Even when you understand how to use your SLR in manual mode, it’s usually a matter of trial and error getting the shutter speed, aperture and ISO to work together to create nice photographs. It can be so frustrating it might make you want to switch back to using Automatic Modes so your pictures don’t look blurry, dark or completely washed out.
Don’t give up just yet! Try these 5 tips to help you master manual mode.
Start out by taking a photo in one of the Automatic modes on your camera and look in the viewfinder at the settings the camera is selecting. Then turn on Manual Mode and select these same settings and start shooting. The photos may not look perfect but the point is to use these settings as a starting point that you can make adjustments to, to get closer to the results you want.
Similarly, if you know you want a portrait with a blurred background use AV (Aperture-Priority) Mode and check what shutter speed the camera is selecting for you. If you know you want to capture motion, select a suitable shutter speed in TV (Shutter-Priority) Mode and then see how the aperture is being set.
2) Follow some general photography rules
These rules can be applied to most shooting situations and different types of light and will take some of the guesswork away from you.
- Keep ISO as low as possible and increase it in small amounts as the ambient light gets darker. For example, an ISO of 100 would be best for bright sun.
- A shutter speed of 1/125 and above is best for capturing motion of any kind without blur, but remember the more you increase the shutter speed, the more you’ll need to lower the aperture number, to let in enough light.
- The more people or subjects in a photo, the higher the aperture number should be, to ensure good focus on everyone and everything. For example if you have 4 people in a photo, you should at least have an aperture of f/4.
3) Pick an easy subject to practice on
When you’re learning, it’s better to photograph objects such as flowers or fruit rather than subjects, particularly children or animals. They won’t be able to sit still while you play with your settings which will be frustrating for everyone, and if they move it can throw off your focus. If you absolutely have to practice on a person, it’s best to ask an adult who has time and patience to pose for you.
4) Use the histogram
When practising you’re judging the quality of your images by looking at the LCD screen and may not notice where certain areas are slightly overexposed or underexposed, such as when a bright sky appears white instead of blue. It can be discouraging to get home and see these issues when looking at the images on a bigger screen.
By making the histogram visible on your LCD screen, you’ll see the range between highlights and lowlights after every photo you take, and you can change your settings accordingly. An even skew across the histogram generally means a photo is properly exposed, but there are some exceptions when the histogram might be wrong. When you’re practising though, the histogram is a great tool to build your confidence, because you make fewer mistakes.
5) Do before and afters
As you practice you may feel that you’re learning, but that it’s a bit “hit and miss” - and that you’re getting some good photos, but not consistently.
My suggestion is, when you take a great photo, refer to the metadata for the settings you used (which you can access on your computer) and use the same settings the next time you are practising. This will help you to figure out the settings that regularly give good results, and then you can modify them as necessary when shooting in different types of light. Compare your first few attempts to your more recent shots and it will be obvious exactly how much you’re improving.