How To Take Photos With DSLR Camera in Manual Mode

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How many of you SLR camera owners use the auto option way more than the manual. Well, that was me until recently when I learned how to actually use all those devices on my camera. In order to finally get out of the auto mode of my SLR camera, I had to learn what all those buttons mean, and how to use them. The key to understanding the manual mode and all its functions is to understand the exposure triangle and how to manipulate it to your full advantage. The exposure triangle refers to the three elements that contribute to getting the best exposure possible: the ISO, the aperture, and the shutter speed.These three things when finely tuned will give you the best exposure possible! The first thing to understand about these, is that each component in the exposure triangle impact one another. So if you adjust one, you will have to compensate by adjusting another to get the proper amount of exposure plus get the effect you want to get.

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ISO

The ISO measures how sensitive the image will be to light. The higher the ISO, the more grainy or noisier your image will become. If you want a crystal clear picture, then you will want to have a lower ISO. An ISO of 100 is considered normal; therefore, 100 or lower will make clear pictures in most settings. This is ideal when there is plenty of light.

You may be wondering why you would ever want a picture that wasn't perfectly clear. Well, you don't, but in some cases for instance if you want to capture something moving quickly, you may want to bump up the ISO, not because you want more grain, but because you need to have a faster shutter speed to capture the picture as still. Just as in aperture and shutter speed, we often have to give and take when deciding what is best for each shot. Like in this instance, we may have to allow more grain, to get a picture to appear still. Also, by bumping up the ISO, you are also able to take pictures at smaller aperture. You can see that section to see why that would be beneficial.

Another time when you may need or want to bump up your ISO is when it is dark, or you are not able to use flashes like at a concert or art museum. The reason for this, since you are unable to use a flash, you may have trouble getting enough light in order to have a well exposed picture. By bumping up the ISO, it allows you to take brighter pictures by giving the image sensor more light.

This picture has a lot of bokeh, but the daisy is clear. Notice how it enhances the object that the photographer  is focusing on.
This picture has a lot of bokeh, but the daisy is clear. Notice how it enhances the object that the photographer is focusing on. | Source

Aperture:

Aperture is my favorite part of the exposure triangle to play around with, because it is what gives me the most creative control. I am able to do so much with it. Like this photo to the right, had a high f-number, which caused less to be in focus. Aperture is the most confusing, so I will try to do my best to explain it clearly.

Aperture measures how much light enters the camera's lens. Aperture will be measured by the f-numbers on the lens barrel. This function will help you if you want to have that blurred background effect which is also known as bokeh. So if someone has a really sharp image with blurred background, someone might say this picture has great bokeh!

What the f-number represents is how wide the lens is opened. The smaller the number the smaller the opening of the lens is. This will cause more of the picture to be in focus, which means the foreground, and the background will be in equal focus. Another way you might hear this is, your picture has a larger depth of field. Whereas if the f-stop is higher, then you will have a blurred effect in the background and foreground with a smaller depth of field.

If you are taking a picture of a person, you should focus on someone's eye. This is especially true when you want a small depth of focus. The reason for this is because if you choose to have the lens opened wide for the picture, then you have a very narrow field of what will be in focus. By focusing on the eyes, you are making sure that their face will be in focus, especially their eyes which is the heart of any person's soul.

As I said, F-stops can become confusing. The biggest confusion about aperture is because the larger the number the less that is in focus. Another way of saying this is the larger the number the smaller the aperture, which seems counter intuitive, but is in fact correct. That's why I try to focus on remembering that the higher the number the wider the lens, since that is why they are numbered that way. One good way to remember this is, the more concentrated you are on one spot, the higher you want the F-stop number to be.

For instance, if you have bad eyesight, you can try this, and you might understand. Take off your glasses or take out your contacts. Focus on a spot with your eyes wide open. Everything is blurry, right. Well, now make a really small hole with your fingers, and look through that hole. You will find that you actually can see better though the small hole. That's why people squint. Well, it's the same way with the camera. If you want to see the hole picture better the wider the lens needs to be; therefore, the bigger the number needs to be.

One of the reasons aperture is my favorite is because of the ability to make the background fuzzy. By adding bokeh, it makes my subject the center of focus. It has allowed me to step out of always making my picture perfectly centered. I can focus on my daughter on the right hand part of the screen, with kids in the background and all around her, but because she is in focus and they are not, she is the one that catches your eye. It has allowed me to create some of my favorite photos.

Fast Shutter Speed

A Shot like this would need to have a fast shutter speed. Faster shutter speeds are also more useful when taking pictures of children. Compliments of everystockphoto.com
A Shot like this would need to have a fast shutter speed. Faster shutter speeds are also more useful when taking pictures of children. Compliments of everystockphoto.com | Source

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is probably the easiest to understand, since it determines the amount of time that the shutter is open to allow light to enter into the lens. This is measured literally by fractions of seconds, although the shutter speed could be left open for days or the smallest fraction of a second possible. If your subject is moving or you are taking a picture of a child, you will want to make sure that the shutter speed is as low as possible, while getting the effect you are hoping with the aperture and ISO. A good starting point would be 1/50th of a second. Faster if the child is active, 1/50th might be fine for an infant or an adult. Remember these are fractions, so 1/50th is more than and slower than 1/250th. 

