Are you ready to take your photo to the next level? The best way to speed up your game is to learn how to shoot in manual mode. I know it can sound extremely difficult when you hear technical terms that sound like "bokeh, aperture, ISO and meter reading,"- that's why and I've created this beginner's guide!
Believe me, it's not as scary as it looks! You just have to take it step by step.
Manual shooting gives you significantly more control over each shot. When I first jumped on an interchangeable lens camera, I was intimidated to learn technical photography and wasted many years installing with Auto.
While photo editing is a big part of the process, you need to be a better photographer.
Want to step up your photo game? Here's my guide to getting back in manual mode with your camera!
Camera setup tips
Shoot at RAW
RAW shooting can be a lifesaver, especially when you're a beginner. This will allow you to edit your photos and make important changes if needed. Getting into a JPG takes a little less space, but that's the only benefit.
Chapter up, if you shoot in RAW, you'll need to convert it to a JPG before transferring it to your phone / internet sharing. RAWs usually cannot be transferred directly to mobile phones.
If you want to share instantly, get a quick download with your phone. You can really get good downloads on your phone if you know what you're doing (see this guide).
Attend a seminar
I can't stress this enough – take the time to find a high quality video that goes through all your camera settings so you can easily find them and know what features the camera has. You've invested in the camera to learn how to use all its settings!
It's been so many years since we lost the cool photos I could get, just because I didn't know my camera was capable of taking them! Below the heads, some of the videos can be quite large (about 45 minutes to an hour, but worth it).
The tutorials will usually show you how to change the format from JPG to RAW!
The body and lenses vary depending on the camera you are investing in. When taking the jump from one spot and pulling the camera into an interchangeable lens, I would recommend investing in a mirrorless camera and there are a few things to keep in mind: a crop sensor.
Full frame: there are substantially more pixels in images captured on full frame cameras, which results in higher resolution and better quality images (ideal for blasting photos and prints).
Crop sensor: Generally harvest sensor cameras are less expensive, but you can still take beautiful photos!
I recommend investing in a kit lens. You will usually see these lenses combined with the camera body of your choice. It's usually a zoom lens – for example, a standard Fujifilm kit lens is 18-55mm F / 2.8; which means it can zoom from 18 to 55mm and the largest aperture available is 2.8.
Prime lenses are great for fashion photography and portraits. If you envision yourself doing a lot of this kind of photography, it is a great lens in your arsenal.
For landscape photographers, a wide-angle lens can also be quite beneficial. I shoot with f / 4 with 10-24mm f / f with Fujifilm. The nice thing about this lens is that it is 10mm wide, but when zoomed to 24mm it is no longer wide, so it makes the lens a little more flexible.
If you have specific questions about a lens or your camera, go to a local camera shop or B&H are the perfect places to get advice on which lens is right for you.
Curious about my camera? Find my basics for travel photography here!
Cape Town, South Africa
The best lighting for photography
The best times for shooting will be daylight hours, as there is more light and you can adjust your ISO and not worry about it all day long. The hardest times to shoot will be around dawn, dusk, and after the sun goes down … or in a place with lots of shadows.
In the world of photography, there is something called a "golden hour" that occurs shortly before and after the seasons of sunrise and sunset. The "blue hour" is when the sun is low and indirect sunlight creates a blue hue.
I'm not the type of person who only goes out at the golden hour, as this usually doesn't work for my schedule. There are times when you have to deal with really difficult lighting, but you can do what you have!
However, as a general rule, if you are able to plan things around good lighting (early in the morning or shortly before sunset), the light will be softer and foster a "dreamy" feeling in your photos.
Camera Settings: The Holy Trinity
Do you know how auto-correct never seems to know what you want to say when writing a text? Your camera works similarly when shooting in Auto.
You can't trust your camera settings to read your mind and get exactly what you want.
When shooting in manual mode, you have complete control over all camera settings. You can tune your images and find the best settings to capture what you want. Say goodbye to blurry and overexposed!
To get your head around the manual way, there are three basic ideas you need to know:
Aperture, ISO and shutter speed.
The diaphragm controls how wide the lens is.
This is a critical aspect because it affects two things: how much light comes into your lens and determines how much scene do you focus on.
The diaphragm is usually referred to as an F-stop (not really intuitive, I know) and sometimes you will see it written as an "F" followed by a number like F / 2.8.
This is the setting you need to fill the depth of field you want!
This dreamy cloudy backdrop of a portrait that so many people love? This is called bokeh-and by learning how to play with the diaphragm, you can achieve just that.
A low aperture (F / 1.4 – F / 5.6) gives you more depth of field and is what you want for a bokeh effect in the background. The smaller the number, the more your background will be out of focus.
If you are shooting a landscape and want the whole scene to be focused (theme and background), you want a higher numerical aperture (eg F / 10 – F / 22).
The smaller the diameter of the aperture, the more the light will illuminate and the higher the diaphragm, the less light left. While it's easy to think of the aperture as the depth of field, it works directly with ISO and shutter speed, which we'll hear about later.
