What is Manual? And How Can I use it?

Here’s a quick high level run through of Manual and how you can start using it today. Keep in mind that this is written to help you feel comfortable using Manual and don’t feel frustrated if you don’t get the results you want on the first try. 

There are a lot of variables to consider when taking a picture - time of day, position of light, position of your subject, and even the camera and lens you’re using. To get started make sure your camera is in Manual Mode and let’s dive right in!

What is Manual?

In short, Manual refers to your ability to control the ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed settings on your camera manually. Let’s take a look at each of these in a little more detail.

What is ISO?

Your camera’s ISO or International Standards Organization refers to how sensitive your camera is to the light that hits your camera’s sensor. 

Fun Fact: ISO originally referred to the thickness of the film used in a film camera. The thinker the film the longer it takes for an image to expose on the film. 

For digital photography your ISO will determine how sensitive your camera’s sensor is. Keep in mind that 100 is less sensitive than 1,000. Depending on your camera’s capabilities the higher the ISO the more noise will appear in your image. Personally, I like to try to keep my ISO under 500 as a rule of thumb. If I am shooting at night time, I will increase my ISO. I’d recommend shooting in a number of lighting conditions to figure out what kind of setting you prefer.

Tip: If you are new to using Manual, set your ISO to less than 500, Then set your Aperture, and then adjust your Shutter Speed to nail down a good exposure. You can check your exposure with the meter in your camera’s viewfinder. It’s the number line with the arrow that moves back and forth between -2, 0, and +2. 

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter Speed refers to the - you guessed it - the speed of your camera’s shutter. Now that we have an understanding of ISO, now we can take a closer look at how long we want our sensor to be exposed to the light entering the camera. Shutter Speed is measured in seconds. For example 1/1000 is faster than 1/100.

Tip: When figuring out what to set your Shutter Speed to, a good rule of thumb is to keep the number greater than your lens mm. For example, if you have a 50mm lens, keep your Shutter Speed greater than 1/50 to avoid blur. Use a tripod if you want to avoid blur due to camera shake.

At the end of the day, the best way to learn what your preferences are is to practice and try different settings to see what works best for your shooting style.

What is Aperture?

Aperture or F/Stop refers to the size of the hole in your lens that light travels through. Aperture can be a little tricky for some photographers just starting because it has the greatest effect on how the photo will look. Aperture is measured by the ratio of the diameter of the opening in your lens and the lens’s focal length. That’s why some pictures can appear to look similar even though two different lenses are being used. 

But let’s keep it simple for now. Basically, the F/Stop will determine how much of the foreground and background will be blurred. An F/Stop of F/1.8 will mean the foreground and background will be more blurry than an F/Stop of F/8. 

When I use a 35mm for portraits, most of the time I set my Aperture at an F/Stop of 1.4 which means my subject will be in focus and the foreground and background will be blurry. If I am shooting multiple subjects I will change it to a F/4 or greater to make sure my subjects stay in the field of focus.

Tip: Your camera should have an AP setting for “Aperture Priority” or AV for "Aperture Value" this means that you can change your F/Stop and your camera will automatically change the rest of your settings to keep the image in correctly exposed. This is a good way to figure out what kind of F/Stop you prefer.

Keep in mind that everyone shoots differently and one of the greatest things about photography is trying new things and making images that you love. It’s about learning to see things differently and experimenting with your camera can be really fun!

How can I use Manual?

Here are the 2 ways I use Manual when taking photos. 

The first way is setting my ISO, then Shutter Speed, and then Aperture. For example, Let’s say I am taking a picture of a moving subject like an athlete. I’ll set my ISO to 100, then set my shutter speed to 1/1000, and then expose the image with my Aperture. I usually find myself adjusting the last variable as lighting conditions change. Give it a shot, 1. Set your ISO. 2. Set your Shutter Speed. 3. Adjust your Aperture.

The other way is in the reverse order. Aperture, Shutter Speed, and then ISO. Then I adjust my ISO depending on lighting conditions. I find this works really well for portraits because I can get a consistent look throughout the shoot, avoid blurry images due to camera shake, and easily adjust for changes in light.

I hope this was helpful and you feel more comfortable with your camera! Keep shooting and keep learning!

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