Manual settings can be so tricky to get your mind around! When I started diving more into different lighting scenarios within photography, I knew I needed to learn manual but I was *terrified*. I had manual settings explained to me a few different ways, and to be honest, I’m not sure which of the ways really clicked. But let me tell you, when it clicked, it really clicked. I’m going to explain manual in a few different ways to appeal to a few different learning styles.
ISO: your cameras sensitivity to light! If the number is bigger, the image is brighter. If the number is smaller, the image is darker.
Shutter Speed: The speed of your shutter closing. The smaller the number (1/5000) the quicker the speed which in turn makes a sharper image. The larger the number (1/4) the slower the speed, which in turn makes a blurrier image. Since a quicker speed lets in less light, the image will also be darker with a smaller number. Conversely, a larger number has time to let in more light and makes the image brighter.
Aperture/F stop: the opening in your camera that lets in light and controls depth of field. The smaller the number, the more blur you’ll see in the background. Also, the smaller the number the brighter the image. The larger the number, the less depth of field or more of the image will be clear. Also, the larger the number the darker the image.
The exposure triangle is, in essence, what goes on in my head as I’m taking photos. The three main settings to keep in mind to best expose images are ISO, shutter speed, and aperture as described above. The exposure triangle shows that when each of those settings are manipulated (ISO increasing/decreasing, shutter speed increasing/decreasing, or aperture increasing/decreasing), exposure is also manipulated! You can see on the triangle how light (or exposure) gets more or less depending on which way the setting goes on every setting but how sharpness, grain, and depth of field is also affected.
Now that you’ve seen the exposure triangle, you might be thinking “how do you memorize it?” I don’t have it memorized, per say, but instead have learned how manipulating each of the three settings changes the image and I do this to my liking! a great way to learn this or understand it, is starting with a basic setting. Let’s pick a setting you might use when outside in a bright environment for example:
Shutter Speed: 1/2000
If you don’t already have your camera in your hand, you might want it! Heck, take a walk outside and try this out! If your settings start at the settings I listed above, take a photo. Next, evaluate it. Is it too dark? Is it too bright? Blurry? enough depth of field? after evaluating it, use the knowledge given in the exposure triangle to change up the image. For example, if the image is too bright, you can’t decrease your ISO much more or even take down your aperture much, so might as well bump up the shutter speed! This will only make the image sharper, anyway! If the image is too dark, there’s lots of room to bump up the iso! If your aperture is already where you want it to achieve the best depth of field and the shutter speed is already making your image nice and sharp, then ISO is the clear option anyway! Plus, you won’t find any noticeable grain til much higher of an ISO.
All in all, picking a starting point and then adjusting is all about finding that perfect balance to achieve the image you’re looking for!
If you’re like me, you want to skip to the part where you just know how to do this naturally! This didn’t happen for me until I was shooting constantly. This is how you know you’ve mastered manual mode: when you take a photo, look at the preview image on your camera, and know what to do to manipulate it to your liking! To best grasp this, next time you are using your camera, look down and think through what would happen to the image if you changed any of the three major settings.
I hope these tips and tricks were helpful for you as you dive into manual! If you’re looking for another summary of these tips, here’s a link to my completely free, manual settings guide. This is also something I dive into a lot in mentor sessions. If you’re looking to get on the schedule, click here! I offer a variety of sessions to fit your schedule and budget!
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