taking their first tentative steps into the outside world before a camera. Their playful and endearing antics begged to be immortalized, as they embarked on their exciting exploration. With video rolling, I couldn’t resist capturing a few precious still images, freezing their innocence and capturing this unforgettable experience.
Yet, perhaps the most heart-pounding experience involved the Nhlanguleni Female. With intense determination, she paced down the road, her eyes locked onto our vehicle, all the while delicately bearing a tiny cub in her mouth, carefully relocating it from one den to another. Fully aware of the uniqueness and significance of this sighting, I recognized the urgency and importance to film this moment. But the opportunity to capture a single still image of the Nhlanguleni Female with her precious cub gripped my senses.
Initially skittish she spent a lot of time in the Sand River, now relaxed she makes up the majority of leopard viewing west of camp.
In these captivating and intense instances, the seamless transition between video and photography allowed me to capture the essence of the wildlife encounters, preserving the extraordinary moments forever. By embracing the power of both mediums, I ensured that no fraction of the magic escaped my lens, immortalizing these extraordinary encounters and sharing them with the world.
The Risk Is Worth It
Shooting in manual mode requires a degree of technical expertise and practice. Once confident and comfortable in one’s abilities, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. By embracing the artistry and the demanding nature of Manual Mode, photographers embark on a journey that celebrates both technical proficiency and creative intuition. Through constant exploration, they uncover the essence of their subjects and immortalize them in images that resonate deeply with viewers.
The value of shooting in manual mode lies not only in the technical control it offers but also in the artistic liberation it bestows. By engaging with the exposure triangle and mastering the intricacies of light, photographers become true storytellers. The ability to fluidly transition between video and photography amplifies one’s capacity to capture the captivating essence of nature.