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Going Manual - Nigel Powell talks about his passion for photography

For many years now I have carried a camera. But if you’d looked closely you would have noted that I was stuck in the pre-programmed modes. I was lazy. I was unprepared. I was without direction. And I was trusting to luck more than anything. I sought safety in these modes because I’m talking 35mm film. To capture a scene poorly cost money. I couldn’t afford to experiment.

But with the introduction of digital sensors you would have been excused for thinking that I was quick to jump on the new technology as costly errors were consigned to history. But it took me some considerable time to retire my Canon EOS 50E. I was a bit of a traditionalist and was reluctant to give it up. Even after acquiring the 40D I was still a lethargic dinosaur and continued with pre-programmed modes. Furthermore, due to my lack of skill and preparation I was never pushing the camera’s potential – or mine for that matter. I am from Lewes and Bonfire celebrations are a huge deal in the area (don’t call it ‘5th November’ or ‘Guy Fawkes’ night’ for you will be met with - at best - a big sigh and a shake of the head) so when a firework hit the night air or a burning cross swept past me, I was giving myself little opportunity of capturing the emotion of the events. The occasion commanded more but I needed at least a couple of shots that would make it to the family album. I needed to be more creative. I couldn’t rely on luck any more.

But it wasn’t until I noted in the outstanding annual publication, ‘The Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ portfolio that I spotted the 40D had given more than one entrant the hardware to produce winning images. It struck me that I had the technology, I just lacked the bravery and the knowhow. Nowhere in the credits did the photographer say, “I just stuck it on landscape mode”!

I’m not (yet) one for sitting in a hide on a freezing morning waiting for a lark to whistle a condensation ring as it welcomes a new morning but my daughter’s love of horses and my love of Bonfire and my home town gave me the subject matter to at least give the manual modes a chance. Bonfire lasts for 3 months in Sussex (honestly) and horses are an all year round thing for my family now. But it was The Image Academy that gave me the platform to learn which, in turn, gave me the courage to leave ‘auto’ behind and get more out of my surroundings.

Don’t get me wrong, I will never be ‘the finished article’ and I learn new things every time I turn on my new 7D Mk II but the results improve week on week. As I write - in the early part of February - there aren’t too many fireworks around (thankfully, the castle is an ever-present) but horses are aplenty. I am now coming under increasing pressure to take photographs of friends’ horses and am enjoying the challenge. We are advised “never work with children and animals” but the rewards are there and are incredibly satisfying.

Go on. Be brave. Go manual. I wish I’d done it years ago.

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