Would you like to get your camera off the automatic settings and take control of your camera? I am going to teach you about the different features that are available on most DSLR cameras (digital single-lens reflex) in this post and then I will do a more detailed post on some of the most important components of manual photography. The first step is to go to the dial on the top of your camera and turn the dial to “M” and away from the “Auto” or the green box option.
Digital cameras are mini computers and you have probably heard the term, the computer is only as smart as the operator, well the same holds true for cameras. The comment has been said to me, “What type of camera do you have to shoot those photos?” We would never say this to a musician, “What kind of guitar do you have to create music like that?” The photos we create with our cameras are like music to a musician. As the photographer you have decided on the composition and the settings for that photo, the camera did not do that for you!
There are many factors that control what the finished photo will look like when you switch your camera from automatic to manual (M on the dial on your camera). The three big ones are f-stop, shutter speed and ISO. This is where the creativity begins!
F-stop or Aperture
I am going to talk first about aperture or f-stop which is the size of the opening for your shutter and the f-stop refers to actual number related to the size. So, the larger the number the smaller the opening and the smaller the number the larger the opening. The opening that I am referring to is the size of the shutter opening which allows light into the camera. The other term you may hear for aperture is depth of field.
Shutter Speed -Time
The shutter speed is a measurement of time and it is the amount of time that the shutter is open. The numbers representing SS are fractions of a second.
ISO – International Standards Organization
The ISO makes your camera more sensitive to light and the higher the ISO number the brighter the photo. This number may be familiar to you from film days when we would buy different types of film. The most common ones that I would buy when buying film was 100 or 200. Just like with film, the higher the ISO value the more grainy the photos become.
All three of these values work together to create the look you are trying to achieve in your photos.
A few of the other important tools on your DSLR are:
In manual photography you get to use your light meter which is the little scale inside your viewfinder that tells you when you have a correctly exposed photo. Digital cameras want to make everything gray or neutral so your light meter is a handy tool to help you get the correct setting.
Auto Focus(AF) vs Manual Focus(M)
Manual focus sometimes gets confused with manual photography and they are two different things. When you flip your camera to manual settings you are still on automatic focus. I mostly use automatic focus because I don’t want to miss the shot by fiddling with the focus ring on my lens to get the subject in focus. If you would like to manually focus you will need to switch your camera to MF. An example of when you might want to use MF is when you are trying to focus on something very small or specific in the frame.
Exposure compensation is only used in the automatic setting. In manual mode the photographer is the exposure compensator. This button has a +/- symbol on it.
There are 3 different meter modes in digital cameras where your camera automatically measures the reflected light and determines the optimal exposure. The three most common modes are matrix (Nikon) or evaluative (Canon), center-weighted or spot metering. The best one to start on is the matrix/evaluative meter mode as it takes a general reading of the light in the viewfinder. On my camera the meter button is beside the Exposure Compensation button. (please refer to photo above)
A or AV
Your camera dial will have an A or AV depending on your brand of camera. I shoot with Nikon so I have an A on my dial. This setting is where you choose the f-stop you want and the camera will choose the shutter speed – 50% manual.
S or TV
Your camera dial will have an S or TV depending on your brand of camera. Nikon has S. When you are in this setting you choose the shutter speed and the camera chooses the f-stop – 50% manual.
These 50% manual modes are a great place to start if you have never tried fully manual photography.
Adjusting the White Balance in your camera is important to take control of the colour of the light in your photos. Different light sources create different casts on your photos. Fluorescent light is very blue light whereas incandescent bulbs cast a yellow light. It is always nice to get the white balance correct in the camera and cuts down on the amount of editing that has to be done once we get them to the computer.
Some of these terms may be familiar to you and you may know how to change them. If you are unsure of how to change the settings or where to find these functions in your camera please refer to your owner’s manual that came with your camera.
Please stay tuned for more detail on some of these functions and how to get started in Manual Photography.