There is nothing quite as exciting as the feeling of heading out with your camera for the day, a beautiful landscape in front of you—the lens in hand and only your ideas and unlimited potential to guide you for the rest of the afternoon. It is a beautiful experience to feel the thrill of seeing the world through the circular column of the photographic lens, to capture it and then to come back to it later, to capture that little bit of art and time and to hold onto it for another time. For those who are new to photography, learning how to shoot in manual mode on a DSLR camera is a great experience—but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a challenge.
Point and shoot cameras make it simple to capture fun pictures, and taking pictures on cellphones makes it extra easy to capture pictures and edit them in real time. But taking the jump to a DSLR is a whole new experience, especially if you are interested in switching the dial over to manual mode.
Here’s How You Get Started
Shooting in manual mode is a great goal to make as a beginner with a new DSLR camera, but it should not be something that you decide to do exclusively. Using the automatic mode can help you take high quality pictures that are absolutely gorgeous and will allow you to start taking advantage of the device that you have.
However, as you are getting started you should challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone every once in a while and start learning how to use manual mode on your camera.
Here is a quick run down of how to use manual mode on your DSLR camera:
There are just a few basic things that you absolutely need to understand about manual mode. The first thing that you need to understand is ISO, which controls your camera’s sensitivity to light. When you adjust this, then you adjust how sensitive your camera is to light, thereby giving your camera a brighter image or darker image depending on your preferences.
The setting typically starts at 100 then goes up to some bigger number like 12,800, 25,600, or more depending on the camera model. ISO 100 is typically for super bright outdoor scenes, then as it gets darker or shadier you can start bumping your ISO up. 400 is a common ISO level for cloudy days. While 1600 is generally considered the safe max before images can start to lose quality. Going higher, you can risk the increase of grain in your images.
Certain cameras may have a much higher safe ISO level, but you’ll have to play it by ear. Especially if you’re using a beginner’s camera.
The second thing that you absolutely need to be prepared to understand is the aperture. Which is essentially how much of an opening is allowed within the camera that allows the light through. The wider the aperture, the more the lens hole is going to open, the more light will be permitted in, and the brighter the resulting exposure will be permitted to become. This allows for really sharp images with bokeh, or blurry backgrounds with the subject in focus. Aperture settings such as f/1.8, f/2 or f/2.8 will give you a good amount of bokeh and are really good for portraits.
When the aperture is more closed or narrowed this allows less light to hit the sensor, resulting in a darker image. But also allowing more of the scene to be in focus. Perfect for landscapes. Aperture settings can vary here depending on preference, but maybe between f/8-f/11. But most lens go up to f/16. This high of an aperture setting also creates the either loved or hated starburst. Either way, something fun to play with.
Finally, the last component that you definitely want to keep in mind is shutter speed, which is the essentially how long the shutter is going to stay open. This of course, controls the amount of light hitting the sensor, but shutter speed can also freeze movement or give the impression of movement in the image.
If you’re shooting people or moving objects and you want to freeze them, don’t go below a shutter speed of 1/250. Anything faster than that will also suffice for freezing people/objects, depending on their speed. Something around the 1/1000 setting would be a good place to start.
But if you want to show movement, you would need to go slower than 1/250, maybe down to 1/125 or 1/60 depending on the speed of the object.
Landscape photographers commonly use slower shutter speeds, like 5 seconds, 30 seconds or even a few minutes to capture a long exposure shot. Those can turn out pretty cool once you get some practice under your belt.
Bringing It All Together
There’s a handful of others settings worth becoming familiar with including white balance, exposure compensation, & flash compensation to name a few but I’d say start off with ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Play around with each. Because once you change one setting in manual mode, you’ll need to adjust the others so you don’t let too much light in or darken the image too much.
When working in manual mode there is no harm in trial and error, it can take a little while to get accustomed to it. Learning how to shoot in manual mode can help elevate your photography skills and really take you to the next level as a photographer. It is never too late to get started.