Manual Mode: Unleash Your Creativity: Lesson 7

Shooting in manual mode undoubtedly will allow you to achieve new levels of creativity in your photography. You probably wondered how someone got that shot or produced that effect. This is where we really dial in on what we have learned so far by putting it all together.

Recommended Prerequisite Reading

If you have been following my blog from the beginning you may have read the prior post that will make the following more understandable. I recommend you read or review these. There are key points you should understand before we go on.

Why Shoot Manual?

Up until now, many of you have elected to shoot in Auto or one of the Program Modes your camera offers. These settings for your Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO are decided by your camera.

Have you ever wondered how someone was able to capture a photograph which you tried to replicate, but it just didn’t seem to come out the way you envisioned? We all have until we learned to use our DSLR to its potential.

Manual Mode

Changing to this setting is as easy as turning your program dial to M or setting it in your camera LCD screen settings. What this is going to allow you to do is set your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to suit the scene or subject you are shooting.

You may want to focus in on a flower and blur the background or capture a mountain landscape that is sharp from front to back. Or the mountain landscape has flowers in a field before you and you want the flowers in focus with the background blurred to suggest distance.

It’s all up to you, but first you need to have a vision.

Setting Exposure in the View Finder

Something that has not been discussed in much detail is how to determine your exposure is correct. Well, we use the cameras built-in light meter.

You have probably seen those tick marks in the bottom of your viewfinder. It generally has a 0 in the middle then to the right a tick, usually a third stop to a bigger tick that has + 1 (a full Stop), then +2. Moving to the right will make the image brighter.

You will also see moving to the left a -1, and -2. Moving to the left will make the image darker.

Ideally, we want that tick mark to rest at 0, which the meter has determined is the correct exposure. We’ll talk more about metering in more detail in a later post.

Typical Camera Meter in the Viewfinder showing 1 and 1/3 stop underexposed

Different Settings Yield the Same Exposure

A fundamental aspect of shooting in manual is that you can change your shutter speed, aperture and ISO to combinations that will yield a proper exposure. For example:

Shutter SpeedApertureISO

In the above chart, all three sets are equal and would give you a proper exposure. But, the effect would be different in each photo.

Lilly of the Nile 100 mm lens at 1/80, f/4, 320 ISO

In the above photograph of this Lilly of the Nile, I wanted the background blurred. The day was overcast. Hand holding it I couldn’t reduce my shutter speed any lower without shake having chosen a wide aperture first to give me adequate blur (Bokeh). To increase the brightness I adjusted the ISO until I had a good exposure.

High Point State Park, NJ 20 mm at 1/320, f/13, ISO 200

While in New Jersey I took this photo of the monument at High Point State Park. I wanted everything in focus and a shutter speed to compensate for some light wind that was moving the branches slightly. I bumped the ISO up as it was overcast.

With modern DSLRs you can use a higher ISO before you start to see some noise in your image. For landscapes I try to keep at low as possible, but if the image is too dark and I don’t want to change my shutter speed or aperture, it’s the best option.

Making Setting Changes

So far we have learned that different settings can yield a proper exposure with different visual appeal. What I want you to understand, as this is very important, is that in manual if you make a change in Shutter Speed, Aperture or ISO, you need to make a compensatory change.

Let me explain. You took your shot and you are pleased with your exposure, however, the shutter speed was not fast enough to freeze the action of your subject. The logical thing to do is to increase the shutter speed.

After you do that you notice now your image is too dark. Remember, you just stopped the lens down and reduced the light by half with each stop increase. Your shutter was open for less time than your first shot making the image darker.

To compensate for this, anytime we make a change in shutter speed, aperture or ISO, we need to make a compensatory change.

For example: If you were shooting at a shutter speed of 1/500, but found you needed to increase it say 3 stops (less light coming in now), you would have to brighten the image by changing your aperture 3 stops, opening up to let more light in, or increase your ISO by 3 stops to brighten the image.

With that compensatory change, you should have a proper exposure.

How I use Manual

I probably shoot in manual 90% or more of the time. One of the photographic techniques I really enjoy is long exposure photography. Whether it is a night sky, waves crashing on the rocks at the beach or a waterfall there is just something magical about it.

In long exposure I need to have complete control of my aperture, shutter speed (which sometimes can be minutes), and my ISO. Each of these allows me to fine tune the image.

In portrait photography, you can select wide open apertures to have the eyes and facial features in focus while creating an elegant bokeh. *Bokeh, comes from the Japanese word for blur. This is an artistic effect.

Landscape photography which I thoroughly enjoy, allows me to envision the image I want to create. The depth of field aspect is my first priority.

Final Thoughts

This should get you started experimenting with your DSLR. You can now try to create your own images while giving more thought to your aperture, shutter speed and ISO to use.

I still have quite a few more topics before we end this basic camera course. I need to address things like exposure compensation, metering, bracketing, etc. So, stay subscribed to build on this fund of knowledge you have!

If you would like to share any of your images, please send them to [email protected] and any comments.

Happy shooting!

Manual Mode: Unleash Your Creativity: Lesson 7
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Welcome! My interest in photography spans 40 years and started with the purchase of my first SLR. Since then my passion has grown to landscapes, beach scenes, and travel photography primarily. Photography techniques I particularly enjoy are long exposures, and what I call splash art. You can see these on my gallery page if it interests you. Currently, I live on Amelia Island in Northeast Florida with my beautiful wife and our wonder dog, Fuji.