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Understanding Your Camera - Using Manual Mode

camera manual setting

Greetings fellow photographers! Today we’re going to talk about the Manual Mode settings on your camera. Significant improvements in camera technology have steered many people away from using these Manual Mode settings. Most people opt for the Auto settings instead. While the Auto settings are helpful, it is beneficial to understand the four basic principles of Manual Mode photography. That way, you will have a deeper appreciation of what the Auto mode actually does, and how much work it saves you. Also, with Father’s Day around the corner, Dad may enjoy showing off his newfound technological knowledge about one of his gadgets – or may be impressed by what his family can show him! In the next edition, we will explain the different Auto settings on your camera, but for now, let’s focus on the Manual Mode’s four standard settings. We will keep this discussion short, sweet, and simple, and do our best to not use too many boring technical terms!

camera shutter speed and aperture

Shutter Speed. The shutter speed is the amount of time your camera sensor is exposed to light. The longer the camera sensor is exposed, the more light it will allow into the photo. Longer exposures can lead to blurry photos (which may not necessarily be a bad thing). Typical consumer cameras will allow anything from a 15 second exposure all the way up to 1/1000 of a second. Without getting too technical, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind as you experiment with your shutter speed settings:

slow shutter speed example

Anything slower than 1/60 of a second will generally require a tripod to avoid camera shake or blur. If you are intentionally going for a blurry or fuzzy photo, use a slower shutter speed setting. A fun shot to try is use a tripod and a long exposure on a person. The still background will remain in focus, but any slight movements by the subject will show up with a blur. This can create a really terrific aura effect.

To freeze a moving subject, use a shutter speed of 1/250 or above. This can be great to capture moments at your children’s sporting events, or other occasions when your subjects are moving.

lower aperature in sun

Aperture/f-stop. The aperture setting, which is sometimes called the f-stop (focal ratio), controls the amount of light that reaches the sensor. In other words, it determines how wide the lens opens for your shot. The bottom line is the smaller the number, the wider the lens opens, while the larger the number, the smaller the lens opens. f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, and f/16 are the typical aperture settings for consumer cameras. Keep these guidelines in mind when working with aperture settings:

  • In a dark or poorly lit room, you probably want the aperture open wide to allow as much light as possible into the shot. Try f/2.8.

  • When shooting outdoors with a lot of light, such as a snow scene, a smaller aperture setting will limit the abundance of light. Try f/16.

wide open aperture for blurry background

Depth of Field. You can also manually adjust the sharpness of your depth of field. Basically, when your camera aperture is open wide (f/2.8), your subject in the foreground will be sharp, while your background will be out of focus. This is a short depth of field. On the flipside, when your aperture is closed down (f/11), your scene will hold focus from the subject in the foreground all the way through the background. This is a deep depth of field. Both are fun techniques to try, and the setting really just depends on what kind of shot you are after. The zoom of the lens can also affect the depth of field, but that is a discussion for another time!

couple drinking wine in low light

ISO/ASA. While the aperture setting controls the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor, the ISO setting (sometimes called ASA/ISO) determines how sensitive your camera is to the light. In a nutshell, the higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera is to light. The average consumer camera allows for ISO ranges of 100-800. Keep these guidelines in mind about ISO settings:

  • A high ISO setting (800) will be better at capturing a low light scene. However, the increased sensitivity can lead to pixelization, digital noise, or grain on your finished photo.

  • The lower the ISO setting, the cleaner the finished photo will be. When shooting with a lot of light, such as a sunny day, keep the ISO setting as low as possible (100) because you already have a lot of light and you want your final image to be clean.

man taking picture

So, does that make sense? Did we scare you into never using the Manual Mode settings again? Well, the key idea to take from this discussion is that you can manually adjust the settings on your camera to create exactly the kind of shot you are after. Also, you may have a little more admiration for the Auto settings on your camera now that you know how hard they work! Experiment for a while with the Manual Mode settings. Above everything else, have fun – photography is a wonderfully addictive hobby, and the more you know, the more you’ll want to learn!

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