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How To Master Manual Mode
[Photography Tutorial]

Kevin Landwer-Johan

Mastering manual mode on your camera is not difficult. All you need is to learn how to manage three camera settings. A good photography tutorial teaches you this. Then you just need time to practice.

Master Your Camera – Master Your Creativity is an online photography course. It’s designed to teach you manual mode and how to be creative with it.

Learning photography for beginners may seem like a never-ending task. Truth be known, it is! I’ve been learning for over 35 years …  and love it. Getting to grips with the essentials is not difficult and can be learned quickly. You need to study a little and practice a lot. It will not take long before you can use your camera on manual mode with confidence.

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Master Your Camera – Master Your Creativity is an online photography course. It’s designed for beginners and intermediate photographers. This course will help you learn photography essentials. Whether you use a Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus or any other brand.

This manual mode photography tutorial is for:

  • Beginner photographers with a new camera
  • Intermediate photographers using auto modes

Manual Mode – Why Bother?

Photographers who never take any basic manual mode photography lessons generally get stuck on auto. Auto modes make things easy. You can concentrate on composition and timing and not worry about your exposure. Let the camera fix that.

The problem is the camera is not creative, you are. Letting the camera set your exposure will result in generic looking photographs. This is because that’s what your camera is programmed to do. Taking control of your exposure means your photography will be more creative.

Take a manual mode photography tutorial or course and you’ll discover what you can achieve with your camera.

Our eyes see differently than our cameras do. Your camera captures less tonal range than you can see. Understanding how to control this will give you freedom to create dynamic photos.

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How Does Your Camera Make Photographs?

Start with the essentials when you are studying photography skills and techniques. Learn a little about how your camera works. Then you will better understand what you are doing when you are changing the settings.

Digital cameras are complex pieces of equipment. They are crammed with features designed so you can take photos easily. Breaking the complexity down to the essential functions, our modern cameras are very similar to early cameras.

A camera is a box with a hole in it. The hole has a lens attached to it so you can focus the light and control the amount that enters the camera. Inside the box there’s a shutter to control the length of time light is allowed to affect the sensor. The sensor is behind the shutter. The sensor captures the image.

Master Your Camera – Master Your Creativity is a course to teach you practical photography skills and techniques. It begins with a foundation of how your camera works.

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The Exposure Meter – A Vital Tool

Your camera has a built-in exposure meter, also known as a light meter. This tool shows you how much light there is and acts as a guide to set your exposure. You need to know how to read and use a light meter to make well-exposed photographs.

Exposure meters in modern cameras are complex. Knowing how to manage the light meter you can choose which part of your composition to expose well.

The light meter provides you with the information you need to be able to make good exposures.

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Live View vs Viewfinder

Using Live View mode you can gauge your exposure and adjust your settings manually. Looking through the viewfinder of your DSLR you will need to read the exposure meter display. Using live view, on most cameras, you are able to see the effects your adjustments have as you make them.

If you’re using a mirrorless camera you can also see the effects in the viewfinder because it’s electronic. With DSLR cameras, looking through the viewfinder you are seeing through the lens. With mirrorless cameras you are looking at a small monitor showing what the camera’s sensor is seeing.

Live View vs viewfinder is a modern debate. Many older photographers, (myself included,) prefer to use the viewfinder. It’s what we are used to. Younger or newer photographers find it easier to start using manual mode looking at the monitor. This is because it displays what the sensor will capture. Changes you make to your exposure display in real time. This means it’s very easy to understand what’s happening.

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Understanding The Exposure Triangle

Cameras use three functions to control the amount of light which makes a photo. If there is too much or too little light the photo is overexposed or underexposed.

The aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are known together as the exposure triangle. You can adjust each of these manually, or you can let your camera make the changes for you.

Taking control of the exposure triangle gives you more creative flexibility. When the camera is allowed to control these settings it does so on preprogrammed calculations. On auto mode your camera will not always give you the exposure you want.

In manual mode you combine the information from your light meter and control your exposure triangle settings. You can make your photos look the way you want them to. Exposure meters are calibrated to see everything as a mid-gray tone. They do not discern if what you are pointing your camera at is black or white, they just see it as middle gray.

This is not a problem if all you ever want is bland, generic looking exposures. But I guess that’s not what you bought your camera for.

Each of the exposure triangle settings affects the look of your photos in other ways as well.

