The Beginner’s Guide to DSLR Photography: Shooting in Manual Mode

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Now that you’ve chosen your camera and learned a little bit about it, it’s time to amp up your photography by working up to shooting in manual mode. (If you’d like to know more about choosing and using your camera, check out Part I and to see more photography tips, check out Part III.)

The Beginner's Guide to DSLR Photography-Part II: Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Use Aperture and Shutter Priority Mode to Ease Into Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Have Full Control Over Your Settings by Shooting in Manual Mode

But first, some vocab.

Photography Terminology

ISO

ISO refers to how much or little light in let into the camera when taking the picture.  Increasing the exposure increases the amount of light let into the camera.  Careful!  Increase the exposure too much and your photos will be grainy (or noisy).  Make sure to adjust to your surroundings.  A picture taken in bright sunlight will need a different exposure than one taken during sunset.  

The photos below were taken inside on a sunny day next to a window.  Notice how the photos get lighter, but also more grainy as the exposure is increased.

The Beginner's Guide to DSLR Photography-Part II: Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Use Aperture and Shutter Priority Mode to Ease Into Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Have Full Control Over Your Settings by Shooting in Manual Mode

(This picture was taken using my Canon Rebel t5.  I highly recommend this camera to any beginners.)

Remember:

  • Low ISO=Less light, darker pictures, less noise
  • High ISO=More light, brighter pictures, more noise

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed determines how fast the shutter closes to take the picture.  A slow shutter speed can capture motion, while a fast shutter speed will freeze motion (ex. a bird in flight).  Shutter speed also effects the amount of light that the camera takes in.  Slow shutter speeds take in more light because the shutter is open for a longer amount of time and fast shutter speeds take in less light.  Shutter speed is measured in seconds.

Remember:

  • Slow shutter speed=Capture movement and motion, brighter photos
  • Fast shutter speed=Freeze motion, darker photos

Tip: Utilize a tripod when using a slow shutter speeds.

Aperture

Aperture refers to how wide the lens opens when taking a photo.  A wider aperture will let in more light and also create a blurred background.  A narrow aperture will let in less light and the background will be sharp.  Apertures are measured in F-stops. If you set your camera to a lower F-stop, you will get a blurred background and more light will be let into the lens (the picture on the left).  If you set your camera to a higher F-stop, the whole photo will be in focus and you’ll have a darker photo (the picture on the right).

The Beginner's Guide to DSLR Photography-Part II: Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Use Aperture and Shutter Priority Mode to Ease Into Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Have Full Control Over Your Settings by Shooting in Manual Mode

(Walter was surprisingly cooperative for these photos.)

Remember: 

  • Lower aperture=Brighter picture, blurred background
  • Higher aperture=Darker picture, whole photo in focus

From Auto to Manual Mode

Going straight from auto to manual can be kind of intimidating.  Luckily, there are two modes on DSLRs that make the transition a bit easier.

Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture priority mode (AV on Canons, A on Nikons) lets you choose the aperture, while the camera picks the other settings.  Remember, aperture can create blurred backgrounds or make the whole picture in focus.  Play around with the aperture settings for a while until you feel comfortable.  It’s a great way to learn more about aperture without having to worry about the other settings.

The Beginner's Guide to DSLR Photography-Part II: Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Use Aperture and Shutter Priority Mode to Ease Into Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Have Full Control Over Your Settings by Shooting in Manual Mode

 

Shutter Priority Mode

Shutter priority mode (TV on Canons and S on Nikons) is the same as aperture priority mode where you have control over one setting and the camera picks the other.  This time you pick – you guessed it – the shutter speed.  Because shutter speed affects how the camera processes movement, this is a good opportunity to photograph moving objects with different shutter speeds and observe the effects.

The Beginner's Guide to DSLR Photography-Part II: Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Use Aperture and Shutter Priority Mode to Ease Into Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Have Full Control Over Your Settings by Shooting in Manual Mode

 

Shooting in Manual Mode

The coup de grace of photography (at least for beginners) is shooting in manual mode.  When you shoot in manual mode, you have full control over ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

The Beginner's Guide to DSLR Photography-Part II: Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Use Aperture and Shutter Priority Mode to Ease Into Shooting in Manual Mode | How to Have Full Control Over Your Settings by Shooting in Manual Mode

Hopefully tinkering in AV and TV modes gives you a better grasp on camera settings.  I find the best way to learn more is to research and tinker.  Here’s a few tips to help you along the way:

  • If you change one of the settings, the others will be affected by it.  For example, if you increase your F-stop for a sharper background, you’ll need to compensate by changing ISO and shutter speed so your picture isn’t too dark.
  • Use a tripod when possible.  It will give you sharper pictures.
  • Whenever possible, use natural light and avoid using the flash.

To see my recommendations for cameras and the basics of using your DSLR camera, check out Part I.  For more photography tips and tricks for getting better photos, check out Part III: Photography Tips.

Need a reminder of what all of the photography terms mean? Grab the photography cheat sheet.

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