The New Manual DSLR Project

Hi, and welcome to my blog. The Manual DSLR Project was started March 30, 2010 with the intent of devoting one year to learning how to use my Nikon D300 in manual mode. I invited you to join me as I took this journey. You celebrated with me as my fingers began to remember which wheel adjusts the shutter speed and which controls the aperture settings. I was brutally honest in sharing my mistakes.

A year passed quickly...and I achieved my goal of demystifying the manual operation of my camera.

While the Manual DSLR Project was intended to be bound by time (one year), I am eager to keep the conversation going. So look for additional posts on anything related to photography. And interact. Let me know if you are reading the blog and find it useful.

All the best...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Space Needle just before a rain shower

Here's a shot of the Space Needle just before a rain shower. Shot at f8, ISO 320, 1/160.

4 hour flight = an opportunity for experimentation

I went to Seattle on business last week and took my office notebook (a PC) thinking that I could at least convert raw files to JPG in Photoshop and post them to this blog. Unfortunately, the raw conversion in Photoshop was not working, so I was unable to post anything. I also traveled very light photographically speaking. All that I carried was my Nikon D300 body with a Nikkor 18-135 lens--no tripod, no additional lenses, no speedlight, and no Macbook.

On the trip to Seattle (via Chicago) I left my camera in my backpack in the overhead compartment. However, on the way home (Seattle to Dallas/Fort Worth to Huntsville) I decided to keep my camera nearby so I could take photos and spend the four hours in flight learning more about my camera. There was a retired couple from Seattle sitting in the row with me and we had a good time talking photography, computers, and taking photos. Here are some of the shots I took. To see more, visit and click on the "Seattle" link.

Again, there is no magic bullet to learning to use a DSLR in manual mode, but practice like I got in this four-hour flight is most helpful.  The first photo was taken at ISO 320, F14, 1/200 sec. I also applied a preset in Lightroom from Seim Effects.

Here's another photo taken from my hotel room after a rain shower. It was shot at ISO 320, F9, 1/80 sec.

Until next time...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shooting in Seattle

Here's a shot from the Pike Street Market in Seattle. ISO 320, f6.3, 1/250.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two weeks into the project...Feeling gutsy?

Well, here I am two weeks into the project and I must say that the past two weeks has been great because it's almost like I have a homework assignment--something to shoot most every day. Repetition--it's the mother of learning. And while I haven't turned into an awesome photographer overnight, I am feeling more at home with the camera in my hand.

Yesterday a friend called and asked if I would shoot a family portrait for them this afternoon. I'm happy to do so since it is good practice for me and they are patient as I try to get things right. So am I ready to shoot in manual mode with someone besides the trees watching? I bit the bullet. I used the Nikon D300, Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 and shot from a tripod. On some shots I used an SB600 Speedlight off camera while most were done with available light. I used a diffuser on some of the first shots when the sun was a bit harsh, but didn't need it once the sun went behind the trees.

I can't say this is my best work, but I'm pleased with the results especially since I was brave and shot it all in manual mode. I hope they are equally pleased. So even though nobody is reading this blog, it has been good to write my thoughts and use this as a way to discipline myself into shooting most every day.

I didn't post yesterday, but took this shot of one of the fruit trees in our yard. It was shot with my Quantaray 70-300. In Lightroom, I applied the Seim Effects Criss Cross preset.

On another topic, Lightroom keeps reverting to the "2009 Mike Kennamer" indicia even though I have changed it to 2010 a dozen or more times. Argh! I don't know why it keeps doing that. Nevertheless, that is why many of my images taken this month have shown a 2009 date.

All the best...MK

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Aperture Setting as a Guide

Earlier today I was listening to the Photo Focus podcast, hosted by Scott Bourne, when I heard Jules Bianchi tell that when she gets ready to shoot she'll shoot the first frame in Aperture priority, look at the histogram, then change to Manual control and adjust accordingly. It was refreshing to learn that a seasoned professional doesn't just magically know where to set her camera. If you have seen her work, it is clear that her method works.

