Learn photography basics

Learn photography basics: How to shoot on manual

Friday, February 5, 2016

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Did you finally pull the trigger on purchasing that new camera just to spend the next two years using it on auto? Switching it to manual can open up a whole world of creative freedom, allowing you to really use the camera to its full potential. Today, I’m sharing tips on how to shoot on manual, so you can learn the photography basics.

First of all, photography is all about controlling light. If you’re shooting on manual, you are in charge of adjusting the settings to get a proper exposure. Don’t worry though…there are really only three ways to adjust the amount of light in your image: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Think of these as a three-sided scale, always having to be balanced to get the right exposure.

Aperture

Camera lenses have blades that open and close, allowing you to control how much light they let through. So simply put, aperture is the amount of light the lens is allowing to pass. It is measured in F-stops (F/1.4, F/2.0, F/8, F/22, etc.). The lower the F-stop, the wider the aperture, and therefore, the brighter the image. The aperture also affects the depth of field, giving wider F-stops a shallower DOF. This allows you to get a nice blurred background, which looks great in portraits.

Shutter Speed

Measured in seconds/fractions of a second, a camera shutter controls how long light is able to hit the sensor. Slow shutter speeds allow you to create streaks of movement in the image, while fast shutter speeds let you freeze a fast-moving subject in time. Experiment here, but take one word of advice: if you get close to second-long speeds (0.5”, 1”, 5”, etc.), be sure to use a tripod!

ISO/Gain

ISO is the electronic amplification of light from your camera's sensor. The higher your ISO, the more digital noise will be present in your image. At certain levels, it may not be evident at first glance, but if you zoom in on your photo, you will be able to tell a difference in quality from a lower ISO to a higher one. So generally speaking, a lower ISO is the way to go (unless there's no other way to add light)!

Although these are the only three ways to adjust the amount of light within your camera, there are many other ways to affect the exposure of your image. Most obvious is the amount of light where you are shooting. If you are indoors, can you dim/brighten the lights? If you are outdoors in broad daylight, can you shoot in the shade or come back in the evening? Being aware of the lighting around you is an important part of getting great images. To cut down the amount of light in your image, you can also utilize Neutral Density (ND) filters. These are basically sunglasses for your lens, allowing you to shoot at wider apertures or slower shutter speeds in bright settings.

There are a lot of factors that come into play when shooting in manual, but it’s quite rewarding once you learn all of the photography basics. Like all things, practice makes perfect. So what are you waiting for? Switch your camera into manual and go take some pictures. If you don’t have a DSLR but still want practice, Canon has a great interactive website you can use to better understand how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO affect your image. Be sure to check it out!

Any puzzling camera or photography questions? Comment below. I’m happy to share some of my tips.

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