It has been recommended by every photography blog I've read that 99 percent of the time you will want your camera at 1/50th of a second or faster. Any slower than that and you will see movement in your picture. One blogger referred to this as camera shakes, which interrupts the clearness of your photo.

Another great thing to note about shutter speed is that the longer the shutter is open the more light that enters it. It will pick up any light and movement that occur during this time frame. In other words, the camera will pick up anything that appears in that frame during that time. Someone might choose to have shutter speed open for longer periods like a couple seconds if they want to show activity with a stationary object. There is a lot of creativity to be had. For instance, if a train goes by, and you take a picture of a person waiting. The person may be in perfect focus while the train is a big blur.

Whether we are talking about apperture, ISO, or shutter speed, the key to getting the effect you want is by balancing these three. Your goal should be to change these three elements so that way they work in perfect harmony to project the most artistic picture possible. One way to make sure that you are going to have a correctly exposed picture is by looking at the EV meter on your dSLR camera. There will be a EV number somewhere in your viewfinder. You want it to read +/-0, that is your goal. Although, if it is reading -1 or +1 or any other variant then you need to do some adjusting with the above things until you get the best exposure possible. You will learn to meter more easily as you gain experience and believe me it takes practice. I'm still learning the ins and outs of camera, but at least now I'm having fun experimenting! Bottom line, the key is to have a good understanding of what each element does, in order to get the best picture possible.

If you want to learn more about understanding exposure, here is a great book to help you on your way. It is highly recommended by many professional photographers.

Longer Shutter Speed

Notice how the background is blurred because it was moving, but the boy was not moving; therefore, he is very clear.
Notice how the background is blurred because it was moving, but the boy was not moving; therefore, he is very clear. | Source

Longer Shutter Speed Effects

Another great thing to note about shutter speed is that the longer the shutter is open the more light that enters it. It will pick up any light and movement that occur during this time frame. In other words, the camera will pick up anything that appears in that frame during that time. Someone might choose to have shutter speed open for longer periods like a couple seconds if they want to show activity with a stationary object. There is a lot of creativity to be had. For instance, if a train goes by, and you take a picture of a person waiting. The person may be in perfect focus while the train is a big blur.

Whether we are talking about apperture, ISO, or shutter speed, the key to getting the effect you want is by balancing these three. Your goal should be to change these three elements so that way they work in perfect harmony to project the most artistic picture possible. One way to make sure that you are going to have a correctly exposed picture is by looking at the EV meter on your dSLR camera. There will be a EV number somewhere in your viewfinder. You want it to read +/-0, that is your goal. Although, if it is reading -1 or +1 or any other variant then you need to do some adjusting with the above things until you get the best exposure possible. You will learn to meter more easily as you gain experience and believe me it takes practice. I'm still learning the ins and outs of camera, but at least now I'm having fun experimenting! Bottom line, the key is to have a good understanding of what each element does, in order to get the best picture possible.

© 2010 Angela Michelle

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Comments 13 comments

David Hilditch profile image

David Hilditch 4 years ago

Hi - we just got the deal to sell the beautiful Kelly Moore camera bags to all of Europe - to find out more visit our shop at www.camerahandbags.co.uk


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 4 years ago from United States Author

It's amazing what are cameras are capable of doing! I wish I was a little more talented.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 4 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

My camera was designed for somebody who doesn't want to read the instruction book (like me). However, when I have tried to push the boundaries, I have taken far more interesting photos - and had more fun.


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 6 years ago from United States Author

I actually think it's more challenging. With a cell phone or a computer there is a right way to do something. On a camera there is a thousand great ways to do something, but there is a best and it's your tricks to find it!


GiftedGrandma profile image

GiftedGrandma 6 years ago from USA

Using a camera is always a learning experience every time you use one. I'm always learning something new!! It is as challenging as a computer or cell phone :O)


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 6 years ago from United States Author

Thank you stevewong. Hmmm, maybe I should!!! :) I've been so busy I haven't gotten to make new hubs in awhile.


stevewong profile image

stevewong 6 years ago

Thanks for the insightful information on shooting in full manual mode. You may also want to do a hub, tackling off camera lighting. If you google up "strobist" you will see what I am talking about (if you are not already familiar). I just started playing around with remote flashes. Getting the exposure right is a pain, but you really can get some great effects...


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 6 years ago from United States Author

Mike! Your welcome, my pleasure!


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 6 years ago from United States Author

Kathy Pi, thanks for the encouragement! I had a really hard time understanding my computer at first, and this information helped me, which is why I chose to post it for everyone else to see!


mike1242 profile image

mike1242 6 years ago from London

thanks for the info.


kathypi profile image

kathypi 6 years ago from CANADA

GREAT INFO, easy to understand and really helpful, thank you Kathy


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 6 years ago from United States Author

I think it's very important to understand this in order to fully understand your SLR camera!


alexandriaruthk profile image

alexandriaruthk 6 years ago from US

I never know about this before, it is good to be informed, Thank you

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