Staying true to the intent of this project, I did something a little different this afternoon. Instead of shooting the first shot in manual, I shot the first one in manual (using my best guess of where to start), then turned the knob to aperture priority to see where the camera automatically set it. I must admit, I had mixed results. The first try was a winner with me picking the same shutter speed (1/250) that the camera selected (at ISO 200; f5.6). However subsequent attempts were a bust.

It was nice to get out today and shoot some nature. I'm including a shot of some dogwood blooms. These were shot in manual mode but I did apply a Lightroom preset (Morning Coffee by Gavin Seim). I love Lightroom presets.

Until next time...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Seeing the Light: One Stop at a Time

Okay, I've been listening to several podcasts for about two years now and I keep hearing things like, "Nikon's VR II system will give you the equivalent of 4 stops faster" or "Exposure compensation of 1EV will give you one stop..." 

So what does that all mean? Good question. I am a visual learner, which means that I learn best when I can see the relationship between objects. With this in mind, I put together this table, which shows 'one stop increments' in terms of shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation (EV). Let's look at each individually. 

Since ISO is one of the first things I determine when I am shooting, let's look at it first. The lower the ISO, the less grain you will have in your photo. At higher ISO settings, the photo will show more grain. Granted, I am no expert in determining which ISO setting to use. That being said, here's what I usually do: Most of what I shoot is between 200 and 400 ISO. If I am shooting in bright sunlight or under studio lights, I may use ISO 100 or 200. In lower light settings, I'll go to a higher ISO. 

Next, I think about depth of field, which is determined by the aperture setting. For landscapes with a deeper depth of field, I might use an aperture of f8 or higher. When shooting portraits or macro photos, I might select a larger aperture setting of f1.4, f2.8, or f4. An excellent tool to determine the depth of field may be found at

Next is shutter speed. If I am using my Sekonic L758-DR light meter, selecting the shutter speed is easy. However, this project is all about me being able to select an ISO, aperture, and shutter speed without having to use the meter.

So let’s talk about a couple of situations and how I use the table above to guide me in determining settings.

Recently I was shooting in hotel banquet hall (which always seem to have terrible lighting). Because the room lighting was somewhat dim and I was unable to use flash, I set the ISO to 1600. Let’s think about what that means in relation to shutter speed and aperture: An ISO of 1600 means that we can use a faster shutter speed and a smaller aperture. Since I was shooting from about 35 feet away, I wanted to make sure my aperture setting provided enough depth of field to provide sharp focus on all my subjects. Using, I could see that using an aperture of F8 with a focal length of 100 mm gives me a depth of field of about 12.2 feet (5 feet in front of the subject and 7 feet behind), which is plenty to assure that the five people on stage would be in focus. But what if I had used my faster Nikon 80-200 f2.8 lens? At an aperture of 2.8, the total depth of field would have only been about 4 feet (2 in front and 2 behind). This means that some of my subjects would have been in focus and others would have been out of focus. If I had the DOF Master application on my iPhone, I could have figured the depth of field on the spot. However, I erred a little on the side of making sure I had adequate depth of field so that I could assure sharp focus across all the subjects on stage.

Here’s another scenario. I am shooting a portrait of one person under studio lights. Because the lighting is excellent and controlled, I set my ISO for 100. I want to have a shallow depth of field so that the subject stands out from the background so I set the aperture to a large setting, perhaps f2.8. In this situation, I could use a light meter (which was impractical in the last scenario). In the absence of a light meter, I would use my camera meter to find a starting point for shutter speed.
So what about the graphic? This just helps me to see that if I need more light I have a variety of options: I can decrease the shutter speed (not always practical), select a larger aperture (which impacts the depth of field), increase the sensitivity of the sensor by increasing the ISO setting (which may cause more grain), or I could add one stop of exposure compensation by adding 1 EV.

Clear as mud? Almost.

