Getting Out of Auto Mode

Photography is an art form and being such, you can either be the artist or allow your camera to be the artist.

In this article, we’re going to give you some tips to show you how to take full control of your digital camera, so you can be the true artist you were meant to be.  So, without further ado, let’s begin.

Don’t be scared.

See that round dial on your camera?  Turn it to “M” or manual mode.  You just took the first step on your journey to becoming the artist controlling your camera.

Next, familiarize yourself with 3 basic settings.  They are Shutter Speed, Aperture (F-Stop) and ISO.  Let’s break each one down.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is also referred to as exposure time.  It’s the length of time the sensor inside your camera is exposed to light, when taking a photograph. The amount of light that reaches your sensor is dependent upon the shutter speed you choose.  To adjust shutter speed, turn the dial on your camera, usually found near the big dial you used to select “Manual Mode.”

A slower shutter speed will allow more light to hit your camera sensor.  Thus, using a slow shutter speed in the evening or at times when there’s little light, may help ensure your images are bright enough.  But keep in mind, slower shutter speeds can result in blurry images, especially when your subject is in motion.  A good rule of thumb when shooting portraits (without a tripod) is to go no slower than your lens’ focal length.  So, if you’re using a 50mm lens, go no slower than a 1/50 shutter speed; a 200mm lens, go no slower than 1/200 shutter speed and so on.

Aperture (F-Stop)

Aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels.  In the human eye, the pupil acts as the aperture.  Try looking at a lamp with your eye wide open.  Now, look at that same lamp while squinting.  See the difference?  In photography, a lower number aperture will allow your camera to “see” more light while a bigger number aperture will diminish the amount of light it “sees.”

Aperture in photography also manipulates the depth of field in your images.  Many photographers use fast lens (or lenses that allow them to use small aperture numbers, such as 1.4 or 1.8).  When focusing on a subject, while using a small aperture number, the depth of field is manipulated, making the background extremely blurry while keeping just the subject sharp and in focus.  On the contrary, using bigger aperture numbers, the photographer can manipulate how sharp and in-focus the background and foreground appear.

Using lower aperture numbers often helps photographers capture a brighter scene, especially in low-light conditions.  But, they must be cautious to adjust their aperture in a way that does not cause objects to unintentionally become blurry or out-of-focus.

To adjust aperture, most cameras include a dial that is either part of the shutter speed dial or near it.  You may need to press and hold a button while adjusting it.  All cameras are different, so check yours out to see.


ISO manipulates how sensitive your camera sensor is to light.  So, the lower ISO setting, the less sensitive the sensor is, and the higher the setting, the more sensitive it is.

Photographers adjust the ISO settings on their camera depending on the time of day and how much ambient light is around them.  Often, these settings range in numbers from 100-1600 with some high-end cameras offering up to 204,800.

So, a wedding photographer inside of a dimly-lit church, without using flash, may need to use an ISO of 800 or 1600 in order to get a good exposure whereas a nature photographer during a morning sunrise may only need to use an ISO of 100 or 200 in order to achieve a great exposure.  It all comes down to personal taste.

Most cameras offer ISO adjustments via the menu button.  Once in your camera’s menu, search for ISO settings and adjust from there.  Some cameras even offer a stand-alone button to adjust ISO, via your camera body.  Every camera is different, so consult your owner’s manual to see.

Now, that you know the three basic settings of Manual Mode, practice using them simultaneously until adjusting them becomes second nature.  By mastering ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture, you will have graduated from allowing the camera to guess what settings to use in Auto Mode to telling it, yourself, what to use in Manual Mode.

In essence, your pictures will reflect more of your unique personality and creativity.  You will enjoy more freedom when creating the art we all know as “photography.”

By Justin Waybright, owner Waybright Photography