Manual Photography Basics - Know Your Camera Inside Out

Why knowing Manual Photography Basics?

One of the great qualities in digital photography is that just about anyone can take good pictures by using the camera in automatic mode. When working in automatic, the camera has been programmed and taught to adjust its setting for light, distance and focus. Basically, all you have to do is turn the camera on, point at your subject, and shoot.

This mode is great for beginners and can produce a good quality snapshot with little effort on the part of the photographer. However, as some photographers get further into digital photography, they will want to push beyond the generic limits programmed into the automatic mode. That’s when the time for shooting in manual mode has come.

Manual adjustments aren’t nearly as complicated as they appear at first sight. All of them are used for the same purpose: To control the amount of light captured by the camera when the shutter is open. These are determined by the shutter speed, aperture setting and ISO. The challenge is to integrate all three to capture the image with the right amount of light for the right amount of time.

Manual Photography Basics - Shutter Speed

This is the length of time your camera’s eye (image sensor) is allowed to look at the scene. It is measured in fractions of a second, and can range from a short time at a fast speed of 1/1000 of a second, to a longer time at a slow speed of up to several seconds. The rule to remember is that the faster the speed, the less time the “eye” has to look at the scene.

Speeds above 1/250 (and up to 1/8000 on some SLRs) are most often used to shoot objects in motion. The shutter opens and shuts so quickly, it can catch just a glimpse of the image, making it appear to be frozen in midair.

Slow speeds, of less than 1/8 and up to a few seconds can capture movement and record it as a blur. Very slow speeds of up to a few seconds can produce some very unique effects; especially when shooting night photography.

When using slow shutter speeds, you must use a tripod and set the camera to go off on a timer. This avoids pressing down the shutter release which can shake or jiggle the camera.

Shutter speed for general photography usually ranges 1/8 to 1/250. For most still photographs taken in good light, a speed of around 1/125 is a good place to start.

Manual Photography Basics - Aperture Settings

The aperture setting determines how wide the camera lens will open to allow the image sensor to get a look at the subject. It is measured in f stops such as f/1.8, f /2, f/4, and so on. The higher the number, the smaller the lens opens, and the less light comes in; and in reverse, the lower the number, the larger the opening, and the more light is allowed in.

The size is determined by taking shutter speed into consideration. In other words, if the shutter speed is high, allowing the sensor only a brief look at the subject, then the aperture setting will be lower, opening the lens wider so the sensor can get a good look.

It’s fairly easy to remember that as you adjust the lens down the scale, each f stop allows half as much as the stop above it, and as you go up the scale, each one offers twice as much as the stop below it.

Manual Photography Basics - ISO Settings

The ISO setting on your camera indicates the sensitivity of your camera to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive the sensor and the less need for light. Most digitals offer ISO settings from 100 through 400, which is sufficient for just about any picture you want to shoot.

Higher settings can be especially useful in situations where the light is not sufficient and you can’t use a flash. By raising the ISO and opening the aperture wider, you can take good shots in low or no light.

With some of the really high settings offered on SLRs, you might even get away without using a tripod and come out with a very nice print. (But don’t depend on it; do it only in a pinch.)

Don’t forget to return the ISO setting back to a normal number when you’ve finished shooting for the day.

Manual Photography Basics - Depth of Field (DOF)

Depth of field refers to the area of the scene, which will be in focus in the finished print. A number of things affect the depth of field, including aperture setting, distance from the camera to the subject, and the focal length of the lens being used.

To work with a smaller (shallow) depth of field, adjust the aperture to open wider by turning it to a smaller f stop. You’ll have the main subject in focus, and the remaining area will be blurred.

In reverse, by raising the f stop and closing down the aperture, the depth of field will cover a greater area, and more of the photo will be in focus.

Changing the depth of field can also be accomplished by moving closer to reduce the area, and moving away to increase it.

Depth of field can be used to produce very effective portraits in which you want to focus on the person and blur the background.

Manual Photography Basics - Bracketing

Shoot, shoot, shoot. This is an old adage handed down from the pros of days gone by. It is especially handy for people just starting to work in manual settings.

The point is to take at least three shots of the same exact scene changing the light settings in between. Some digitals come with this capability built in; others will have to be adjusted between shots.

Shoot the image with the settings indicated by environment, camera, light, etc., but then move the setting down a step and take it again. Finally, move it up a step past the original setting and shoot again.

The advantage is that you’re certain to get at least one good shot out of the three; but more than that, you have am opportunity to see what can be done with a photo by moderately changing light settings.

Manual Photography Basics - Grey Card Metering

If you’ve ever brought up a set of photos in your editing program and found them to be just a bit yellowish or even red or blue, then you would probably benefit from learning to use a grey card.

There are lots of complicated methods for using a grey card that some photographer’s have mastered, but a simple method that can be used by anyone, is really all most people will need.

Grey cards are exactly what the name implies: A card that is grey on one side; sometimes white on the other, and can be used for calibrating the white balance of your camera to be sure it reads all the colors in your shot exactly as they should be. It can also be used to read the available light to calculate and set the right exposure.

The simplest way to use one is to set up your shot, then put the grey card in the scene so the natural light source is reflecting on the card the same as it is on your subject. Simply point your camera and take your reading from the light coming off the card.

Use that to set your white balance and exposure on the camera. Some cameras offer an automatic feature so you only have to take a photo of the grey card and the camera will automatically set the white balance.

Some photo editing programs offer their own version of a grey card with the user an eye dropper that can be clicked over a grey area in a picture to set and adjust the color. This can be useful if there happens to be a neutral grey or white area in the picture.

On the other hand, if you use it on a shade that is not color neutral (tinted), your white balance will still be off. The best way to be sure you are using the correct shade of grey is to purchase one of the cards.

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Comments 2 comments

anderbee 7 years ago

awesome hub! i have a friend who is a photographer, he needs to see this.

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TrahnTheMan 4 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

I agree cablemanagements it's a great hub and operating your camera in manual is really the only way to truly improve your photography. I don't want to be picky but I should point out that manual operation doesn't mean that you aren't performing digital processing. You're just setting more of the digital processing parameters yourself, rather than allowing the camera preset defaults to do it...

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