If you are using a DSLR, while it will still take good photographs on Auto, why are you lugging around a big DSLR if you aren’t going to use it to its full capability? Using your DSLR on Manual Settings isn’t nearly as difficult as it may seem. It does take some getting used to, but it will become second nature in no time.
So, how do you do it?
There are basically 3 settings in full Manual mode that you need to work with. There is a 4th that I like to fiddle with, the White Balance setting, but most people just leave that on Auto.
The 3 settings in Manual mode are -
- Shutter Speed
- Fstop (Aperture)
Each time you take a photograph in a new situation, these are the 3 settings that you need to fiddle with. I can’t tell you where on your camera they are as all cameras are different, you will need to refer to your manual for that.
So where do you start?
This is a very basic explanation of how to use these settings, simply to enable you to use them, rather than to understand them completely.
STEP 1 – set your ISO
You want to get this one as low as the situation will allow, because the higher it is, the more grainy your photograph becomes. The higher the number of ISO, the more light is allowed in. So in very dark situations you need to have the number higher, and in light situations you can put the number lower.
As an example, I go right down to 125 on an average day outside and up to 1600 for an image that is inside but not overly light, or higher if it is darker. I use around 800 or less for good light inside.
STEP 2 – set your Fstop (Aperture)
This is the setting that controls how you want the overall image to look. Are you wanting to focus on a single object or person, or a wide scene? The more you want to focus on a single thing, the lower number you use, for example when you want a person in focus and the background blurry. On my 50mm lense, I use F1.8 most commonly as I am photographing my children, and with that setting I can focus on a child with the background blurry. If I am photographing two children, I go up a little, because unless they are at exactly the same distance from my camera, parts of them will be blurry if I stay at 1.8.
Also the distance from your subject can affect this. If you are far away from your subject, more of it will be in focus at whichever setting you use. The closer you are the more you can get your camera to focus on one item. Note this image below for example, because it is really close, even the ears are out of focus because the face is really close, if the subject was further away, they would likely be more in focus.
STEP 3 – set your Shutter Speed
Your Shutter Speed determines how quickly your camera takes the photograph. This setting affects both light and how clear the photograph is when there is movement.
As a general rule
Higher Number = Faster = good for movement, but less light in
Lower Number = Slower = not good for movement, but more light in
Here is a good guide on how big the Shutter Speed number needs to be in order to handle different types of movement -
2000 = fast moving thing like an Eagle flying, balls flying through the air
500 = people dancing, children running
125 = moderate, for example camels walking, babies moving their arms slowly
30 = slower, if you take a photo of horses riding their legs would be blurry
8 = still things, best to use a tripod
2 = still things, does give nice water effect over rock
LOWER = extremely slow, this can create interesting effects
A very general guide – try to keep your shutter speed above 1/50th (setting of 50) for indoors (low light), and above 1/200th (setting of 200) for outdoors (bright light). If you are shooting fast moving people choose above 500, slow moving like babies playing choose 125, or less for still objects in good light.
When photographing children, I try to go as high as this setting will allow me to depending on the light. The Shutter Speed chosen is based on the amount of movement the subject is doing as well as light.
IN BRIEF – THIS IS HOW I WORK WITH THESE SETTINGS WHEN I GO TO TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH.
Unless I am photographing a very low light situation such as a dark room or at night, I leave the ISO down to around 200. If it is really bright and outside, I put it as low as it will go.
Next I choose my Fstop (Aperture), and I usually have this at 1.8, as most commonly I am focusing on a single object… I don’t usually photograph landscapes or big groups. So most of the time I don’t look at or touch this setting.
Finally, I alter the Shutter Speed. I usually set this as high as I think the photograph will handle, take a quick test shot to make sure it is as light as I want it, and if I need to because it is too dark, I will bring it down a bit. I generally have it as high as I can before it goes too dark, as I am most often photographing children who are constantly moving.
I like nice light photographs, and it is the ISO first and the Shutter Speed next that I will use to make my images light.
EXTRA NOTE: While I like light photographs, I NEVER use my on camera flash. More about that in another post!