Category: Aperture Priority

What is Manual Mode?

What is Manual Mode?

What is manual mode?What is Manual Mode?

In the third part of this series we take a look at What is Manual Mode to make the final step towards creating better photos.

By now you should have read my previous articles about Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority and realise that the camera in your hands is far more capable of creating wonderful images using these modes.  I would like to explain What is Manual Mode and encourage you to experiment with your photography.

Many people (myself included a few years ago) assume that the Auto setting on the dial is the best mode for their camera; this is designed by the manufacturers so why mess with it?

There are many situations that as a photographer you will find yourself in that calls for creativity, the lighting may not be so great, you may only want a very shallow depth of field or to make a portrait stand out want wonderful bokeh in the background.  Auto mode will struggle to do these effectively.

Using either Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority will improve your skills to create your photo in challenging circumstances but understanding and using the Manual mode will, with time and practise, produce photos that are unique, crafted by you.

Down to the nitty gritty then – What is Manual Mode?

What is Manual Mode?

By turning the dial to Manual, you are now taking control of the camera settings.  By this, you will now be responsible for setting the shutter speed, F-stop (aperture) and ISO.

The ISO is something we have not really touched on before.  This sets the amount of grain or ‘noise’ in an image.  The lower the ISO equates to maximum clarity.  However, you may want to create an antiqued effect image, with lots of ‘speckles’ or grain.  For this effect you would select a high value of 1600+.  Also, with using a higher ISO, you are then able to take photos in low light conditions without the need for artificial lighting.

So, with Auto firmly switched off you are going to have to think about the following:

  • What kind of photo do I want to create?
  • What do I see?
  • What are the lighting conditions?

I would recommend that you get into the habit of setting your camera as follows in Manual mode:

  • Shutter speed 1/125
  • Aperture F8
  • ISO – 100

What is Manual Mode?

This is a good base to start from.  The shutter speed can be increased or decreased depending on the subject matter and the aperture depends on what Depth of Field you are aiming for.  The ISO can then be set dependent on the values used for shutter and aperture and type of photo you are visualising.

What is Manual Mode?

It is a good idea to get into the habit of checking your camera’s settings before you take photos, as you may have forgotten to change a value when you last used it.  I have done this one or two times and have been very disappointed when I realised this.

What is Manual Mode?

Looking through the viewfinder at the camera’s display, by pressing the shutter release half way you should get a visual indicator to show what exposure you have with the settings.  The plus symbol or the bar being too far to the right means too bright, over exposed.  Highlights will be blown out.  Too far to the left or the minus symbol means not enough light, under exposed.  Shadows will have little detail.

What is Manual Mode?
Image through the viewfinder of my Olympus E400. The value of -4.3 indicates under exposed, too dark for the correct exposure.

You then are able to adjust the shutter, aperture and ISO to correct the exposure value.  A lot of photographers also refer to the camera’s built-in histogram, which indicates whether an image is not balanced.  However this is not appropriate all of the time, but is a good guide.  The histogram can be found by referring to your camera manual and can be used to examine an image that you have taken.

I learned a valuable lesson from the photography course I completed a few years ago.  To better understand my camera, I took 3 photos, 1 deliberately under exposed, one over exposed and one at the correct exposure value.  Using Adobe Photoshop Elements, I was tasked with trying to then pull the photos back, learning what my camera’s capabilities are.  I now know how far I am able to push my camera before the image is unusable.

As you become more confident and accomplished with your camera you will not even realise you are running through a mental checklist, you will start to be able to select the correct values in your camera to take carefully crafted photos in your own unique style.

What is Manual Mode?
Views of Snowdonia.

Thanks for reading this, I hope that this article inspires you to try taking photos manually.  Please feel free to leave any comments below about your experiences.

Happy clicking!





What is Aperture Priority

What is Aperture Priority and Why Should I Use it?

What is Aperture PriorityWhat is Aperture Priority? Have you ever looked at the mode dial on the top of your D-SLR and wondered what the other settings are outside of auto?  Within this series of introductions I hope to help you on a voyage of discovery.

What is Aperture Priority?

Quite simply put, within this mode, the aperture that the camera is adjusted to is the primary setting, the camera will then calculate the shutter speed and ISO.

I’m still unsure – what is Aperture Priority!

Fair enough – took me a while to get my head around the settings and how they work!

The aperture of the camera can be likened to the pupil of the eye.  Ever noticed that in very shadowy, dark environments, the pupils of the eye dilate, growing bigger, but in very bright conditions they contract into a very small dot in the middle of the iris?

This is due to the amount of light that is being passed through the eye to the brain, making sense of the world around us.  The body needs to stay safe, therefore if the ambient light is very poor, the pupils dilate to allow as much light in as possible to ensure you don’t trip over any unseen hazard.

Aperture numbers also work backward, the larger the number, the smaller the aperture.  Typically, aperture values range from F2.8 (large opening) through to F22 (very narrow).

