Making the transition from using your camera in automatic mode to manual mode is the best thing you can do to improve your images. These days, every digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR) and almost every compact point-and-shoot camera will allow you to create photographs manually.
Breaking free of your camera’s preset shooting modes will enable you to take control of light and make you a better photographer. It’s definitely a bit of a learning curve for those of you that simply point and shoot, but well worth the effort in the long run as you slowly become familiar with how your camera reacts to different exposure settings.
Inside your camera’s body is an image sensor that records your subject. Think of the image sensor as a digital version of film. Your job as a photographer is to control how much light reaches the sensor to obtain an accurate exposure. Sure, shooting in automatic mode does this all for you with decent results in good light, but as an outdoor photographer, light is constantly changing. This is where your skills at controlling the ISO speed, shutter speed and aperture size come into play.
The ISO setting controls how sensitive your image sensor is to light. For most DSLRs, this setting begins at 100 and can be set up to 3200 or higher. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive your camera becomes. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that image quality does drop when using higher ISO values. Experiment with your camera to see what is acceptable for your style of photography.
Your image sensor is covered by a shutter. Shutter speed will determine how long the sensor is exposed to light. The longer it’s kept open, the more light enters the camera. A shutter speed dial allows you to control this speed in fractions of a second. A fast shutter speed such as 1/500 second will freeze action—great for sports and wildlife on the move. A slow shutter speed like two seconds or even longer will blur moving areas of your landscape—great for creative scenes that include moving water.
Lastly, you’ll need to know how to control the aperture size. Like the shutter speed and ISO value, aperture is controlled by a dial on most cameras and controls the depth of field in your image. For example, if you set your aperture to f/2.8 you will blur out the background of your subject—popular for portraits. By setting your aperture to the other end of the scale such as f/22, you’re ready to capture every detail of that grand landscape.
Consult your user manual and become familiar with how to operate your manual tools. Learning to control these three basic manual settings on your camera will increase your enjoyment of photography and make you a better photographer.
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