Remember that I am the student and I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who can share how they do things. Let me hear from you. Until then,

All the best…

Monday, April 5, 2010

In Camera Metering

Hi, folks. Here's the April 5 edition of the Manual DSLR Project. There was still some sunlight available this afternoon when I got home so I took the opportunity to turn the knob to "M" and use another tool that I must admit I don't use like I should: the in-camera metering feature. The first shot you see is shot from my back deck with a Nikon D300 and a Nikkor 80-200 F2.8 AF lens with hood. I set the ISO to 200, and the aperture to 9. Using the in-camera meter as a visual guide of correct exposure, I dialed the shutter speed in at 1/200 sec and snapped the photo. As you can see, it was a little dark. Perhaps the exposure locked in on the bricks (which seem to be about right) instead of the flowers. On the photo on the right, I dialed the shutter speed down to 1/50 sec., which brightened up the flowers, but rendered the bricks a little bright. Next time, I should probably use AE lock to focus on the flowers for my exposure (another feature that I need to learn to use automatically.

Oh well, that's why this project is a year-long one and not just a week long. There is plenty for me to learn and remember. An excellent teacher one time told me that sometimes we don't suffer from a lack of education, but from a lack of application. That's what I hope to change in the next 359 days.

On a side note you'll see that I figured out how to change the copyright indicia on my images from 2009 to 2010. Also, you should know how I prepare these images for posting. I shoot in RAW, so I simply import the images into Lightroom, select the ones I want to use, and export them to another folder as JPEG files (70% quality, sRGB, 300 dpi, and 800 pixels along the longest edge). To maintain the integrity of this project, I will not make any adjustments in Lightroom unless I'm just posting a photo for fun and then I'll tell you what I did with it.

Until next time...MK

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April 3, 2010 - Another flower photo

Here's another flower photo. Taken on a Nikon D300 with a Quantaray 70-300 Tele-macro at ISO 320, F5.6, 1/250 second.

April 3, 2010 - It's okay to cheat a little at first isn't it?

This is my first blog post and I must say it is difficult to know where to start...After a good deal of consideration, I decided to cheat, um.. I mean use all the resources available to me. In July, 2009 I was thinking of buying a light meter and visited Sekonic's web site. While there, I entered a contest and voila, I won a Sekonic L758-DR and an Exposure Profile Target II.
So, since the folks at Sekonic were kind enough to give me a great light meter, why shouldn't I start there?

So here's what I did. I went out in the front yard with my camera, tripod, and Quantaray 70-300 macro F4-5.6, along with my trusty Sekonic L758-DR and Portaflash 5 in 1 reflector system. I placed the black diffuser behind the subject, then took a reading at F5.6 and shot it at 1/250 sec. at ISO 320. It is sunny this afternoon, but the front of the house where I was shooting is in shade at this time of day. The result is shown in this photo.

So what did I learn? First, use all the tools that are available to me. The light meter made taking this photo very easy. The black diffuser gave me a good background so that attention is drawn to the subject. I also learned something about lens selection here. I also shot the same image with a Nikon 80-200 F2.8 lens and the result was not as good. This Quantaray lens was very inexpensive, takes forever to focus, and is not the best quality glass in my bag. However, it did a nice job with the extreme close-up--better than the much faster Nikon lens that cost much more.

Lesson number 1 - Use the right tool for the job. Your most expensive or "best" lens isn't always the best lens for the job. Think about what you are shooting then select the best lens and accessories for the job. As for using my D300 in manual mode...I'm working on remembering that the front dial changes aperture settings and the back one changes shutter speed. I think the biggest part of this project will be that repetition is the mother of learning. The more I use manual mode the more comfortable I'll be with it. At some point, I hope, I'll be able to look at a shot (sans light meter) and say, "I think I'll shoot this at ISO 320, F5.6 and set my shutter at 1/250 sec." Until then, thank you Sekonic.

Until next time...


P.S. I may post some photos from time to time without any narrative. Also, I guess I have Lightroom set to mark exported photos with a copyright, but it looks like I need to change the date to 2010. I'll see if I can figure that out.