Fully manual photography opens up an exciting world of creativity. This concise guide will teach you the basics from which you can build on for remarkable photos in specific scenes.
The most critical concept to understand is how photos can be affected by light. There are three adjustments you can make to adjust how light enters and is processed by your camera-
ISO adjusts your camera’s light sensitivity.
A more sensitive sensor (or film) can capture more light faster (a bright picture can be taken in less time), but a more sensitive sensor also produces more unwanted grain. A less sensitive sensor produces clearer pictures but needs a bigger aperture or slower shutter to produce the same picture, since more light needs to hit the camera sensor for the same result. Light sensitivity increases as the ISO number increases.
Aperture adjusts the amount light entering camera.
The aperture is the opening on your lens which controls the amount of light entering the lens and hitting the sensor. A larger aperture opening allows more light to enter, allowing for a faster shutter speed and/or lower ISO. A smaller aperture opening allows for greater depth-of-field and slower shutter speeds to capture motion blur.
Shutter Speed adjusts exposure time
The shutter speed is the amount of time that light is allowed to strike the camera sensor for a certain photo. Fast shutter speeds can capture an instant in time, whereas slower shutter speeds can be used for creative motion blur.
So how does it all come together?
When you enter the world of manual photography, you open up your creativity by controlling the settings you want. Most cameras will let you shoot in four different manual [exposure] modes: P (Programmed Auto), A (Aperture Priority), S (Shutter Priority), and M (Full Manual).
Programmed Auto is a nearly-automatic mode to photograph with. The camera chooses your shutter speed and aperture for you (and shows you which settings it chose so you can learn from it), and allows you to set your ISO and exposure compensation. Exposure compensation can be set with (+/-) buttons on your camera and is used to make photos brighter or darker by changing the aperture and shutter speed – pay attention to how your camera changes aperture and shutter speed change to create brighter and dimmer photos and you’ll be on your way to learning full manual.
Aperture Priority is an exposure mode which allows you to choose your own aperture and ISO and allow the camera to select a shutter speed for you. This is a fantastic mode to use when trying to be creative with depth of field; a larger aperture opening creates a more shallow depth of field, and a smaller aperture opening creates a larger depth of field. Keep in mind that a smaller aperture will need a slower shutter to get the same amount of light to the sensor, and remember that lower numbers (f/2.8, f/4) are larger openings than higher fractions with higher denominators (f/16).
Shutter Priority is an exposure mode which allows you to choose your own shutter speed and ISO and allow the camera to select an aperture for you. This mode is great when switching between shots where you want to freeze time and shots where you need motion blur. Depth of field will vary in these photos since the aperture will be set dynamically depending on the shutter speed and light conditions.
ISO can be set manually or left up to the camera to set in a certain range in any of these modes. A higher ISO will increase the sensitivity of the sensor, which means that a photo can be taken faster, but will also include more grain. ISO varies greatly depending on the type of shot you’re trying to take, but a general starting point would be 100 on a sunny day, 200 on a cloudy day, 400 when indoors during the day, and 800 when indoors with lights on. Always experiment before choosing an ISO for a shoot, and remember that the lower you go, the clearer your pictures, but you risk getting dim or blurry shots if not enough light reaches the sensor.
In full manual mode, you choose your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings.