How to Master Your Camera’s Manual Controls

Maynards Photography Tips

The “A” or Automatic mode is on every camera produced these days, from your cellphone to the most expensive Hasselblad. But what do you do when you want to take more of an active role in deciding how your photos turn out. Photography is quite simply put as the capturing of light to create an image, and all those controls on your camera are there to adjust the amount of light coming into it.

The two main controls are Shutter Speed and Aperture. The simplest way I can think to explain the two are by using window blinds. Think of Aperture has how wide you choose to open those blinds, either a sliver or all the way. Shutter Speed is how long you choose to open those blinds for, one second or one hour. Now I am going to proceed to explain these two controls even further in relationship to your camera.

Shutter Speed: is how fast the shutter opens and closes and its major effect is on time. Shutter Speed is measured in seconds or fractions of a second, so do you want to capture a split second or a whole minute. For example if you want to capture the moment a ball is hit off the end of a bat you may need to use a Shutter Speed of 1/1000 or one thousandth of a second. On the other hand you may want to show the beautiful fluid motion of a waterfall and in that case you would want to use a Shutter Speed of 1 or one second. There is an important rule in Shutter Speeds when it’s less than 1/60, you become susceptible to camera shake or blur. Camera shake is the human hand not having the ability to hold your camera still enough to take a picture without making it blurry. Now blur isn’t always bad, don’t forget about the beautiful waterfall or the ability to give an object the feeling of motion.

Shutter Speed Chart

Shutter Speed Chart Starting in Fractions of a Second.

Shutter Speed Demo

(Left) A fast shutter speed to freeze time. (Right) A slow shutter speed to extend time.

Aperture: is nothing more than the size of the opening in the lens when you take the photo. Aperture is measured in f-stops, often written in this form f/1.4 or f/32, where f/1.4 represents a big opening and f/32 is a fairly small opening. When people talk about aperture they may say things like, you want to open up your lens as far as it goes and this is in reference to the smallest f-stop available; typically f/2.8 or f/5.6. On the other side of the scale you might hear someone say that you want to close down your lens, which is often in reference to setting your f-stop as high as it will go; sometimes f/22 or even f/32. Aperture plays its biggest role in your photos by effecting the depth of field, you have the ability to make just the tip of a finger be in focus by selecting f/1.4 or as far as the eye can see by using f/22. This is where blur makes an appearance again, if you choose to make only your finger tip be in focus objects in front of and behind it will be become blurry; the amount of blur is increased the greater the distance from the focal point.

Aperture Chart

Apeture Demo

(Left) An Image with a very Shallow Depth of Field. (Right) An Image with a very Deep Depth of Field.

The final piece in the camera puzzle is not very easy to explain from a technical stand point. It is one of those things you just accept for what it is.

ISO: is the sensitivity of your sensor, and its major effect on your images is whether or not they have Noise or Grain. For example if you set your ISO to 3200 (making your sensor more sensitive) you will be able to take pictures in very low light or of action or sports, but if you zoom in the image will be pixelated. On the contrary if you take a picture at ISO 100 it will be very smooth and you will be able to zoom in and see detail.

ISO Scale

Bring it all together, typically when you make images you adjust for 2 of the settings and let the other one fall where it may. Here are some examples: Let’s say you want to take a picture of a grand landscape, the first thing I would do is set the ISO to 100 (or the lowest setting you have available) this will allow your image to smooth and full of detail. Then you will want to set your Aperture to f/16 or /22 which will allow you to capture detail from the foreground all the way into the background. Another possible scenario might be you want to capture someone hitting a ball, in this case you are going to want to set your shutter speed to at least 1/500 this will allow you to freeze time. Next you are going to want to bump up your ISO to 800 or even 1600 making your camera extra sensitive and able to capture an image very quickly. A similar technique could be used to capture an animal running across a field.

Do You Have Any Questions About Photography?


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