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Manual Photography: the myth, the legend

When you are starting photography, getting the perfect shot can be difficult. But it becomes even more challenging when the camera is doing all the work. Using the automatic settings gives you a 1 out of 100 chance of getting that great shot.

Being able to completely control your camera is so important and crucial to creating a great photography business. With the control you can create a consistent brand and editing becomes 1000 times easier.

With this basic information you will be out there using manual settings in no time.


So here are the basics. First things first, set your camera to M. This stands for Manual. Usually there is A & T. Both of which highlight different things which I will highlight below....

What you need to know:

-Aperture or f-stop: The amount of light that is getting captured based on how wide the lens opens and closes. The aperture works inversely. The lower the number the wider the aperture.

For example, the f-stop says 1.4. This lens aperture would be used for darker lighting since it is wider. The 1.4 would be wider than 2.5. The lower the number the wider the aperture opens which allows for more light to come into the camera.

-Shutter speed: The amount of light that is getting captured based on how fast the lens is opening or closing. This is the 1/250 number. This number works inverse of the shutter speed as well. The smaller the number on bottom, the longer the lens is open for.

For example, 1/250 is open shorter than 1/160 would be open.

The A & the T modes specifically control Aperture or Shutter speed. They are semi-manual. While learning one or the other these different settings can be useful. But I found it easiest to just jump in!

-ISO Sensitivity: ISO is one of the things in manual that you really only have to worry about in bad lighting. The lower you keep your ISO the better quality you picture, UNLESS it is getting dark and the shutter speed is lower than 1/160.

In order to get a good quality photo your shutter speed shouldn't be lower than 1/160. Anything lower and your image is prone to being blurry. This is where ISO comes in. When you can't lower your shutter speed any more or your aperture and the photo is still dark, you raise ISO.

The order you should set your camera up is: Aperture (f-stop), Shutter Speed, AND then ISO. When it is daylight and you have plenty of light ISO should stay around 100 or 200.

The best way to learn manual photography on a DSLR camera is by simply practicing! When you take the camera out and experience with these steps you will notice patterns.

Over time you will start to become fast at changing. Photography takes an eye for light. The more you look at light the more you will see how to adjust your camera to capture the light the best you can.

After you have played with those three steps and have a good handle on them I would make sure you have your camera set to capture RAW files instead of JPEGS. JPEG images work well, but RAW files capture more. They have an uncompressed grey scale, which is basically just to say that it means they are easier to edit with out blowing out your colors.

If you don't know how to change to RAW files on your specific camera, I would google it and see how to do so.

The key to getting consistent photos is in Kelvin!


Ok, so Kelvin isn't brought up very often when just starting out photography. That's because it's simply controlling if your photo is cooler or warmer.

A lot of times cameras do a pretty good job of guessing where the neutral warmth is. However, because it's a piece of technology and not a human eye, it tends to change even when it doesn't necessarily need to.

Being able to control the warmth of your camera is another thing to add to your list. But being able to see the color change is key to getting lighting correct. Not only does this help with the quality of your photo, but when it comes to editing it's a HUGE lifesaver.

When you are editing warmth of a photo, kelvin plays a big role, and when you use the automatic kelvin your camera provides it's sure to change frequently, which makes editing a pain.

Just trust me on this one... learn kelvin.

When it comes to all of these settings, every camera is a little different. When they say practice makes perfect, it's 100% true with photography. Take the time to get to know your camera. Read the manual and learn where all your fast clicks are.

Focusing & clarity of a photo

Although this one seems obvious, being able to make sure your camera is focusing is important.

Just clicking because you can see through the peep hole doesn't mean that the camera is focusing on exactly what you want. Take the time to light click before you full click. (this doesn't make sense unless you truly have a camera) You will find that when you hold the clicker down lightly it will hold focus.

This gives you the ability to lock in focus and really get that clear picture. This also draws back on shutter speed. Your settings are going to play a big role on focus.

I would mess around with focus a little though. When you are further away from the background the blurrier it is going to appear in a photo.


There are lots of little things you'll learn along the way. But looking through the lens is the best way to learn.

A photographer who knows their camera can look at light and change the settings on their camera without even giving it a second thought.

It doesn't take the most expensive camera to make gorgeous photos, but it does take work. Make sure you put in the work and I promise the reward will follow.

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