Ok, I get that, but how does this explain what is Aperture Priority?

The camera needs to see in the same way as the human eye, to make sense of the world around, the sensor of the camera needs a specific amount of light to capture the image.

However, Aperture Priority (AP) allows you to set the aperture to meet the various conditions that you encounter in your travels, allowing you to create your unique image in your style.

In AP, the camera will then determine the shutter speed and ISO value to create the image.  You should be aware that this may result in a very slow shutter speed being achieved.  It is recommended that for any shutter speed below 1/60th that the camera is mounted on a tripod to avoid camera shake and disappointment.

Aperture is also very important in creating stunning images due to the Depth of Field.  Like the pupil of the eye, the larger the aperture (F1.4), things in the distance are going to be out of focus, blurred, but the foreground to be pin sharp.  Great for close up portrait shots.What is Aperture Priority and why I should use it

As you can see in the portrait snap of our cat, Alfie, his face is in focus, the eye on the left being the point of focus, his body and the background are out of focus.  This was taken using a Sigma lens with an aperture value of F1.4, matching Alfie’s pupils!

Working with a very small aperture (F22) the foreground will remain in focus as well as any objects in the distance.  Great for landscape photos.

It is also worth noting that dependent on your camera’s capabilities, in AP mode, a high ISO value may result in a very grainy, noisy photo.  Whilst this may be appropriate for some photos, a portrait of a new born baby which is grainy probably wouldn’t be the right subject.

A lot of photographers recommend AP as their preferred method of taking photos, which I think is a great way of easing yourself away from auto, a gentle transition toward manual mode.

It is also the suggested setting for using the Lensbaby Optic Swap System taking some of the pressure off learning to create beautiful, diverse images.  The Lensbaby system uses magnetic aperture discs which are simply dropped in front of the optic.

What is Aperture Priority and why should I use it

Due to the aperture discs, the automatic setting in the camera will not work, therefore you have to tell the camera what aperture you are working with, it then calculates every other setting as previously described

Some people (and everyone has their own opinion) would argue the point why bother?  Surely the Manufacturer’s Auto setting is more than up to the job?

Whilst they try their best to achieve great results in the auto mode, you will find as you become more confident within your photography that this has limitations, the image it captures doesn’t reflect what you saw.  This is where AP (and other modes) come into their own, allowing you to express your creativity.

In the day of 35mm SLR film cameras, the photographer crafted their photo, taking a light reading, ensuring the correct exposure for the shutter speed.  Using the dial on the top of the camera, you set the ISO to the value on the film canister and you created an image.

This is what I am hoping that you will do by taking your first step away from auto and discovering what is Aperture Priority.

Happy clicking!


Lensbaby Composer – Edge 80 Optic

Lensbaby Composer –  Edge 80 Optic is a little different from the others in the optic swap system as it does not require the separate aperture discs supplied with other Lensbaby Optics.  This, doubled with the tilt-shift effect makes it a very good lens to start your collection with as you will build up your confidence with this in no time at all.

The aperture is controlled on the lens, via the built in aperture blades.  This differs from other Lensbaby optics as they have separate aperture discs that you insert.  There are 12 sturdy aperture blades in the Edge 80, from F2.8 to F22 giving a very workable range for the depth of field.

Robin – Olympus E400 and Lensbaby Composer with Edge 80 Optic. The focal plane is straight, no tilt and close focus used.

The Edge 80 is a very straightforward lens to work with. It has the additional feature of a close focus lens, which is activated by pulling the ring at the front away from the camera.  This adjusts the focal point as it has moved the lens further away from the sensor.  This can be utilised as a ‘zoom’ lens or, for best effect, a close up or macro lens.  This works best with the tilt angle set to zero, or to maximum of 19º.

Used in conjunction with the Lensbaby Composer, the Edge 80 works very much the same as a traditional lens if the focal plane is in line with the camera.  However, if you unlock the Composer and adjust the angle to up or down, left or right, you then achieve the ‘slice’.  This gives a very narrow depth of field, blurring the background of the image.   With the right subject matter, the image takes on a new perspective; miniaturised, a diorama.

Waterfall, Olympus E400 and Lensbaby Composer with Edge 80 Optic. Note that the focal plane is tilted, giving the ‘diorama effect’.

Focusing is as always, via the focusing ring on the Lensbaby Composer, which moves the optics in the lens away or toward the camera.  As stated before, it is very important to adjust the diopter or viewfinder in manual mode (there is an adjustment knob or lever beside the diopter) as this will affect your ability to get the subject in focus.

Due to the nature of the Edge 80, it is a more expensive lens within the Lensbaby range, however good quality used lenses can be sourced via reputable internet marketplace sellers, such as Amazon, Ebay, Gumtree and online camera retailers.  The build quality is very robust and this optic will last you for many years to come.

Happy Clicking!