Read this article to learn more about controlling your exposures.

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What Does the Aperture Do?

The aperture is a diaphragm in the lens. It adjusts to control the amount of light which enters, much like the iris in your eyes. The aperture also has an influence on the depth of field. This is the amount that’s in focus in your photos. Your aperture setting affects how blurred or sharp the background is.

Aperture settings are measured in f-stops. This is a weird series of numbers which represent the size of the opening. A low f-stop number, like f/2.8, allows a lot of light to enter the lens and creates a shallow depth of field. A high f-stop number, like f/16, allows less light to enter the lens and creates a deeper depth of field.

Your aperture settings affect your exposures and the look of your photos. Understanding this will help you master your creativity.

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What Does Shutter Speed Do?

Shutter speed refers to the duration the shutter is open when you make an exposure. When you press the shutter release button the shutter opens and closes to a preset length of time. This is usually a fraction of a second. It can be set for seconds or even longer. The ‘B’ or ‘Bulb’ setting allows for the shutter to remain open as long as you like.

The longer the shutter remains open, the more light reaches the sensor.

When your shutter is opened and there’s movement within your composition you can control whether the motion looks sharp or blurred. Using a faster shutter speed you are more likely to get sharper photos. Setting the shutter speed slower may result in blurring. This depends on how fast the movement is and how slow your shutter speed is set.

Using motion blur in your photography can illustrate a greater sense of the movement.

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What Does ISO Do?

ISO is the measurement of how responsive your camera’s sensor is to light. It means International Standards Organisation, which is not descriptive at all.

The more light there is the lower ISO setting you will use. When there’s not so much light, like inside a darkened room or at night, you will need to choose a higher ISO setting.

The higher the ISO you use the lower the quality of the image you will make. At higher ISO settings you will encounter the problem of digital noise. This appears as light and colored spots particularly in darker parts of photos.

The color and contrast quality is also affected when you use high ISO settings. More modern cameras produce better quality images when high ISO settings are used.

I use my ISO as a base setting for my exposure. I only change it when I need to and keep it as low as possible.

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Balancing Your Exposure Settings

Any manual mode photography tutorial needs to explain how to balance the settings. In Master Your Camera – Master Your Creativity I cover the details of how to manage your aperture, shutter speed and ISO over many lessons. You will learn how to make good decisions about adjusting your exposure settings.

At first it might be a bit confusing. But as you progress through the course and practice what you’re learning it becomes more natural. Practice using your camera every day. Choosing the best exposure settings will become second nature. You will find you can make the right changes without being totally conscious of what you’re doing.

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Refine Your Photography Skills and Techniques

Once you are more comfortable with the basics of manual mode it’s good to learn to refine your photography skills and techniques.

Making the most of your camera’s light meter will help you improve your photography. Learning how to read the light well and make the best adjustments to your exposure triangle settings is vital.

Modern cameras and software technology gives us a lot of freedom to manipulate our photos. Capturing the best exposure while taking photos gives you more flexibility to post process them. If you have underexposed or overexposed your photo, you’ll be able to do less with it on your computer.

Dig into a deeper understanding of how your exposure meter works. Learn to control it well and you will become more accurate with your exposures. Exposure meters can read the light from across the whole composition or from specific parts of it. Learning to manage your metering well gives you far more potential for creatively exposed photographs.

Other tools are built into cameras to help you gauge how well you are setting your exposures. Some of these are used prior to taking your photos and some help you review pictures you’ve just taken.

The histogram and the highlights review tools will both help you see where you are having exposure problems.

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How To Choose the Best Shutter Speed

When there’s no movement in your composition, shutter speed choice is not so vital. When there’s something moving in your frame the length of time your shutter stays open influences how your photo looks.

The best shutter speed to use is on that will give you the look and feel of the photo you want. First, you must decide what you want.

Moving elements in photos can be rendered sharp using faster shutter speeds. They are blurred using slower speeds. The speed of the shutter and desired effect will be determined by the speed of your subject. A motorcycle moving fast will require a faster shutter speed than a person walking. The faster the movement, the faster shutter speed you need to use to freeze your subject.

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How To Choose the Best Aperture Setting

Isolating your subject from the background can make for more interesting photos. Choosing the right aperture setting and controlling other factors allows you to blur backgrounds.

