- Last Updated: March 27, 2019
- Understanding Manual Mode of a DSLR Camera
- Every Photographer Should Be Able to Do These 17 Things in Under 10 Seconds
- Aperture determines, in part, the depth of field, or how much of a photo is in focus. The larger the aperture (the smaller the f-number), the blurrier the background will be.
- Shutter speed determines the appearance of movement in the shot, like if movement is frozen or blurred. Faster shutter speeds are more likely to freeze movement.
- ISO controls digital noise - the higher the ISO, the grainier your images will look.
Shooting in manual mode is a big, scary subject for many beginner photographers (and more advanced photographers, too!).
But there really isn't a reason to fear manual mode.
In fact, by learning manual mode, you will have much more control over what your camera does, and as a consequence of that, you'll have an increased ability to take better photos.
That doesn't mean that learning how to shoot in manual mode is something you can do in an afternoon...
Instead, you need to practice, and with time, you'll find that manual mode isn't as scary as you once thought.
Here's a few reasons why you need to learn manual mode.
Editor's Tip: Creating a gorgeous photo doesn't end when you press the shutter button. Learn how to turn your photos into wall-worthy fine art prints.
Using Manual Camera Settings Will Help You Get a Better Exposure
But when you learn how to shoot in manual mode, you control the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and as you practice manipulating those settings, you'll learn what settings needs to be changed and by how much in varied lighting situations.
In other words, manual mode gives you the ability to tailor the settings to any lighting situation.
So, when your camera can't figure out the exposure on its own, shooting in manual is the way to go.
For example, when confronted with backlighting, in which the light enters the scene from behind the subject, your camera will usually adjust its settings for the bright background light.
When that happens, the subject is totally underexposed, or too dark. In other words, you get a silhouette.
As Mike Browne demonstrates in the video above, you can get around this by manipulating your camera settings in manual mode.
The inverse is true as well.
If the subject is very brightly lit in front of a very dark background, your camera might expose the shot for the dark areas and not the subject. The result of that is a subject that is wildly overexposed.
Yet another exposure problem your camera will struggle with on its own is low-light shooting.
Left to its devices, your camera will likely try to fire its flash when lighting is scarce, and the light from a camera flash is certainly not a good look.
However, when you use manual mode in these situations, you all but guarantee that you can get a properly exposed photograph.
Here's a simple trick in manual mode: raise the ISO.
If you're shooting in low light, you can raise the ISO which makes the camera's sensor more sensitive to light.
And with that increased sensitivity, you won't need the flash, thus resulting in a photo that's well-exposed and that doesn't have the harsh highlights and shadows produced by an on-camera flash.
Shooting in Manual Mode Allows You to Be More Creative
Manual mode is advantageous for photographers for another reason - you can be more creative.
That is, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO all have creative impacts on the images you take in addition to controlling the exposure:
So, by understanding the creative elements that these settings control, you can use manual mode to increase the visual appeal of your photos.
For example, if you're taking a portrait and you want a nice, blurry background behind the subject, you can use manual mode to set your desired f-stop, and then adjust the shutter speed and ISO to get a well-exposed image.
Similarly, if you want to freeze the movement of a moving subject, you can dial in a fast shutter speed and then manipulate the aperture and ISO to get a good exposure.
For a detailed look at exposure settings and how you can use them creatively, check out the video above by 52Things.
Editor's Tip: Ready to upgrade your camera but don't have the funds? Sell your old camera and use the proceeds to invest in something new.
Manual Mode Allows You to Be More Consistent
The problem with shooting in full auto mode is that you have no control over what the camera does.
But in manual mode, all that responsibility rests on your shoulders. And while that might be a burden initially, once you get the hang of it, you'll never leave manual mode!
That's partly because you can get more consistent results from shot to shot and outing to outing because you're the one changing your camera settings, not the camera doing it for you.
Your eyes are infinitely more sensitive to changing lighting conditions than your camera, so by removing the camera's guesswork from the equation and taking control of the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, you can tailor how your camera behaves in the current situation.
That means that with practice, you won't have to wonder if the shot will be overexposed or underexposed anymore. Instead, you can rely on your experiences shooting in manual mode to dial in the right settings for each shot.
Additionally, the more consistently good results you can get in-camera, the less time you have to spend trying to fix things like overexposure and overexposure in post-processing.
Personally, I'd rather spend more time behind my camera in the great outdoors than in front of my computer editing photos in my office!
I know manual mode can be intimidating, but driving a car was once intimidating, too. You just need practice, and with time, you can become a manual mode master!