Understand Your Camera – Don’t be afraid of Manual Mode

Steve Edwards Photography Commercial Photography Nottingham
Everyone’s a Photographer until…..

If you’ve got a digital DSLR camera and you’re using it in Auto mode there’s a strong possibility that you can get more shots that are good if you switch to manual mode instead.

But that’s a scary thing to do right?  For sure, it took me a long time to step away from the comfort of letting the camera do the work for me. I was already having features included in specialist motoring publications on a regular basis and was still in Auto, the downside was that I had to take a couple of hundred shots to get the twenty five that were required, I call that the Spray and Pray technique but that of course takes its toll not only on the equipment but on you too as it’s tiring taking so many images and having the laborious task of having to sort through them later. So unless you’ve got a mirrorless camera then you’ll either need to have the shutter mechanism serviced regularly or replaced as it doesn’t have an infinite lifespan, so it’s better to take less images but higher quality ones. 

When you look through your viewfinder, you are using the mirror to set up your shot, then you press the shutter release the mirror moves and allows light to hit the sensor so capturing the image.

When you’re in Automatic, you are allowing the technology to decide what it thinks you want for your composition and sets the camera up accordingly. But when you switch to Manual, you can take control and create exactly what you want, rather than hoping the camera does it for you.

There is loads of information on the Exposure Triangle, I even had a good friend try and explain it to me, but sadly even though he was trying to dumb it down, he totally lost me. It took me a while longer and various online courses, that bamboozled me even more, before I found one that actually made sense, and to be honest I wondered why I hadn’t been able to get me head around it before.

So, the camera works with light, with me so far? 

There are three adjustments, yes only three, which you can adjust to increase or decrease the amount of light that will make up your image.  They are Shutter Speed, F-Stop and ISO.  Modern cameras come with a handy light meter, once you’re in Manual it’s right in the viewfinder so can see it and know when your image is correctly exposed.

The easiest to understand is Shutter Speed, with this you can control the amount of motion blur your image has and the brightness.  Fast moving objects can be frozen using a high shutter speed, so the shutter itself isn’t open for long while motion can be created by keeping the shutter open for longer, so a slow shutter speed.  Obviously the faster the shutter speed the less light that hits the sensor so to get a correct exposure you’ll need to adjust one of the other two to compensate.

Steve Edwards Photography Commercial Photography Nottingham
Slow Shutter Speed 4 seconds
Steve Edwards Photography Commercial Photography Nottingham
Fast Shutter Speed 1/3200 second

Next is the F-Stop, this is the second physical adjustment you can make that determines how wide the shutter, or aperture as it’s called for this, opens which determines the depth of field, how much of your image is in focus and the brightness of the image too.  The lower the number you set your aperture to, the wider the shutter will open, so for things that are close that you’d like a cool blurred background for an f-stop of 2.8 would be perfect while a landscape which you want completely in focus, a higher f-stop of 16 or even 22 would work well.  There is a mathematical calculation that explains f-stops, you can Google it if you want but all I’m saying is that the smaller the f-stop number, the shallower the depth of field with less of the image being in focus.  Obviously the higher the f-stop, the narrower the aperture and the smaller the amount of light you are letting in so to be correctly exposed the other two settings need to be adjusted.

Steve Edwards Photography Commercial Photography Nottingham
Shallow Depth of Field F2.8
Steve Edwards Photography Commercial Photography Nottingam
Large Depth of Field F11

The third adjustment is the ISO, as an electronic device your camera can amplify the amount of light the sensor receives, it does not adjust the light sensitivity, that remains constant.  But some cameras can amplify more than others with professional equipment giving the most adjustment possible.  The downside, as there always is one, is that the higher you set your ISO the greater the chance that the photo will become grainy, or noisy as it’s called in the photographic world.  The noisier your image the larger the reduction in quality becomes and while it is possible to adjust noise levels in Lightroom or other post-production processes that’s not always the best option.  It’s advisable to keep the ISO as low as possible and adjust the other two settings to get the correct exposure.

Steve Edwards Photography Commercial Photography Nottingham
High ISO 5000

So, hopefully that all makes sense, it’s basically a balancing act to get your photo correctly exposed whilst still capturing the image you wanted. Depending on the situation, one factor may need to be fixed and so the other two can be adjusted, for instance if taking photos of someone speaking a high shutter speed will be needed to freeze them, the background might not be quite so important which allows a wider aperture (shallower depth of field) and a possibly a higher ISO too, depending on lighting in the venue.

Let me know if that’s helped you jump from Auto, or made it worse still!!