Photography Tips for Beginners – Shooting in Manual Mode

Photography Tips for Beginners - don't speak geekCan Someone Explain Manual Mode in Plain English?

I think we take things for granted at times, and it usually happens in the area where we are most comfortable.

For instance, if you love to cook, it’s easy to talk about cooking and use the jargon of the cooking world.

Or, if you are really good at tennis, your language reflects your knowledge.

But what happens if you meet someone who knows very little about your area of comfort? She knows nothing about the meaning of 15-Love or Deuce (in tennis), or he can’t comprehend what you mean when you talk about letting your dough rest (cooking terms).

That’s where I’m coming from in this article. I’m assuming you are looking for a novice’s explanation of some of the most common photography tips you read about from lots of different sources.

To be honest, I was inspired to do this when I read an article at ourfifthhouse.com. It is now on my personal recommended reading list when I feel myself getting too geeky with my photography lingo.

Not so long ago, I posted an article about “5 Photography Tips For Digital SLR Photography Beginners.” They are 5 really good ideas.

However, I was thinking that there are a few more photography tips for beginners that did not make it into the article.

The ideas represented in this article are meant to give you some added incentive to “go deeper” than just using your DSLR as a point and shoot camera. By the way, I actually did recommend using your camera like a point and shoot model in the previous article, but you should not stay on Auto by any means.

It’s true, your DSLR has been created in a way that will make your shots better simply because of the larger sensor (physically larger, not “megapixels larger”). But you really do need to get more creative and adventurous with your photography to get better.

Getting more creative may lead you to some really horrible shots at first, but stick with it and you will get better. Trust me. I know this is true, because I was there myself.

OK, so here is my first photo tip:

Set the mode dial to ManualShoot manual.

You read it right! Set your mode dial to the big M. When you do, expect the worst, but don’t allow discouragement. Look at it as an adventure.

One hint as you start on this adventure is to move the mode dial to P and partially press the shutter button. Look at the settings the camera would select as you focus on your chosen subject. This will give you a starting point when you move to Manual.

**note: Don’t do this for the first time at a major event. Do it when you can afford to make mistakes.

Once you have set your mode dial, take a big breath.. you are now in the adventure zone – total control. From here, there are three things to adjust, Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO (don’t freak, read on for the explanation). These three things control how your picture will look.

large and small aperturesAperture means the size of the lens opening, and it is also referred to as f-stop. As you select a lower number, the opening of the lens gets bigger. Higher numbers mean the opening gets smaller. Keep in mind that the way the numbers work seems backwards.. don’t worry, you will get used to this.

  • Larger opening (smaller number like f/4) = more light
  • Smaller opening (larger number like f/11) = less light

(aperture illustration is from Wikimedia Commons)

Shutter Speed is how fast the camera’s shutter opens and closes. This is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds. For instance, the fastest shutter speed on a Canon Rebel is 1/4000 of a second. The higher the number, the more light will get into the camera. (When looking at fractions, the higher the number on the bottom, the faster the shutter speed. So 1/500 is a faster shutter speed than 1/50.)

ISO has something to do with Light Sensitivity of your camera’s sensor. Think about it as an acronym for Is the Sun On (credit ourfifthhouse.com for this idea). As you change the ISO, you change the way your camera is affected by the available light.

Under normal, sunny conditions, you want to set your ISO to its lowest point. On most cameras that is 100. When there is less light, change your ISO to a higher number.

Why change the ISO at all? When there is less light, your settings have to change to compensate and get enough light into the camera to record a well exposed picture. And, if you are trying to hold your camera rather than have it steadied on a tripod, your shutter speed must be fast enough so that the image is not blurred by your own movement. Being able to increase the ISO will also allow you to increase the shutter speed.

Now you can start practicing! Check the picture in the LCD after each shot. As you play with the settings, really pay attention to what happens to your image. When you change one setting, you will probably have to change another setting to compensate for the amount of light.

Here are a few ways to experiment with the Manual Mode:

  • Change the Aperture value to see what happens, and pay particular attention to how much of the picture is in focus. Wider lens openings create blurry backgrounds while smaller openings put more of the picture in focus.
  • Change the shutter speed to see how much you can slow it down before you can no longer hold your camera steady enough for a sharp photo. Also try to figure out how fast your shutter has to operate to stop action.
  • Test the ISO in dark areas to see how high you can go before you pictures start to get grainy.

By the way, as you shoot in Manual Mode, you will be learning more about exposure than you ever thought you could.  Come back and post a comment about your experience.

Happy Shooting!