Foto Friday is a new weekly series dedicated to photography tips and tutorials. This series is meant to benefit any photographer from novice to professional. Just as a disclaimer, these posts are just my opinions and what I’ve learned. Although I hold a professional photography certificate, I’m not an expert but any means : )
Shooting in manual has been a long road for me. I certainly didn’t become comfortable with it the moment I picked up a camera and learned how to use it. It took A LOT of practice. It wasn’t until the past year, when I started shooting every day that it really became second nature. I barely think about it anymore, and I’m so glad I put in the time to get to this point because learning to shoot in manual has seriously changed my life! There’s so much that you can do with manual mode on your DSLR camera and it’s the only way to take your photos to the next level.
What is Manual Mode?
Manual mode basically means you can manipulate your camera’s three exposure settings (also known as ‘the exposure triangle’): shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, to achieve different photographic effects. You use these three components to manipulate your light meter, which is the little numbers at the bottom of the image when you look through your view finder. Usually looks something like this:
- 2 … 1 … 0 … 1 … 2 +
A properly exposed image is when the light meter is at zero. For any given scene, there are dozens of combinations of these settings that will produce the correct exposure.
So let’s jump into this exposure triangle, shall we?
Aperture is the hole that controls the rate at which light enters your camera and passes through your sensor. The size of this hole is called the “f-stop” and is displayed as a number on the top of your camera. The photographic effect that everyone loves is the blurry background, known as bokeh. This is achieved with a wide aperture, such as f/2.8. When shooting a landscape, for example, f/22 is a better choice as the entire scene will be in focus.
Aperture cheat sheet:
- Wider the aperture (or lower the number) = more light, blurrier background
- Narrower the aperture (or higher the number) = less light, in focus background
Shutter speed determines how long your camera’s shutter stays open and therefore, how much light it lets in. When looking at your camera, your shutter speed is written as 1/(#). This means that your shutter is open for 1/(#) of a second. Slow shutter speeds show movement, where as faster shutter speeds freeze action. When shooting people, I make sure to always shoot 1/250 of a second or faster.
Shutter speed cheat sheet:
- Faster shutter speed (or higher the number) = less light, freeze action
- Slower shutter speed (or lower the number) = more light, movement/blur
ISO determines how responsive (or sensitive) the digital sensor is to light. These numbers range from 100 (least sensitive) to 1600+ (most sensitive). A 400 ISO is twice as sensitive to light as a 200 ISO. The catch is, the higher the number, the more you compromise the image and get a “grainy” effect. Therefore, you usually want the lowest possible ISO you can get away with based on the available light in the scene. Luckily, ISO is usually something you only have to set once or twice during a session unless the lighting or your position changes dramatically.
ISO cheat sheet:
- Lower ISO (lower number) = less light, less grain
- High ISO (high number) = more light, more grain
In truth, you can read this post over and over again, but in order to master manual mode you have to go out and SHOOT. Practice, practice, and then practice some more! I know I personally always hated reading that, “but I want to be good at it now” but it’s true!
And lastly, an interesting article about experience + practice: The Photography Teacher Nobody Wants.
Do you shoot in manual? If so, how long did it take for you to become comfortable with it?