Manual Mode: How I Apply it

Where Do I Start?

The place that I start is ISO. I think of ISO as a way to set up your photograph for success. You are just setting up the range and getting in the ballpark. I will also operate on the ideal that you should set your ISO as low as possible, as often as you can. This is because of the grain that I addressed in the previous post. If you haven’t read that part yet, it will help a lot before you continue reading here.

For example, when I shoot inside, depending on the lighting, I know that I won’t be able to go below ISO 400 and get a proper exposure. This is because buildings are like shooting in caves compared to shooting outside. There is simply less light to deal with most of the time.

I also like to start with ISO because this is a setting that you will most likely be able to keep constant. You may have to change it a little, but I find that my ISO is kept at the lowest value so that I can preserve image quality. 

Next up is Aperture

The reason that  like to set my aperture next is so that I can decide my depth of field. Depth of field is important because it allows you to direct the viewers eyes to the subject you want. For example, if you are in the park taking a photograph of your child and you want only your child to stand out you would use a lower aperture. This will cause your child to be in the depth of field while everything else in the background is blurred out. The lower the aperture value that your lens can go to, the more blurry your background can become. One of my favorite lenses for this application is my Canon 50mm f1.8. . Other lenses can go even lower like the Canon 50mm f1.4, Canon 50mm f1.2L, or even down to f.95 with the Noctilux by Leica.  —And as a side note, the wider the aperture or lower aperture number a lens can go to, the more expensive it is.

Here is an example of shallow depth of field. This was taken at f1.8 with my Canon 50mm 1.8.

Last but not least: shutter speed

I set shutter speed last in manual mode with one caveat. That one caveat is that my subject is not moving. If the subject is moving then I need to set this first so that I can make sure that it is crisp and in focus. With that part explained the ballpark figure for this setting corresponds with the focal length of the lens that you are using. For example, if I am zoomed to 200 I won’t want  to set my shutter speed much lower than 1/200 if I want to have a sharp image. Also, in I Again, this is a guideline. If your hands shake a little and you have trouble with holding your camera steady you will want to use a higher shutter speed on average than someone who can hold a camera like a statue.

Finally, all this said, at the end you may need to go back and adjust your ISO or aperture to get the perfect exposure. With practice though, having to go back and adjust will gradually decrease.