Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Shooting in Manual- What clicked for me...

This discussion is aimed more for the newbies who may still feel really overwhelmed by shooting in manual. Different things work for different people and this is just what clicked for me. People may agree or disagree with me but different people learn differently so I thought I would share my personal experience.

*Don't feel like you have to rush into shooting manual. A lot of people suggest you should stick your camera on manual from the get-go to force yourself to learn. My brain doesn't work that way. If I would have tried to force myself to learn manual I think I would have just ended up a frustrated, tear filled mess. My personal suggestion would be to try out one of the other shooting modes for a while... Aperture priority or shutter priority. I shot on these two settings interchangeably for almost 3 years and I really think picking at least one of the settings (as opposed to full auto) helped me to understand my camera better a little at a time.

*Learn what each of the settings in the exposure triangle does one at a time. ISO, Aperture (measured in f-stops) and Shutter speed. Trying to learn it all at once can be really confusing. I'm usually a fast learner but all this talk about lowering or raising your ISO and making sure your shutter speed is at least 1/125 for shooting kids and around f/4 had me totally confused. What do you mean f-stop? What about aperture? Are they the same thing? oh wait... and what about shutter speed? How many settings ARE there in this triangle thingy? UGH!!!

Okay... I won't get into how it all works together... just know that they all come together to help you get a properly exposed photo.

The first setting I learned about was ISO because to me that was the "easiest" to understand. ISO measures your camera's sensitivity to light so the higher the ISO the more sensitive your camera will be to light... okay, sure, but what does that mean? It means that if it's really freaking bright outside you don't need a super high ISO because a higher ISO makes your camera MORE sensitive to light.... Higher ISO's let your camera "see" more light. If the sun is blazing out your camera doesn't want to "see" more light... so lower that ISO. :)

What about higher ISO's? Higher ISO's are used when there is less light. Your camera wants to "see" more light and to do that you need to raise the ISO. The trade-off though... is that the higher the ISO, the greater the chance you have of getting grainy (noisy) pictures. Grainy?? But I don't want that... well trust me... It's easier to fix a noisy, properly exposed photo than an underexposed one.

The next two settings are equally heard to learn IMO... so whichever you want to focus on learning next is totally up to you. I'm going to pick aperture.

Aperture is how "open" your lens is. A bigger opening lets in more light than a smaller one. This is where the numbers confused me a little bit because a smaller number = a greater opening. How does that work? Well I don't really know. I guess I can google to find out why but I don't really care why just how. The main reason I care about aperture has to do with depth of field (blurry backgrounds). There is a DOF calculator some people find useful and it explains a lot of things that help you achieve a better DOF (like distance from the subject etc). Since we are just learning the basics, let's keep it simple. You can expand into the DOF calculator after you have a better understanding of aperture. One thing that's certain, lower f-stops (for example f/1.8, f/2.0 etc) will help you get a blurrier background than a higher f stop will (for example f/22). (Lower numbers let in more light than higher ones).

Okay now for shutter speeds. The higher the shutter speed the more you are able to "freeze motion." Since kids move around a lot, many people recommended working with a shutter speed of about 1/125 or 1/160 to avoid getting blurry pictures. I think a lot of experimentation with shutter speeds is what really helps you understand it. But I think the main point with shutter speed is that higher motion needs higher shutter speeds. (Lower numbers let in more light than higher ones).

Okay now let's say you're outside in a bright sunny day ready to take some test shots of um... your lovely plant or something. It's really sunny so you start out with ISO 200. You want a nice DOF so you go down to f/2.8 or something (depending on your lens if it can go that low or not.) so now you pick a shutter speed of um... 1/100... for example. Take a look at your LCD screen. Is the shot in focus? Now look at the histogram. Is it properly exposed? If it's not... is it over or underexposed? If it's overexposed what do you have to do? Your ISO is already pretty low...you don't want to introduce more light to your lens so leave that alone... you either have to change your aperture (f-stop) or shutter speed. Raising your shutter speed would work but if you want to raise your aperture that wouldn't hurt either. It's a trade off... what can/do you want to sacrifice?

This is really a non-comprehensive way to think about shooting in manual mode. There are several different factors that affect your image like what metering mode were you using, what focus mode etc. I've been shooting manual a little over 3 months and I'm definitely still learning but once all of this (above) clicked in my head is when I really started learning more about those other factors. The number one thing I suggest is taking things one step at a time. If you've had your camera for 6 months to a year and are still not shooting manual... DON'T worry about it!!! There's no rush! Like I said, I shot in aperture or shutter priority modes for THREE years!!! Take it slow... keep reading and learning. ;)

Quick recap:

ISO: Higher numbers let in more light
Aperture: Lower numbers let in more light
Shutter speed: Lower numbers let in more light because the shutter is open longer with lower speeds.


  1. GREAT post Mayra! and you are SOO right!

    Hubby bought me my 1st SLR camera, Canon XT back in Winter 2005. Remember we had those Sony Cybershot cams? Lol! Those were so cool! :P

    Well, when THAT one messed up you know me, I needed a new camera asap! (Especially having a newborn in the house) ;)
    The sales man suggested the Canon XT since I told him I was a huge photo fan.
    I seriously didn't have a clue about that camera for about a year. I used Auto all the time. Auto & flash. (Imagine using flash outside when it's bright and sunny??! wth was I thinking?! Lmao!)

    When I started reading stuff online about these cameras, getting advice from professional photographer friends & the manual book, that was when I moved it to TV Mode (shutter Priority) there was a BIG difference from Auto to TV Mode and like you, I used THAT particular setting for a few years. Even with the XSi... (up until I got my mark II a few months ago).
    I never had a problem with Shutter Priority Mode and like you said it does help a lot to understand how the whole settings work.

    Now I use Manual, and it's still a bit frustrating trying to get the perfect setting. With these kids being all over the place and fast, that's just how I need to think, FAST!

    Love your work and I am so glad to see you're into this a lot more now! ♥