A Guide to Manual Mode

Have you ever taken a beautiful picture and been kind of surprised? Have you ever taken a picture and been frustrated because it wasn't coming out like you wanted it to? Think about this. Rather than using your camera to get some awesome photos here and some mediocre photos there, what if you took CONTROL of your camera's settings rather than leaving it up to the camera? It's very possible to take better pictures and have beautiful, quality photos forever without having to hire someone every time you want to catch a special moment on camera!


When it comes to camera settings, practice makes confident. Because it's like I always say, "Cameras are smart, but YOU are smarter!"


So let’s get you comfortable USING your camera and using it WELL. In the next several paragraphs, I will give you my complete guide to camera settings and a breakdown of confusing camera dial settings. But don't forget about the most important thing in taking good pictures - Find that blog post linked here.


Manual mode is made up of three settings. Tackle these three settings, and you've got it mastered: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.


Shutter Speed

Defined: the duration of time that the shutter is open (shutter speed affects the sound the camera makes when you take a picture)

Relationship to light:

  • The FASTER the shutter closes, the LESS light you let in = darker picture

  • The SLOWER the shutter closes, the MORE light you let in = brighter picture

What's it look like: A fraction - in relation to a second

Examples: 1/80, 1/125, 1/1000

What to watch out for: You want sharp images! Shutter speed is what makes that happen. Slowing the shutter runs the risk of having a blurry image.

This is my daughter's sloth toy. When it sings, it moves its arms back and forth. Notice the different shutter speeds and the effect the settings have on the images.

Shutter Speed = 1/10 of a second - Bright image but way too blurry
Shutter Speed = 1/500 of a second - Sharper image but much darker


ISO

Defined: the camera's sensitivity to light

Relationship to light:

  • The HIGHER the ISO, the BRIGHTER the image.

  • The LOWER the ISO, the DARKER the image.

What's it look like: A basic number

100, 250, 320, 1600, etc.

What to watch out for:

  • Can't I just pick any number I want? Not so fast.

  • The HIGHER the ISO, the more grainy the image. The LOWER the ISO, the better quality image you'll have.

ISO = 100 Darker image but no grain
ISO = 40,000 Bright image and lots of grain (look closely - if you're planning to print pictures, the grain will be even more noticeable).

Aperture

Defined: an opening by which light enters a camera

Relationship to light:

  • The SMALLER the opening, the LESS light you let in = darker image

  • The LARGER the opening, the MORE light you let in = brighter image.

What's it look like: A decimal number

  • The lower the number, the wider the opening, and the brighter the image.

  • The higher the number, the smaller the opening, and the darker the image

What to watch out for: Aperture affects DEPTH OF FIELD (how much is in focus)


Just know:

  • The HIGHER your aperture number, and the SMALLER the opening, the LESS light you let in, and the DEEPER your focus, meaning less blur in the background.

  • The LOWER your your aperture number, and the LARGER the opening, the MORE light you let in, and the SHALLOWER your focus, meaning more blur in the background.

Notice the different aperture settings and the effect they have on the images.

Aperture = 1.8 Bright image with a very blurry background
Aperture = 8.0 Dark image with lots of the background in focus


When it comes to manual mode, ultimately ask yourself these two questions:


1. What's the light like?

If it's dark, I'll need to bump up my ISO, slow down my shutter speed, or make my aperture smaller. Find the sweet spot.


2. Is my subject moving?

If yes, I'll need to prioritize shutter speed. But when I bump up the shutter speed, the image will be darker, so I'll need to increase ISO or make my aperture smaller.


Helpful Camera Dial Settings to Know


Canon

Auto

Program (think auto without flash)

Av (Aperture Priority - You pick the aperture, the camera decides the shutter)

Tv (Shutter Priority - You pick the shutter, the camera decides the aperture)

M (Manual Mode) Nikon Auto

Program (think auto without flash)

A (Aperture Priority - You pick the aperture, the camera decides the shutter)

S (Shutter Priority - You pick the shutter, the camera decides the aperture)

M (Manual Mode)


Action Steps

  • Beginner: Go outside and take a close up nature shot. Set your aperture as low as your camera will allow, and then figure out shutter speed and iso settings should be in order to properly expose your image.

  • Moderate: grab someone, and go outside. Set ISO to 100; set shutter speed to 500; figure out what to set your aperture to in order to properly expose your image.

  • Advanced: grab someone, and go outside. Set your shutter speed to 500 or higher. Have the person run towards you or jump in the air. Adjust aperture and ISO to properly expose your image..

As always, head over to my Contact page, and let me know if you have any questions. Seriously, I love hearing from you.

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