It’s not only the aperture setting which controls the DOF, (how much of the photo is acceptably sharp.) The lens you use will also affect how much of the photo appears to be sharp. The longer the lens, the shallower the DOF appears. With wide angle lenses it’s much more difficult to create a blurred background.

The distance you are from your subject and your subject is from the background also has an effect on the DOF. The closer you are to your subject the shallower the DOF will be. The further your subject is from the background, the more blurred the background will be.

The best aperture for a shallow DOF is the widest setting you can use. If you’re close to your subject and it’s far from the background it’s easier to achieve the soft blurred look know as bokeh.

To include details in your whole composition, choose a narrower aperture. This will help you achieve the look you want. Using a wider lens will help also.

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Focus on What Matters

The most important part of your photograph needs to be in focus. It does not matter how soft your background is, if your subject is out of focus the photo is usually a failure.

Not even the whole of your subject needs to be in sharp focus, but the most important part does. How do you know the most important part of your composition? That’s entirely up to you to decide. This is part of your creative process.

Where do you want to draw the viewer’s attention? To a certain part of a landscape or still life? This is where your point of focus should be. Photographing anything with eyes the eyes should be in focus. If you can’t get both in focus, or don’t want them both in focus, pick the eye closest to you to focus on. This is one photography rule it’s good to follow.

Cameras have a multipoint autofocus setting. This is most often the default. The camera will decide what part of the composition to focus on.

There is another option. You can use a single point to control precisely where you want your lens to focus. This allows you much more accurate control. This is most important when you have a shallow DOF.

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Auto or Manual White Balance for Accurate Colors

The color, or color temperature, of light varies. Daylite can be warm and golden or cool and blue. Electric light temperatures vary greatly. Your camera must be set to know the color of the light otherwise the colors in your photos will not be accurate.

This is more important if you are saving your photos as .jpg files. You can easily alter the color balance on RAW files.

Mos to the time I have my camera set to auto white balance. It’s about the only auto feature I make consistent use of. The camera gets the correct balance most of the time. Because I always save RAW files I can alter the color temperature during post-production.

About the only time I do choose a manual white balance setting is when I am using studio strobes. The camera cannot predict the color temperature of the strobes so it’s best to set it your self.

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RAW vs Jpeg Pros and Cons

Saving RAW files means your camera will keep all the image data it has recorded without altering it. Saving jpeg files some of the information is discarded as the image is compressed. The camera also makes applies some post-processing to the photo to make it look better.

RAW files never look great straight from the camera. They need some post-processing to make them look natural. This takes time. A jpeg file will need little, if any, post-processing. If the exposure or white balance settings on a jpeg file are not good, you won’t be able to fix them very well. This is because much of the image data is discarded when the camera saves the jpeg file.

If you want to be able to post process your photos it’s best to save RAW files. They will provide you the highest quality. If you want to use your photos straight from the camera and save time on post-processing, save your files as jpegs.

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Photography Tips and Techniques for Three Challenging Situations

No matter how proficient you become at using your camera, you’ll encounter challenging situations. To end my online photography class for beginners and intermediates I cover three such situations.

Backlighting, low lighting, and high contrast are all difficult to work with.

Backlighting can trick the cameras auto-exposure settings. Inexperienced photographers will often end up with their subject underexposed.

Low light is difficult, even for our eyes to see clearly. Our cameras must be carefully set to make consistently good photos when the light is low.

High contrast, when the highlights are bright and shadow areas are dark challenge your camera. Your eyes can see more tonal range than your camera can record. In high contrast lighting where you take your exposure reading from is more vital.

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Learn Well From Basic Photography Lessons

I hope this article has encouraged you to want to learn more. Taking this online course on how to improve your photography skills will take you to the next level.

Once you’re enrolled in the course you have lifetime access to the lessons. You can revisit them as many times as you like. My teaching style is concise. The lessons are not long or bloated with unnecessary information.

I host my courses on the Teachable platform. All payments are made through their secure transaction system. There’s also a full 30-day money back guarantee. It also means the videos load fast and there are no server-side issues with bandwidth. The videos will play smoothly.

Each lesson has a worksheet and practical exercise to go with it. I have designed these so you can put what you have learned into practical experience. Doing this will ensure you remember what you learned.

No amount of study without practical application will make you a great photographer. You must practice. The more you practice, the faster you will improve. You will begin to understand better how to implement what you are learning in creative ways.

Please follow this link and enroll in Master Your Camera – Master Your Creativity today.

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