After having described why did I start shooting in manual mode, and how the exposure triangle works, finally we got here. I suppose that now we are ready to master the settings in manual mode. To be honest, it isn’t as hard as it seems, so don’t be afraid! Let’s get started!

What is manual mode on the camera?

Like I said manual is the simplest mode on the camera. By using it, we control all of the settings and because of this, we are responsible for all of the adjustments we make.
The biggest advantage of the manual mode, that it gives some freedom to the photographer. What does it mean? Let me give an example! Just imagine that we are at the airport and waiting for a plane to get captured. Before it arrives, we should visualize the image in our head to get the look we want. We have to decide if we want to keep everything relatively in focus on the picture by taking a still photo, or prefer to make a creative image by capturing movement? Both choices are great, but each of them requires different settings to achieve the desired result. If we would like to freeze action, we have to use fast shutter speeds, but when capturing movement in pictures (motion blur), we need to use long shutter speeds. For controlling the shutter speed, we need to use manual mode.

How to shoot in manual mode?

First of all, we need to set the camera to the “M” on the camera dial. Now let’s have a look at the typical process for capturing a scene.

  • To achieve the correct exposure, the perfect amount of light has to reach the sensor. The built-in camera light meter helps us to find the perfect exposure. This useful device measures the light coming into the camera through the lens. If we look through the viewfinder, at the bottom of the screen we can see a line graph that looks like this: -2… -1… 0… +1… +2… when we half-press the shutter it should be a little flashing line under these numbers. To get a correctly exposed photo, the light meter should look balanced in the center. Apparently, when the light meter is moving towards the +, our image will be overexposed, and when it is moving towards the -, the photo will be underexposed. To place it back to the middle, we need to adjust our settings accordingly.
  • The next step is to choose an ISO setting. When I am outside and it is sunny, I prefer to use ISO 100-200 most of the time to keep the sensitivity as low as possible for good quality photos. Higher ISO values result grainy, noisy images. I would say, only adjust it when it is necessary.
  • Pick up an aperture. The aperture is the hole inside the lens, which behaves like the pupil in our eyes. By using low number apertures such as f/2.8 results shallow depth of field, which means the subject stands out of the background which is out of focus. On the other hand, when we are using high number apertures, like f/16, f/22 the whole scene will be in focus. The lower the f-number, the more light reaches the sensor, and the higher the f-number, the less light reaches the sensor. If the goal is the maximum sharpness all over the image, then I would say f/8, f/11 is the ideal aperture to choose (if we have enough light!).
  • Adjust shutter speed accordingly. Shutter speed is the length of time while the camera’s shutter stays open. The shutter mechanism controls the length of light that reaches the sensor. If the shutter stays open longer, the more light reaches the sensor. But if the shutter stays open a shorter time, less light reaches the sensor. It has an effect on the sharpness of the object.
    But how to know what shutter speed to use? Slower shutter speeds allow capturing motion blur when shooting action, as more light reaches the sensor. Faster shutter speeds allow less light to reach the sensor but give sharp details when capturing movement. When shutter speed gets slow, the camera movement can cause blurring- it’s also called camera shake-. To avoid it, it’s recommended to keep the shutter speed as high as possible.
  • And finally, if the light meter stands on zero take the shot! It’s important to remember, if we change one element, we have to compromise it with another to capture the same exposure.

I hope that I covered everything about manual mode and now we understand the basics. Shooting in manual mode becomes instinctive over time, just needs a bit of practice. Now grab your equipment and start playing with different effects that are not possible when using auto mode. Have fun, keep experimenting and get creative! You will see how much you’ll progress once you master the exposure triangle.