Using Manual mode.

Creative Photography with a seasoning of Mindfulness.

Using Manual mode.

Why you should never use Manual mode?
Huh? Is this about using or not using?

Every time you go out to capture images – whether you take a DSLR, a point and shoot camera or your smartphone – you carry with you an extremely complicated computer.
It allows you to be creative – when you understand TV mode and AV mode for example – while it adjusts the other parameters for you.
Most photographers choose between the two modes above depending on the situation.

While this post is concerned with learning to use manual mode, it is wasteful not to use the cameras capabilities in TV and AV mode.
This means you will normally not be using manual mode.

Two situations to use manual mode for;

  • When you become a professional (described as Expert) photographer, you will find situations where manual mode is the best way to get the results you want.
  • It is definitely worthwhile to get out and use manual mode – a few times a year – so that you completely understand the relationship between ISO (short for International Organization for Standardization), aperture and shutter speed.

Having said that, let us talk about f/stop.

The term f/stop originated from the good old days when lenses had a ring at the back where you chose the aperture, such as f5.6.
Did I forget to mention that the aperture is located in the lens and the shutter in the camera?
Shame on me! Whip me with a wet noodle.

At any rate, you may hear f/stop called EV step (exposure value).
Another name you may hear – most commonly when photographers talk to each other – is stop.
For example, “I think that image needs another stop of light.”
Translation; “make it brighter.”

Each of the three terms (f/stop, EV step and stop) mean: doubling the light or halving the light that gets to the image sensor (film).


To understand ISO let us go back to the days of film photography.
The photographer first had to choose between a roll – say 24 exposures – of black & white film, or color film.
Beyond that, he had to choose an ISO such as 100 for landscape images.
That ISO 100 film however will not do inside a dark castle.

Isn’t digital photography fantastic?
Today you need only change your ISO setting when going from bright to low light.

You want to use the lowest ISO possible.
My Canon goes as low as ISO 100 and I leave it at that unless it is necessary to jump up to 200 or higher. Usually only necessary when capturing in low-light without a flash.
Doubling the ISO setting on a digital camera doubles the energy sent to the image sensor, thereby doubling the sensitivity to light.

Exposure control

So what actually happens when you change the aperture or shutter speed? (AV or TV mode)
Your computer camera adjusts the one – or two – other parameters in order to keep the exposure in the area of right.

The settings aperture, shutter speed and ISO all work in harmony.
In manual mode, it is your responsibility to know what all three settings do in relationship to exposure.

Doubling the Light with one of these:

  • ISO higher. 100 -> 200
  • Shutter speed slower 250 -> 125
  • Aperture larger (smaller number) 8 -> 4

Sound complicated?
With practice, it becomes simple.

Let us up the stakes on complication. 🙂
Most cameras don’t deal “one to one” with stops.
If you look at your setting for AV you will see between 8 and 4 one or even two numbers between them;
5.6 is a half-stop between 8 and 4.
So it actually looks like this 4 -> 5.6 -> 8.

Take an aspirin and remember If you adjust one setting, you must compensate with another setting.

Practicing outdoors

Soon, you will go out to practice for yourself.
The best thing you can do outdoors; set the ISO to 100 and concentrate on the other two settings.
When you got that, try it all indoors. You may need to stop up your ISO.

You are there.
A Bee.
Manual mode.
You want a large aperture to get the background out of focus.
You choose aperture 4 and capture…white light!
You want a large aperture (4). Letting in more light.

You change the shutter speed to make the image darker!
You go from 125 to 250 and…Still to bright.

The bee is becoming impatient.
You want half as much light.

You change the shutter speed from 250 to 500 and…sigh.

Bee in manual mode

There it is.
You think Aaah! That’s what that crazy guy meant on Carpe Diem.


So the short – and long – of manual mode is this;
You decide first which setting you want to control. This means which setting should remain as it is.
Aperture or Shutter speed?
Then you correct the other setting.

Get out of the house now and be brave, there’s nothing to lose and knowledge to be gained.

Tell us about your Manual mode experience!


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