Using Manual Mode on a DSLR Camera – A Brief Guide


I will go over what manual mode does and how you can use it on your DSLR camera to take amazing photos!

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Manual mode is a very useful setting when it comes to taking pictures with your DSLR camera. It allows you to control the settings and how the picture will turn out, which can be important for beginners who are still learning about DSLRs. This blog post will go over what manual mode does and how you can use it on your DSLR camera.

I always say, “I like my camera settings like I like my car transmissions: manual.”

Manual Mode: What is It & Why Use I It? 

Manual mode gives you total control over the camera. You can control important aspects such as light however you want. Consequently, the image comes out exactly how you want it (depending on your photography skills), eliminating the surprises that come with auto mode.

Backstory: I photographed my first wedding in 2005 when I was a senior in high school. I photographed it on AUTO because I didn’t know any better. The photos turned out great, but I was constantly moving the subject to get the photo “right.” If I had my DSLR set to MANUAL, I would have been able to change my settings on the fly instead of constantly moving the subjects.

Now, 11 years later, I have photographed over 1000 families and over 500 weddings – all using manual mode. Trust me; if you want to better your photography skills, you should never have your DSLR camera set to anything else. If you really want to dial in your photography skills, I recommend getting yourself a Canon AE-1 35mm camera – and try shooting film. Once you can do that – you can do anything with your digital camera. In the photo above, I am using my Canon AE-1 – I love shooting film for fun whenever we got on vacation. You can find tons of inexpensive film cameras on eBay.

Manual mode is recommendable for several situations and uses, including:

  • Repetitive photographing – Auto mode constantly changes, leading to inconsistencies when photographing the same thing repeatedly under the same conditions. Adjusting the exposure settings via manual model guarantees consistency.
  • Photographing under changing lighting – Leaving the camera to recalculate and adjust the exposure with every shot as lighting changes can result in inconsistency. Instead, exposure remains constant under manual mode, ensuring consistency.
  • Shooting videos – Aperture and shutter speed significantly impact the quality of video footage filmed using a DSLR camera. Manual mode allows you to control these factors, giving you control over the video’s quality.

Manual Mode Settings 

Manual mode gives you control over three important settings: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. The values of these settings determine your image’s overall quality, especially brightness. Here is an overview of how these settings work:

  • Aperture 

The aperture refers to the opening in the camera’s lens. It determines how much light (exposure) gets in, consequently determining the resulting images’ brightness. Aperture also determines the images’ depth of field, consequently determining the scope of the image in focus (sharp) or out of focus (blurry), depending on your perspective.

A wide aperture lets in more light, while a narrow one lets in less light. Therefore, aperture sizes are valued in numbers, and a low value signifies a wide aperture, while a high value signifies a narrow aperture.

  • Shutter Speed 

Shutter speed refers to an image’s exposure time. It determines how long the shutter stays open to expose the sensor to light.

Shutter speed determines the image’s brightness and sharpness. Fast shutter speeds limit the amount of light reaching the sensor, making the resulting images darker, while slower shutter speeds result in brighter images. Fast shutter speeds also freeze the action, resulting in sharper images, while slower shutter speeds result in blurry images.

It is advisable to keep the shutter speed at a high setting for sharper images. On the other hand, lower settings are recommended for artistic photography, where blurring is desired.

  • ISO 

ISO settings control your camera’s sensitivity to light. Consequently, it determines the images’ brightness, which comes in handy in extremely bright and dark settings.

Inaccurate ISO settings can add noise to your images. This noise makes the images look blurry and out of focus. Consequently, it is generally advisable to adjust the ISO setting to its lowest value and only adjust it upwards when needed.

Using Manual Mode in Day and Night Settings 

It is advisable to set the ISO and shutter speed settings low while leaving the aperture value high to limit exposure to light when photographing during the day. However, the opposite case applies when photographing at night or under low-light conditions.

Final Thoughts 

Many of the best photographers in the world prefer manual mode because of the control input offers. But, as I said above, I always say, “I like my camera settings like I like my car transmissions: manual.” Of course, getting the settings right takes some practice, but all you need is a keen eye, practice, and some curiosity.

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