Taking photos in manual mode is like driving a car. If you know how to drive a car with a manual transmission, then switching to an automatic is not difficult. But the other way around doesn’t work anymore. The same logic with manual and automatic photography modes: master the first — you can shoot in any of them. Yes, manual mode is difficult at first, but now we will help you.
Why shoot in manual mode
Of course, it’s tempting to let the camera control all the settings. But, firstly, you will learn little in the process. And secondly, the picture will be the way the camera “wants”, and not the way you want. Manual mode, on the other hand, gives you complete control over the image, and you will learn more about the basic principles of photography in practice.
You will be able to control how much light will enter the camera, and, accordingly, how much darker or lighter your photos will be. You can connect creative effects — add or remove Motion Blur (motion blur), “freeze” a non-static object and, of course, control bokeh.
How to shoot in manual mode
First you need to understand such a basic concept as the “exposure triangle”. The camera has three elements (settings) that control how much light enters its sensor: shutter speed, aperture, ISO. They make up the three sides of the exposure triangle.
With this “triangle” you will easily remember that you need a balance of all three elements for proper exposure. Each of these affects light capture differently and has its own creative effect.
When shooting in manual mode, we choose the setting of each of the three elements, balancing to get the right picture.
What effect does each of the parameters have on the photo? Knowing this, you will be able to avoid problems such as too dark or too light picture (under- or overexposed picture), out of focus, etc., so read on.
What’s this? Shutter speed is the time that the shutter remains open after the shutter release button is pressed. The longer the shutter remains open, the more light enters the sensor (and the brighter the picture will be).
How is it measured? Exposure is measured in fractions of a second. For example: 1/100 is one hundredth of a second, and 1/10 is one tenth of a second. A shutter speed of 1/100 is shorter than a shutter speed of 1/10, meaning the shutter is less open.
How does this affect photography? With shutter speed you can stop (“freeze”) the movement. The longer the shutter is open (longer shutter speed), the more movement it captures (which leads to motion blur). Faster shutter speeds freeze motion, which is useful when shooting sports, action scenes, moving children and animals. For example, for shooting children, a shutter speed of about 1/160 second is suitable.
What’s this? Aperture determines the size of the lens opening (the opening itself is called aperture, but they are often used interchangeably) when you press the shutter button. The larger the hole, the more light enters the matrix (and vice versa).
How is it measured? Aperture is measured in f‑stops. Depending on the lens, the aperture value can vary from f/0.7 to f/22. In this case, the smaller the second number, the more the aperture is open (and, accordingly, more light will enter the camera). So f/0.7 is a much wider aperture than f/22.
How does this affect photography? In addition to the brightness of the picture, the aperture controls the depth of field: how much will be in focus in front of the focus point and behind it. An open aperture, such as f/1.8, has a much smaller area in focus (shallow depth of field) than, for example, f/8. With an open (wide) aperture, you can get bokeh: the subject (let’s say a face) is in focus, and the background is beautifully blurred — good for portraits. A closed (narrow) aperture produces shots in which all objects in the frame are in focus — good for landscapes. For example, to create a portrait with pronounced bokeh, an aperture of f / 2.0 and below is suitable. You can learn about other basic camera settings for portrait shooting in our article.
What’s this? The ISO value measures the sensitivity of the matrix to light. The higher the ISO value, the greater the sensitivity of the matrix and the brighter the picture will be.
How is it measured? Most cameras start at ISO 100, increasing in steps: 100–125-160–200-250–320-400–500-640–800 and so on. Each step increases the sensitivity of the matrix to light by a third compared to the previous step. At ISO 200, the sensor will be twice as sensitive to light as at ISO 100.
How does this affect photography? As you increase the ISO, noise (“graininess”) appears. And at very high ISO settings, sharpness can begin to be lost. However, increasing the ISO allows you to take pictures even in low light. Other things being equal, it is better that the ISO value be as low as possible. “Graininess” for different cameras appears at different ISOs, so you can find the extreme acceptable value experimentally. For portraits, in general, try to keep it below 400.
How to use it all
Now you need to adjust the settings for shutter speed, aperture and ISO in order to:
1. Get the right exposure: not too bright and not too dark, with just the right amount of detail. As you can see, all three settings affect the brightness of the shot — the secret is to balance them.
2. Get the desired creative effect, such as blurring or sharpening the background (depending on aperture), blurring or “freezing” motion (depending on shutter speed).
How to balance them? You need to choose settings in which your light meter will be at zero. Let’s talk about this in more detail.
Your camera has a built-in exposure meter that shows how much light is hitting the sensor. You will see it in the viewfinder or on the screen and it will look something like the picture below.
If you point the camera at the subject and press the shutter button halfway, the exposure meter needle will stop somewhere on its ruler. The position of the arrow will indicate if your photo will be overexposed, underexposed, or perfectly exposed.
- If the exposure meter needle is centered (sometimes it is displayed as zero), this is the ideal exposure.
- If the arrow is to the right of center, the image is too bright.
- If to the left of the center — too dark *.
* In Nikon cameras, the opposite is true: on the right are negative values (underexposed), and on the left are positive (overexposed).
It is important to note that if the ambient light or tones are too bright or dark, the exposure meter may be wrong. Also, the camera’s idea of ideal exposure doesn’t always match your own vision. However, this is a good start for choosing settings for the first test shot, which you can then tweak a little.
So, for manual shooting, we alternately adjust the aperture, shutter speed and ISO (the very order of setting the parameters is an individual matter) and make sure that the exposure meter is at zero. For example, to get a blurrier background, we open the aperture wider, which results in a brighter shot, so we need to compensate by slowing down the shutter speed or increasing the ISO. At the same time, they usually try to keep the ISO value at the lowest possible level (of course, if you are not a fan of Lo-Fi aesthetics).
We hope you get some great handheld shots now! You can read more about the different camera settings in our previous article.