This Article is About
manual mode
mumbo jumbo
aperture settings
shutter speed
face shot
technical aspect
depth of field
daunting task
white balance
A Quick Start Guide To Shooting In Manual Mode
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Any aspiring photographer will eventually want to know how to use manual mode. This can be a daunting task if tackled alone. I'm here to make the transition easier for you! There are four main settings on a digital camera's manual mode: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. Each setting causes its own unique effects, which will be discussed, on the resulting image. Focus will not be placed on the technical aspect of these settings, but rather how to use them. If you want the technical mumbo-jumbo, that will be coming in separate articles later.

The first setting, aperture, in its most simplest form controls how much of the picture is in focus. This is called depth of field, DoF. If you have seen aperture settings on a camera, you have likely seen something that looks like this f/2.8 or this f/22. These are called f-stops and are the standard way of measuring aperture. An f-stop of f/2.8 would let much more light in at once than an f-stop of f/22. This seems counter intuitive, but just remember that a smaller f-stop means more light and less DoF and vice versa.

So, as an example, taking a close up face shot of someone would benefit from a smaller f-stop. Focusing on the face would blur the background, bringing more attention to the face. This is due to the shallow DoF brought about by the small f/stop. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you wanted to take a picture of a house and the mountain in the background,with both in focus, a larger f-stop might be needed to increase your DoF.

Next comes shutter speed. This is just literally how long the shutter stays open for the picture. If it is written as a fraction such as 1/250, it is measuring fractions of a second. If it is written as a whole number such as 2, then it is measuring whole seconds. Be sure to watch this setting as it is easy to get confused switching from whole numbers to fractions on the fly, because often the fraction is written as a whole number. 1/250 would become 250 and 1 second would become 1"

Shutter speed will control two things, the amount of light let in and the amount of motion blur present in the picture. Obviously, a longer shutter speed will let more light in, and if the subject is moving, it will cause more motion blur. As an example, on a bright sunny day while taking pictures of a child on a bicycle, a short exposure will be wanted to avoid washing out (when everything gets too bright to see) and getting a clear picture of the child.

Next on the list is ISO. It stands for International Standards Organization, but that is inconsequential as it does not effect the understanding of how ISO works. ISO is measured in numbers, generally starting at 100 and increasing by double every time (100 ,200, 400, etc.). This provides a measure of how sensitive the image sensor on the digital camera is to the light being let in. A lower number is less sensitive but decreases the amount of image noise, the grain you see in pictures (predominantly low light pictures), and a higher number provides more sensitivity at the cost of obtaining more noise.

From a practical standpoint, an ISO of 100 would be ideal for a sunny day, because it provides the lowest sensitivity to light to avoid washing out of the image and the best quality. The opposite is also true; an ISO of 1600 would be more suitable for nighttime photography as it gives the most sensitivity to the minimal light present. Unfortunately it comes at the cost of quality, but as of now the only ways partially around this are photo editing and more expensive equipment.

Lastly is the white balance setting. This is a less understood setting, because it isn't as prevalent and was not present in film cameras. It's used to adjust the color "temperature" that is due to the image sensor's lack of ability to adjust for different "temperatures" of light. You probably didn't understand that, so try this one: White balance attempts to correct the color of pictures taken under different types of light like sunlight, florescent and incandescent light bulbs. If you have ever seen a picture of someone that looks green, this is most likely due to an incorrect white balance setting.

It is fairly straightforward to use the white balance setting. Most cameras have a list of presets for the different types of light. Nine times out of ten, these presets will get you the white balance you need.

To sum things up, there are four major settings in a camera's manual mode: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. The best way to see for yourself what each setting does is to set the camera on a tripod, or other stable surface, and leave three settings static while changing one over the range of the setting. Observe the effects on the image and then repeat with the other three settings. You may have to do this for several different subjects to fully see what effects each setting has. The hardest part is finding the balance of all the settings to avoid washing out or a dark image, but with this basic understanding of each setting, you will be well on your way to mastering manual photography.

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