Manual mode on your digital camera

imageMost people take pictures using Auto mode, especially on point and shoot cameras. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, it is a good idea to understand the basics of using Manual mode. Essentially, all Auto mode does is set the Manual mode settings automatically. But, sometimes Auto mode gets it wrong, and if you do not know how to use Manual mode, you are out of luck. Thankfully, this email will help you better understand Manual mode so the next time Auto mode doesn’t work for you, you will know what to do! So grab your camera, enable Manual mode, and read on! If you are unsure of how to enable Manual mode, consult your camera’s manual, or look for an "M" in your camera settings or menu.

The ISO setting on your camera determines how sensitive your camera is to light. If you are shooting in a lot of light, use a lower ISO setting. Use a higher ISO setting if there is not a lot of light. 100 or 200 are the standard settings; set your ISO to 100 on a very bright day or 1600 in a low light situation. Keep in mind that a high ISO setting sometimes results in grainy or lower quality photos.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed setting determines how fast the camera shutter opens and closes when taking a photo. Long shutter speeds open the shutter for more time, letting in more exposure and light.


If you are trying to freeze a moving subject, like a soccer player, set your shutter speed at 1/250th or higher. Of course, you can shoot slower if you want some blur for effect. Try shooting at 1/30th and move the camera with the player. Sometimes you can get a cool motion effect. Also, if you have a tripod, you can use a slower shutter speed. Bring the tripod to your kid’s soccer game to get long exposure shots of the team playing. The background will remain in focus but the kids will be blurred. There are a few more kid’s soccer game examples below.


The aperture, or f-stop setting, determines how much light is exposed in the shot. Think of it like filling up a bucket of water from a faucet. If you open the valve wide, more water comes out and the bucket fills up faster. If you close the valve to a small opening, less water comes out and the bucket takes longer to fill. The same concept applies to the aperture/f-stop setting, but the key is that lower numbers equal more light exposure, which might confuse you at first. F/2.8 opens the aperture up to let a lot of light in, which is good in low light situations. F/16 only lets in a little light, and is good on bright days when there is a lot of natural light.


You can see how all three basic Manual mode components work together. The ISO controls the light sensitivity, the shutter speed determines how fast the shutter is open, and the aperture/f-stop tells the camera how much light to let in.


Advanced Tip: Depth of Field
For the ambitious photographers out there, I have one more Manual mode element to discuss: depth of field. The depth of field is usually not a setting on your camera, but you can control the depth of field using the aperture/f-stop setting. Many professional photographers pay close attention to the depth of field in their photos. A short depth of field isolates the subject in the foreground and blurs the background. You can achieve this effect with a wide f-stop setting, like F/2.8. If you want a deep depth of field, where both the foreground and background are in focus, try a narrow f-stop setting, like F/16.


Examples and Settings to Try
Now that you have some understanding of the basic Manual mode settings, try to use them for yourself! You can always take various test shots around the yard to see what effect different settings have and how they correspond to one another. Let me give you two examples of settings to use for your kid’s soccer games, or other similar events:

If the game is in the middle of the day, the sun is shining brightly, and you want to freeze the action, set the camera to correspond with the high amount of available light. Try an ISO of around 100 or 200, a shutter speed of 1/500 or higher, and an f-stop of F/11. Use a slower shutter speed if you want blur in the photo.
If the game is later in the day or it is cloudy, set the camera for a low light situation. Use an ISO of 400 or 800, and an f-stop of F/2.8 as a starting point. Take a few shots, and adjust the settings if needed.
As always, there is no "right" or "wrong;" it all just depends on what you are after. Use the settings above as your base, then adjust and shoot plenty of photos to see the different outcomes.

2 thoughts on “Manual mode on your digital camera

  1. Hi Jim
    Thanks for the great info, I Just learned about the shutter speed.
    I truly enjoyed this. It was extremely educational and useful. I will return to check on upcoming posts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.