One of the best things I ever did for my blog photography was to switch from auto to manual mode on my DSLR camera.
But it took me ages to finally give it a go. I thought it was too complicated for me and not worth the try. Even though I knew it was limiting my possibilities, the auto mode was fine for me. With almost no control over how my photos looked, I depended on my camera to try to find the best settings to shoot.
When I finally managed to buy my own camera I decided it was time to teach myself how to use it properly and take advantage of its full potential. I wanted to achieve that bright photo and blurry background, so I would have to learn the right settings to make that happen. I would have to get the grip of the manual mode. As a self-learner, I read multiple articles online, watched tons of youtube videos and played with my camera while taking photos of my cat until I was happy with the results.
The thing is, there is a lot more to photography than just owning a good DSLR. Your images can turn out a lot better if you understand the full potential of your equipment and use it in the right way. And to achieve that, you have to practice. A lot.
Because I know how overwhelming it can be to make the switch to manual mode, I decided to write a (very long) blog post where I will walk you through the steps for choosing your settings in manual mode and make the most of your DSLR.
But, before we start, I just want to say that I’m not a professional photographer, neither do I think I know it all. I’m still learning every day but I believe that I’ve come a long way when it comes to blog photography, and want to help any of you who wants to step up their game.
*Note I haven’t edited any of the photos aside from the one above so that you can take a real look at the influence of the different settings.
An Easy Beginner’s Guide To Manual Mode On Your DSLR
What’s the real difference between auto & manual?
When you shoot in auto, your camera will make all the decisions for you. It will automatically pick the right settings to take the photo. The thing is, you don’t make the most of your DSLR camera when using auto mode.
Shooting in manual mode will simply give you more control over how your photo will look.
Imagine that is a cloudy day and you want to take some bright photos for your blog. If you try taking a photo in auto, it will most likely be too dark. But, if you set your camera in manual mode, you’re able to adjust the aperture to let more light into your camera and, therefore, create a brighter image. More on that, later.
And what’s the difference between RAW and JPEG?
JPEG: when shooting in JPEG, the camera automatically processes the information, creating an image file. This means that while editing the picture, you’ll have less control over it.
RAW: when shooting in RAW, the camera doesn’t process the information automatically. As the name suggests it, the file stays RAW until you transfer it to your computer, which will then process it, creating higher quality photos. This means that while editing, you’ll have more control over your photo.
The Exposure Triangle
Exposure is simply the amount of light entering the camera. It will determine how light or dark your image is. To get full control over exposure you need to shoot in manual mode and explore these three elements: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Together, they will impact the exposure of your photos.
Above you can see a shot of my camera in manual mode and the settings I usually change. The first number below – ’80’ is the shutter speed. ‘1.8’ is the aperture and ‘100’ is the ISO.
Aperture controls how much light enters the camera.
Aperture is measured in f-stops that can go from f1.4 to f16. A low f-stop number like f2 means more light coming through the lenses, therefore produces a brighter image. A high f-stop number like f8 means less light coming through the lenses, therefore produces a darker image.
It also affects how much of your photo is in focus and how much is blurred: the depth of field. If you want to create an image with a sharp focus on your subject and a beautiful blurry background, pick a low f-stop number, as you can see below. In the first image, with the lower f-stop, only the lens and books are in focus. In the middle image, there are a few more things in focus like the ring and the candle holder. In the third image, pretty much everything is in focus.
Note that, in order to keep the same light with different aperture numbers, I had to change the ISO and shutter speed numbers. To see the difference, the images below have the same shutter speed and ISO so that you can have a better look at the effect of the aperture. As you can see, using f1.8 gives a much brighter image than f4!
Shutter speed is the amount of time (seconds) the camera is exposed to light. It is the speed at which your camera takes the picture. A high shutter speed means more light entering the camera, therefore it produces a brighter image. Going back to the three images above, you can see that by changing the shutter speed numbers, the photo looked brighter.
A lower shutter speed (1/50) means more light entering the lenses, therefore produces a brighter image. A higher shutter speed (1/4000) means the photo is being taken faster, therefore less light entering the camera, which results in a darker image.
Another thing you can do with the shutter speed is to create motion or freeze action. As you can see above, I set a lower shutter speed while playing with a ribbon to create motion. I also had a photo with a higher shutter speed to show the effect but I deleted it by mistake – go me! Opposite to this image, with a higher shutter speed, you will be able to see the ribbon completely focused even if I was moving it.
Note that when shooting with a lower shutter speed, it’s better to use a tripod, especially if you have shaky hands, to avoid a blurry photo.
ISO measures how sensitive the camera is to light. A lower ISO (100) number means less light entering the camera. A higher ISO (200) means more light, therefore you get a brighter image.
At night or on a cloudy day, you might want to up your ISO but be aware that 400+ will create a grainy image. I usually keep mine at 100 but, for the main image of this article, I went for 200 to brighten it up a bit.
Keeping a Balance
The trick is to create a balance between these three elements. Before you start shooting, think about the look you’re trying to achieve and pick one of these elements to start with. If you want a bright and airy image, pick a lower f-stop and then play with the shutter speed and ISO until you’re satisfied with the result.
Practice, practice, practice
The best way to learn is to grab your DSLR and practice, practice, practice. Don’t be discouraged if your photos look too bright or dark at first. It’s completely normal. Experiment with different settings and see what fits your style the best. It will take some time to get the hang of it but you will eventually see the amazing difference it makes and you will not want to go back.
I hope you found this post helpful! If you have any doubts or want to learn more about blog photography, pop a comment below and I will try my best to help you!
What do you struggle the most with when it comes to blog photography?