I briefly touched on shooting using the Manual mode in March in my cave photography blog. Today I’d like to cover this mode in more detail. Photographing in manual can seem complicated, especially for beginners, but hopefully you’ll feel confident enough to give it a go after reading this article as you can get some great results when you shoot in Manual.
Ok let’s start off with some basics. There are 3 main settings to consider when taking photos (especially when you shoot in manual) – ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.
ISO sets the light sensitivity of your photo sensor. In film cameras the type of film you used and what you wanted to photograph determined the ISO. These days it’s much easier to change your ISO simply by going into your camera settings and selecting a new ISO.
The usable ISO range, on most cameras, is 100 to 6400, after which there is generally too much grain present in the photo to be useful. The higher the ISO value, the more light it will let in. So if you want to photograph a landscape during the day, ISO 100 or 200 will probably be fine. If you’re photographing a moving subject you might want to increase the ISO to maybe 400 (depending on the amount of available light) and if you’re shooting indoors, or in a lower light situation, you might need to increase the ISO further.
There is a trade off when you increase your ISO to allow more light in. The higher the ISO, the more noise (or grain) is introduced into the image. This noise isn’t generally too obtrusive until you reach ISO 800 on most cameras and the amount of grain present in your photos will depend on your camera, with higher end cameras showing less grain at higher ISOs than entry-level cameras.
The aperture refers to the opening of the lens diaphragm. The opening you use will determine how much light will enter your camera and the available range will vary from lens to lens. The aperture range of most lenses is from f/4 to f/22. Higher end lenses can open wider, up to f/1.2, but you’ll pay a lot for this functionality.
Using a larger aperture (smaller number eg f/4) will allow more light into the camera. Inversely using a smaller aperture (larger number eg. f/8) will let less light into the camera.
As with the ISO, there is a trade-off when using Aperture. The more open the diaphragm (the smaller the number), the shallower the depth of field. So if you use an aperture of f/4, your subject will be in focus but the rest will be out of focus. The rose in the example below was taken using an Aperture of f/4.5 – notice how the rose is in focus yet the background is blurry.
Using a larger aperture (smaller number) can be useful when you want to shoot portraits or objects such as flowers but isn’t recommended when shooting landscapes as you generally want everything to be in focus. Landscapes generally use an aperture of at least f/8 to ensure more of the scene is sharp. Shooting with a smaller aperture like f/8 will let less light in so you may need to use a slower shutter speed and a tripod to ensure your photo remains sharp.
The Shutter Speed
This is the last way you can control the amount of light of your photo. The shutter speed you use is largely determined by the speed at which your subject is moving. For example, if you are photographing a runner you’ll likely need to use a faster shutter speed than if you’re photographing a landscape.
Shooting with a faster shutter speed will give you a sharp photo however, in some cases, it could be difficult to tell if the subject is actually moving.
Another technique of capturing movement is to slow down your shutter speed – here are a couple of examples of capturing the movement of water:
- The photo on the left was taken with a shutter speed of 1/100th second – notice the individual drops of water.
- The one on the right was taken with a much slower shutter speed of 1/10th second – see the difference in the water?
|1/100th Shutter Speed||1/10th Shutter Speed|
The trade-off with this setting is that the faster the shutter speed, the less light comes into the camera. If you’re outside on a bright sunny day you’re not going to have too many problems finding a decent shutter speed to capture your scene however if you are inside and want to photograph someone moving, eg people dancing, you may find it difficult to shoot at shutter speed you want and still get a correctly exposed photo.
Summary and application of the 3 settings
ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed are all ways of controlling the amount of light in your photo. You need to set all three to make sure you get the results you are looking for.
When I’m photographing a moving subject, my priority is to get them in focus so the shutter speed is the most important consideration. Here’s how I set the camera up for the shot:
- I first select the slowest shutter speed that I can use to have a sharp subject.
- Then I look at the lighting and, if there is enough light, I set my aperture to give the effect I’m going for (narrow vs deep depth of field).
- Lastly I set the ISO to ensure the photo is well exposed.
On a bright sunny day you might find that there’s too much light coming onto the camera after having gone through the steps above. To compensate for this you can drop the ISO to 100 and increase the shutter speed until the photo is correctly exposed.
I might sometimes experience the inverse problem, especially when I need to photograph action in poor lighting conditions. In situations like this you might find that it isn’t possible to shoot with your preferred shutter speed and get a correctly exposed photo. In this case compromises might need to be made to get the shot. Here’s what I do:
- I start off by selecting the largest available aperture (f/2.8) to let in the most light, knowing that this will reduce the depth of field of my photo.
- Then I increase my ISO, knowing that the more I increase the ISO, the more grain appears in the photo.
- After I have set the aperture and ISO, if there is still not enough light to shoot I need to choose whether to decrease the shutter speed, risking a blurry photo, or shoot under exposed and correct the exposure in post production – what I choose depends on the situation and how under exposed the photo will be.
My process for shooting landscapes is quite different – here’s how I setup my camera:
- Firstly I select the lowest ISO (usually ISO 100) to minimise the grain in the photo.
- Next I choose the aperture that will give the effect I’m looking for – I usually shoot between f/8 and f/11 to ensure the entire scene is in focus.
- Lastly I select the shutter speed that will ensure my shot is well exposed.
I often shoot on a tripod when photographing landscapes make sure my photo is sharp, especially when I’m shooting at really slow shutter speeds.
Not ready to start shooting Manual yet? Try Aperture or Shutter Priority
Making the jump from shooting in Automatic to Manual can be quite daunting as you have so much to think about. An intermediate step could be to try shooting in Aperture (AV on Canon / A on Nikon) or Shutter Priority (TV on Canon / S on Nikon) mode on your camera then move onto shooting in Manual when you feel comfortable.
When you use Aperture Priority mode you set your desired ISO and your Aperture and the camera automatically sets the shutter speed. This mode can be useful if you want to use a shallow depth of field (large aperture eg f/4) to isolate the subject in the photo.
The problem with using this mode is if you set a too high f value (eg. f/11) your camera may set a shutter speed too slow to be able to hand hold resulting in a blurry photo. You could get around this problem by shooting using a tripod.
When you use Shutter Priority mode you set your desired ISO and Shutter Speed and the camera automatically sets your Aperture. This can be useful if you need a faster shutter speed to capture action or alternately if you want to slow down your shutter speed to capture movement (eg of water). The problem with using this mode is if you shoot with a shutter speed that is too fast, the camera may not be able to adjust the Aperture (to create a correctly exposed photo) and you may get an underexposed photo. Your camera should warn you of this by flashing the Aperture value or by putting a warning on the viewfinder.
You may be able to overcome both of these problems by raising your ISO however remember that this will introduce grain into your photo.
Ok that’s it for shooting in Manual. Next week’s blog will cover how to check your photo is well exposed.
Hopefully you have a better understanding of how to use your camera settings. The best way to learn, however, is to get out there and practice. Play around with various settings and see what result you get.