EP 75: Master Manual Mode Photography

Hey, you are listening to the Photo Business Help Podcast. My name is Natalie Jennings. I'm your host. In this podcast we talk about how to start, grow, and maintain successful photography businesses. We also cover personal growth tips and tricks and stuff because I believe that a healthy mind, body, and spiritual connection all contribute to a better life experience which equates directly to running a better, more successful business.

Today, if you are listening and you are in the early stages of your photo journey–you just got a camera you're looking at upgrading and getting a fancier one–I'm going to give you some tips on how to master manual mode, or at least some stuff to focus on, no pun intended, so that you're a little better at it every day and that you can get to a point where you're shooting manual all the time.

Don't get me wrong, there are definitely times when some of the aperture priority stuff or other settings are helful. I'm not completely against automatic settings at all.

I personally believe from my own experience, and I've been running Jennings Photo for over 10 years now, shooting manual gives you the most creative control in any situation. And that's what we really want as photographers.

We want, we want to understand what we're going for what we're thinking the photo is going to look like. And we want to know exactly how to get there. It's just like playing an instrument, you know what the song is you want to play, you just need to learn the technical chops to produce it through the instrument in your hands. And in this case, the instrument is your camera. So we're going to talk a little bit about manual mode today.

Photo Business Help Podcast cover image for episode 75 mastering shooting in manual mode how to

If it's brand new to you, I invite you first to get familiar with the big three. This is also commonly called the exposure triangle, and that consists of ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

So let me dive in and explain what each of those are in the most basic terms, this is a 10 minute ish podcast, so I can't get crazy deep with you today. But the Google has all of the things. So this is just sort of to prime the pump a little bit and get your gears turning in your head about what to do first, because it can be kind of daunting.

Do you remember the film days? If you do, you would see Kodak 200 Kodak 400 Kodak 800. You guys know what I'm talking about. Essentially, ISO measures the sensitivity of your light sensor.

A lower number, like 100 means that the film or the sensor is less sensitive to the light that's coming in. And the higher the number and in today's DSLRs and stuff, those numbers are massively high, but let's just say you went up to like a 800 film, that film is more sensitive to the light coming in, which allows you to bring less light in and still capture an image. So that's sort of the basics of that.

We're going to aperture next. Aperture is essentially how much light that you are letting through your lens. So aperture can be a little confusing, it's referred to as f-stop. So when you hear people talk about prime lenses, and they're like, I have a 50 millimeter, f two or whatever, they're talking about how wide can that lens open up at its widest. Basically, it is how much light being let in through the lens.

What's confusing about it is that the lower the number, the more light being let in and the higher the number, the less light, which is counterintuitive. A way to think of it as kind of like in a fraction if you replace the F with the number one. So F 2.0 would be one slash two, which is a bigger number than one slash four, and one slash four is larger than one, eight. And anytime you have a larger number, if you're replacing the F with a one, there's more light coming in. So if you're looking for a correlation that makes sense to you, as you're trying to learn all this stuff, you can replace the F with the one and kind of create a little fraction there. That's one way to do it.

Just remembering that the lower the number, the more the light is getting through. That works for you, that's a great place to start.

Finally, we've got shutter speed. The third part of the exposure triangle, this is how fast your shutter clicks. So if you're going to do astrophotography and photograph the stars, you may keep your shutter open for many minutes. If you're doing standard portraiture, common setting might be one 800th of a second. There is a lot of variation here.

One sort of rule that I like to keep in the back of my mind, I shoot prime and if your shutter speed is not double the focal length of your lens, you're usually going to come out with a little bit of a wildly, possibly even blurry image.

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So for example, if I'm shooting with a 50 millimeter lens, it's generally safe, assuming the ISO and the aperture And the exposure are all good to go, that if I shoot one 100th of a second on a 50 millimeter lens that I should be good and not have a blurry blurry photograph. That being said, if your metering everything in one 100th is still too dark, still underexposed, you've got some other stuff to adjust.

So this is a lot of information, but this is what I'd like you to start with. If you're starting out brand new to all this manual stuff, start with a prime lens. Or if you have just a zoom lens, don't change the focal length, so don't zoom it.

Just get used to one setting.

I think a 50 millimeter lens is a really, really great sweet spot to start. So if you have access to a prime lens, one that doesn't zoom, throw that on your camera if you're trying to get better at manual because the last thing you really need to be thinking about is how your focal length relates to this triangle.

Let's just start small and then you can move on from there. So I highly recommend first step to mastering manual mode, don't adjust your focal length when you're practicing.

Next thing that's really helpful is to use a consistent light source like window light in the middle of the day or something, something that's not going to change that much. Artificial light is fine, too. I prefer natural light. But whatever works for you, as long as it's not like the evening and the sun's going down really quickly or the morning and the sun's coming up really quickly. Just try and find yourself a spot where the light is not going to change too much when you're practicing. And then thirdly, just take one thing at a time, and then meter for it.

Let's say you put a vase of flowers on the table, you've got your 50 millimeter lens, you've got your natural light. Let's start with aperture and aperture is always a good one to start with, because that is sort of how you style your image.

If you're doing a big family photo that's five rows deep, and you want everyone to be in focus, you're going to want to have a higher number in the aperture department, less light coming through your lens, because that will cause the depth of field to change.

So more is in focus. The higher your aperture number, the more you'll have in focus.

If you took a photo right now with your phone, you'll notice that everything is in focus. Things way in the back of the room or in almost just as much focus as the things right in front of you.

If you're not in portrait mode, that's what a really high high aperture will do for you. A really low, low aperture where a lot of light is coming in, like a 50 millimeter 1.2 lens, the one that I shoot, you're going to have that beautiful creamy bokeh. Almost nothing is in really crisp focus, and everything just falls away into this really soft sort of look. And that's what a lot of people are after. That's what the sort of fake portrait the digital effect on phones do, although not nearly as well as a glass lens, but start with what style you want.

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If you want everything in focus, crank your aperture up if you want just a tiny little flower and focus and everything else to be really blurry and creamy and pretty, crank your aperture really low. From there, your meter will tell you if you're way overexposed or way underexposed.

Next I would set your ISO. So if you're inside, there's some nice natural light coming through somewhere in the 400 to 800 range is going to be pretty safe, kind of see where that falls. And then from there, the last thing that you'll notice is just your shutter speed. Your shutter speed will be the final thing that you meter to grab that perfect exposure and maybe you want to under-expose a little, maybe you want to over-expose a little but once you sort of get those things in place, you can kind of play around with it a little bit.

Quick recap: remember the exposure triangle, ISO, aperture, shutter speed. Start with a prime lens or a static focal length. Use consistent light. Start with aperture first and work your way around that triangle. And just practice. Be patient.

See what you come up, with do a little bit every day. I am super passionate about this. And you've probably heard me say it a lot if you listen to this show regularly, but give yourself five minutes a day, during the work week to practice this. Just five minutes, not 10 minutes, not an hour, just five minutes. Chances are you'll end up digging into it for a little bit longer. But if you really want to sharpen your skills and get better at something, you got to pick it up and do it. And the way to do that is to give yourself some some reasonable goals.



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