I recently did a poll on Instagram to see if more of my followers use Auto-Mode or manual photography settings while using a mirrorless or DSLR camera. While I was proud of everyone who is shooting using manual mode, there was still 60% that uses auto-mode, which means they’re leaving so many creative opportunities on the table. This post will teach you about the different camera modes and how to shoot in manual mode to take your photography to the next level.
If you look at the top of your camera you will see a little wheel with a bunch of different Letters on them. These are your camera shooting modes. I shoot using Canon, so my letter may be a little different than yours if you use Sony, Nikon, or another camera brand. Let’s take a look at the different options and how they work. If you use any of the automatic camera modes and you’re still learning, make sure you take time to take a look at what your settings are when you capture an image, so you learn to recognize how the three pieces of the camera exposure work together.
Inside your camera, there is a tiny computer that analyzes the light that is coming into the front of the camera. In Automatic camera mode, based on that light it can calculate the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to create a “perfectly exposed” image. I put perfectly exposed in quotes because it is what the camera believes to be perfectly exposed not what you the photographer pictures in your mind. The little A camera mode is fully automatic, where the computer in your camera decides all three settings that make up exposure. The next three modes allow you to control one or two of the settings while the computer determines the others.
Program mode is basically ISO priority mode. It allows you to set the ISO and the computer inside your camera will then determine the aperture and shutter speed for a perfectly exposed image.
Shutter priority mode allows you to control both shutter speed and ISO, but you can set ISO to automatic if you just want to control the shutter speed. If you are taking photographs of fast-moving action in sports or wildlife photography, but you aren’t ready to go full manual, shutter priority may be a great place to start. I’ve used shutter priority when shooting vlogs before, since I know I want my shutter speed to be double my frame rate, shutter priority mode lets me set that and the camera figures out the rest of the exposure puzzle, which is really helping when you’re in constantly changing lighting conditions.
Like shutter priority mode, aperture priority mode allows you to set the aperture and ISO. This could be useful if you’re taking portraits outside and you know you want a blurry background, so you set your aperture to the lowest f stop and let the camera decide what shutter speed is necessary to properly expose the image. This could also be useful in real estate photography where you want the focus to be sharp throughout the image so you’ll choose an f stop of 6.3 or 8 then let the camera decide what the shutter speed and ISO need to be.
Manual mode is just that, it allows you to set all of your camera settings manually. How to shoot in manual mode on your camera is what all new photographers want to know. You can understand the theory behind each aspect of exposure and still take underwhelming photos, or you can just put your camera in manual mode and start experimenting. I only use manual mode for my photos, and while I miss a shot from time to time because my settings are off, I enjoy the creative freedoms that having control over all of the different exposure settings allows me.
Bulb mode is probably the least used mode on our cameras. Bulb mode allows you to set the aperture and ISO, then the shutter opens when you press the shutter release and closes when you press it again. Bulb mode is good for long exposure situations when you want to take photos of the milky way or get the really cool star trail effect.
Some cameras have additional camera modes where you can customize settings for quick access in certain situations. I use one of these for slow-mo video on my camera, but they can be used for any variety of different situations.
The first step to learning how to shoot in manual mode is understanding how exposure works in photography. Exposure is a balance between three different variables: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. There isn’t just one correct way to expose an image, you can use these variables creatively to achieve the look that you’re going for, but understanding how each one works is an important step in effectively using those creative options.
The aperture is the hole in the front of the lens that determines how much light reaches the sensor. Aperture is typically measured in f-stops and the lower the f-stop number, the more light that reaches your camera’s sensor. The more light that is able to reach the sensor also determines how blurry the foreground and background will be in the image. This is why most portrait photographers use 50 mm and 85 mm lenses that are capable of shooting at f1.2, so their subject is in focus and the background is really blurry. These lenses that are capable of shooting at f -stops lower than f2.8 are commonly called “fast lenses”. Landscape photographers, on the other hand, don’t tend to worry about fast lenses unless their taking photos of the milky way because they’ll shoot at f12 or f16 to ensure the entire landscape is in focus.
Shutter speed is the amount of time your sensor is exposed to the light coming through the lens. Most modern cameras are capable of shooting with shutter speeds from as long as 30 seconds to as short as 1/1000th of a second. When learning how to shoot in manual mode changing the shutter speed is probably the quickest way to change the exposure. You can use shutter speed to control exposure by letting light hit your camera’s sensor for a longer or shorter period of time. Shutter speed can be used creatively by using it to either blur your moving subject by using a slower shutter speed or freeze your moving subject using a faster shutter speed.
The final piece of the puzzle in how to shoot in manual mode is ISO. ISO is your camera sensor’s sensitivity. Most modern cameras go from 100 to over 12000, but as you increase ISO, you also increase digital noise in your photos, so a good rule of thumb is to try and keep ISO as low as possible while still exposing the image properly. Modern cameras typically will still produce great images at ISOs as high as 1000.
The possibilities are endless now that you know how exposure works in photography. Get creative to use that knowledge to change the way you approach a shot. Think about how a different shutter speed might affect the image, or creative uses for a more or less blurry foreground and background by changing the aperture. Hopefully, this post helped you understand what the three different variables in exposure do and how you can creatively use them to improve your photography. I’ll be posting a YouTube video very shortly showing you how the different camera modes affect the end result, so head over to YouTube and click subscribe so you don’t miss it!