Understanding the Basics

There are three main basics to tackle when you’re trying to shoot manual: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. All three of these elements are different ways to adjust the light. Remember in science class when you had to memorize the parts of a microscope? (Also, why??) Well, there was the course adjusting knob and then the fine tuning knob. Think of the ISO as the course adjusting knob. This is always the first thing I change to get me in the correct lighting ballpark. When you increase the ISO, it increases the light added to your photo. A general rule of thumb is to always shoot with the lowest ISO you can get away with. As you increase the ISO, it increases light added but it also increases the graininess and therefore your picture will have a lower quality. If you are outside on a bright sunny day, you should set your camera to the lowest ISO available. (Usually ISO 100). If you are shooting something inside, depending on how much natural light your getting, you might shoot anywhere from ISO 200- ISO 800. Once you find an ISO you like, then move on to shutter speed.


Shutter speed is another way to control light that is let into your photo. While ISO controls the general amount of light coming in, shutter speed controls the speed at which the light gets into your photo. The slower the speed, the more light gets let in. Think about it like a door closing. If you close the door really slowly, more people can get in before being shut out. If you close the door quickly, a lot fewer people will get in. It’s the same with light. You know those cool pictures of waterfalls where the water looks like it’s actually running and is all blurred together? You get that result by making a super slow shutter speed. The downside of having a slow shutter speed is that your photo is more susceptible to being blurry. If your hand moves even a little it could show up in your picture by creating blurry edges. Unless my camera is on a tripod (which helps prevent movement) I don’t go lower than 1/30. If you are taking a picture of a sporting event or of your dog running through wildflowers, you want a super fast shutter speed.

Depth of field

The final element is the aperture. This, again, is another way to control light let into your photo. What’s different about this one, you might be wondering? Aperture is what affects the depth of field. I’m sure you’ve noticed when you look at an object close to you, your eyes naturally adjust to make everything at that depth crisp and clear (especially if you’re lucky like my husband and have 20/20 vision!) Your eyes also simultaneously blur things that don’t match that depth (ie- things that a further away.) This is called bokeh. The human eye can see at an aperture of 2.8. The cool thing about cameras these days is that we have higher apertures than our human eye has, which is why some photos look almost better and more clear than they would in real life. A “high” aperture actually has a lower number.

Hopefully understanding these three aspects of your camera will help you take pictures you love. The absolute best way to practice is to just take lots of pictures and force yourself to use manual instead of automatic. The more you do it, the faster you will learn! Good luck & happy shooting!


-Molly Young

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