When you first start playing with different settings, you may feel a little overwhelmed. So why not try just one thing at a time? Your camera has a setting just for this!
We are talking about Removal Priority.
Lion photographed at F / 2.8; shallow depth of field. Are elephants photographed at F / 5.6? greater depth of field.
Using Removal Priority, shutter speed and ISO will be automatically adjusted. This way, you only control the diaphragm and focus on the depth of field.
Your camera will display Removal Priority as A or Av.
It is useful to take the same photo in different openings to see how a photo really changes.
Now that we have covered Aperture, let's talk about ISO! ISO controls the sensitivity of your camera to light and affects the image of your camera.
Here again, you just need to find the right number for some lighting situations.
The brighter the exterior, the lower you can adjust your ISO. For extremely sunny days, you can reach ISO 200-400. If you're shooting in low light conditions, you may need to hit your ISO higher at something like 3200.
However, a higher ISO will create a grainy effect – so it is often best to stick to a lower ISO (if possible).
Usually, I maintain an ISO of around 400 and do not need to touch it until dusk / sunset.
The shutter speed adjusts how long your camera is on to expose the light. This determines whether your photo is crisp or blurry (think cars blur the road or water on the go).
When it's bright outside, you'll want to have a faster shutter speed so that the scene doesn't fade.
Aperture and Shutter Speed work together – think of it as your eyelids and your students. Aperture acts as a pupil to control how much light enters. In the meantime, the shutter drops like a blinking eyelid.
PRO CONSULTANT: A general rule for the slowest shutter speed you can use without a camera is to measure twice the length of your lens. For example, if I turn on a 35mm lens, 2 × 35 = 70. The slowest I will shoot without a tripod is a shutter speed of 125 instead of 60, because I know 60 is too slow and would result in a blurry photo.
You will need a faster shutter speed if you are trying to shoot a moving object (a horse, a fast car, trying to pull a jump) and for very bright lighting situations.
PRO CONSULTANT: If you shoot in low light with a tripod, also use the timer so that the camera moves as little as possible before the shutter is activated.
Using your light meter
You may have heard the phrase "meter reading" before. When people say this, they talk about the little bar in the viewfinder. This will tell you if your photo is properly exposed to the current settings or if you want to make a customization.
Why do you want a photo to be properly exposed?
If it is too bright, you will miss many details. On the contrary, if it is very dark, you may not be able to light or shade enough.
Each case could leave you with a photo you are not happy with.
Remember that photography is art. Some photographers like to shoot a little under-exploited, while others go for excessive style. It's just a personal preference. However, when you start – I'd suggest trying to expose your photos correctly (0 on the counter) and discover your own style in the editing process.
This ensures that you have a good base photo to play with and you don't have to worry about rescuing.
PRO SOFTWARE: If you are shooting in low light (eg background or shadow scene), you may not be able to trust the measuring device. In this case, you should trust your eye. Personally, I choose to slightly over-photograph in these scenarios to better capture the brightness of the brighter part of my photo. It is easier to raise shadows than to correct excessive exposure.
Lightroom TBA defaults
Learn the colors of your shots and create a consistent aesthetic as you master the basics of photography. I created these custom Preset Lightroom for Desktop and Mobile to help you add a beautiful aesthetic to your photos. Apply the defaults, and then adjust your settings to make yours!
When it comes to composition (placing objects / people within your frame), the first thing you need to know is the Rule of Thirds. Turning on the grid view will allow you to use it. In fact, your phone probably has these grids so you can turn them on right away for quick practice.
The idea of the third party rule is that you break your image into third parties to create nine parts.
With your view divided into nine parts, you can identify the four key points of the photo that should serve as a focal point. Instead of putting the subject at the dead end, you might want to put it at one of the four intersections of the lines.
The third-party rule plays in the balance of what our eyes naturally see attractive.
With or without gridlines, make sure everything in your photo is level. If the horizon or any other line is visible, make sure it is straight on your back.
I usually shoot the photo with autofocus. Most modern cameras have high AF and you can leave this setting to auto. However, it is useful to know where to switch from autofocus to manual focus if you need it.
If your camera tells you that the shooting is focused, but the scene looks blurred to you through the viewfinder, it's time to check your binoculars. Your ring of choice is usually near the viewfinder and can be turned clockwise or counterclockwise to adjust the focus of your eyes. Be sure to look through it as you adjust so you can tell when it is in focus.
White balance sets the temperature of your photo to determine whether it is blue or yellow in tone. Having a solid tone in your photos will start the process of editing on the right foot (or just give you a gorgeous snapshot!). You will find "White Balance" options for daylight, cloudy weather and other conditions.
Usually, I let mine be automatic, but there are scenarios where I will change the white balance from Auto to suit the tough conditions.
Congratulations on this huge step in learning a new skill. When you first start downloading in Manual mode, you are going to feel tired, but it gets easier! Like learning a new language, the more you practice, the more natural it becomes.