an athlete photographer's blog

Manual Mode – Learning to Drive

Last year my mom got me The Busy Girl’s Guide to Digital Photography by Lorna Yabsley.  And until recently, I was too busy to really look at it, much less apply what I learned. This week I dug out the book again.  I’m trying to graduate from semi-auto to manual.  In theory, if you are on manual then you should be able to control the exposure in any scenario and capture the picture you want.  I’m not there yet.

According to Yabsley, The Big Three for correct exposure are: ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture.

BookISO – controls how sensitive the sensor is to light.  Higher ISO for darker settings, lower for bright.  I’m still working on this.  A lot of times, I have my ISO on Auto.  I know the least about ISO of The Big Three.

Shutter Speed – controls how long the shutter is open.  This one makes the most sense to me because it is in fractions.  The smaller the fraction (like 1/2000), the faster the shutter is, the less light it allows in.  And because it is fast, it can be great for freezing action shots.

Aperture – controls how much light can pass through the lens to the sensor.  It controls the depth of field, which is how blurry the background of your image is.  If it is a landscape shot, you want a large depth of field, like f25 so that it will be crisp to the horizon.  But if you are taking a close up of a flower, you may want to blur out the background to keep the flower the main focus of the picture (so like f5.6).

When I first got the camera, I was just like every other beginner, stuck on Auto.

Auto – Camera does it all.  On the Canon – it is called “Scene Intelligent Auto.”  Personally, I find it kind of depressing when the camera is more Intelligent than I am.

Then at some point, I had a friend show me the beauty of the Av and Tv settings.

Av – Aperture priority – Perfect for a close up or landscape.  You can control ISO on this setting as well, but I’m still learning.  You can select the metering and the white balance.  You have quite a bit of control compared to auto.  Camera decides the shutter speed.

Aperture Priority
Av – F5.6: The lens cap is in focus but the edge of the book fades away.

Tv – Shutter priority – Great for action but tricky with the lighting.  I like this setting and I’m learning how to use it more.  Like Av, you can control quite a bit, but the camera will decided the aperture.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot being able to manipulate the aperture and shutter speed independently.  And so for my last picture run, I decided to try full Manual Mode.

Manual – also known as the scariest setting for an amateur photographer.  You’re the driver; the camera is waiting for you to tell it what to do.

Here is my progression of trying to adjust settings before our run:

Manual Progression
From left to right – I was decreasing the shutter speed to reduce the amount of light. Maybe I should have adjusted ISO too. I kept that on auto.

I feel like mastering Manual is the next step in growing as a photographer, but I know I’m not quite ready.  It’s hard when you miss crucial shots because you messed up your settings.  Once I become more experienced with manual, I would love to be able to report my camera settings at the top of each picture run post.  So that it would look something like this:

The Run
5 miles

The Picture
50mm f8 320th sec ISO 800

I think I’ll get there one day.  I’ve made the step to really learn the manual mode, but I’m not going to be ashamed if I have to go back to Av or Tv.


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