6. Using your camera in full manual mode

Now that you understand the fundamental concepts of shutter speed, aperture and exposure, you’re ready to start using your camera in manual mode.

The best thing about working in Manual mode is that you’ll be in full control. By simply adjusting shutter speed or aperture, you’ll be able to fine-tune each little detail of your image. If you want to achieve beautiful images with soft bokeh backgrounds, blur motion to get silky smooth water shots or get crisp, sharp action images, all you need to do is adjust your settings.

Camera manual mode setting

How to shoot in manual mode

The good news is that using your camera in manual mode couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is switch to ‘M’ on your camera dial. Now, you have full control. But, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. Any changes you want to make to your settings will have to be made manually — your camera will no longer automatically adjust anything for you.

The first step is to think about what it is you’re shooting. Are you photographing a landscape where you want a large depth of field? Or are you photographing motorbikes, where you need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action?

Landscape image

Full image.

Slow shutter speed landscape example

Cropped image.

In the landscape image above, which I shot in this chapter, I decided to use a shutter speed of four seconds, as this allowed me to capture some motion blur in the waves. As the light decreased with the setting sun, I had to adjust my aperture in order to maintain the four second exposure. While I could have adjusted the shutter speed, I knew that if I slowed it any further I would get too much motion blur.

You can clearly see the effect of that four second exposure in the cropped image. The slower shutter allowed me to capture some of the movement in the water to create a smooth, silky effect. This was a creative decision that I could only have achieved by shooting in manual.

Shallow depth of field portrait

Interested in portrait photography? Click here.

Fashion photograph

Interested in fashion photography? Click here.

These examples show the difference between a shallow depth of field, which is a common choice for portrait photography, and a greater depth of field for a more fashion-style image.

Throughout this course so far you would have seen how I make a number of creative decisions regarding aperture and shutter speed. Whether it be using a slow shutter speed to allow for panning, or a shallow depth of field to isolate the subject, each decision should be controlled by you, the photographer. By shooting in manual, we have far greater creative control than if we used an automatic mode.

Creative fashion photography

Interested in fashion photography? Click here.

The advantage of shooting in manual is that it gives you precise control over your images. You can select the exact exposure, depth of field or amount of motion blur, without leaving anything to chance.

But by making these decisions yourself, it's important that you understand how to compensate for any adjustments you make. Any change in exposure, whether this be done with shutter speed or aperture, will need to be balanced with an equal change in the other setting too (as you would have seen me do in a number of previous chapters already in this course).

To begin with, while you’re still getting to grips with shooting in manual mode, you may need to check your images from time to time to see that you’re achieving the correct exposure. This you can check using the methods discussed in chapter two.

If you need to adjust your settings, remember the exposure seesaw (also covered in ‘What is exposure in photography?’). In order to get the best exposure, you need to balance your shutter speed and aperture. If you find your image is too dark, you need to either slow your shutter speed or open your aperture (the reverse also applies if your image is too bright).

Now that you understand how to control the different settings on your camera and shoot in manual, the next step is to take a look at how different lenses can influence your shot. Later, we'll also be looking at ISO, which can also be used to adjust exposure (but is not necessarily the best practice).

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