The Daily Focal Point

December 13, 2008

Where’s the manual?

Filed under: How to shoot manual — cabenelson @ 11:20 pm

I’m on a mission.

And my mission is to get anyone who has a Digital SLR camera or a regular camera OFF automatic mode and ON to using the manual side. Don’t think it’s worth it? Think it’s too complicated? Think again.

It’s super easy and you will notice a significant difference in your photos. If you’re currently shooting in manual mode please leave tips or suggestions in the comments field to help others!

When I focus on these tutorials, there is a lot of information and it can almost be too much to take in all at once. What I’m going to do is offer some tips and advice so that you can start to experiment with the manual mode. That’s the whole IDEA behind switching over to the manual side. EXPERIMENTATION!!! Goof around. Make mistakes. If you have no idea what you’re doing, GREAT! Your digital camera will provide to you instant results on your experiments. You’ll learn fast that if I do x I get a darker picture. If I turn it this way I get a lighter picture. It doesn’t matter what you’re taking a picture of, it could be a toilet for all you care. All you’ll be doing is experimenting with how the camera captures light.


What is ISO?
ISO speed is one of the most underrated items that can be adjusted on on a Digital SLR camera. ISO is the setting to adjsut how sensitive your camera is to light. For bright light situations, low ISO performs better. For low light situation, the higher the ISO speed should be set to make it more sensitive.

Remember how with film negatives you would buy certain film speeds depending on what you were taking a picture of? For instance, Kodak would have 100 Speed film for bright light situations, 800 for sports or fast situations, and 400 for indoor and general use. This is the SAME idea. You’re picture quality and image tones will look so much better using the correct ISO.

Why is it important?
So if low light situations calls for a increase in ISO speed it makes sense to CRANK up the ISO to make your pictures brighter right? Yes and no. Cranking up the ISO speed too high can make your image poor quality and grainy. The trick is finding the LOWEST ISO speed that still works for the shot, allowing you to capture your image still in good quality but still using the right sensitivity. All cameras that have an automatic mode have a light sensor on the camera. This sensor reads the light around what you’re taking a picture of and automatically sets ISO and other settings. ISO is too important to leave up to the camera to decide.

How do I adjust it on my Camera?
Everyone has a different camera here so I’m just going to post the two most popular cameras and instructions on how to set them.

Nikon (specifically the D60 but is the same idea for all D-models)

Canon (specifically the XSi)

I would suggest that everyone what the Nikon video as it gives you a bunch of good info on the ISO. The more you know about your camera the more your able to tweak with it to get the best shot. If you’re worried that it’s going to take a massive amount of time, it doesn’t and it makes a big difference. If it’s a picture where you’re afraid you’re going to completely miss the shot, it might not be the best time to fiddle with your camera.

Okay, now what?
Explore it! Take one photo with it at 100 the other at 800 and see the difference. I usually have mine set at 100 and will go up from there. I will typically not go past the 600’s as I will lose the quality in the picture.

Switching from automatic to manual boils down to being content or not. If you’re content with your pictures now and like how they turn out, then stay on automatic. If you’re not 100% content with your pictures and you feel like their is room from improvement or you feel like your pictures need more pop, you’re going to need to do a little extra work (not much at all) to set the manual side.

Well, I hope everyone learned something new! This is step 1 out of 3 to get you to understand and use your camera manually! See, I told you it was easy right?

I just want to get a feel for those shooting in automatic vs manual. Who is currently shooting their pictures using the manual modes? Who is shooting their pictures on automatic? Don’t be shy…



  1. Part of my photography class that I took this semester required that we shoot in manual. As for ISO I have yet to exceed 400. During the day when I take shots outside I usually use ISO 100, and as the day becomes night I will switch over to ISO 400. I also use the ISO 400 for my indoor shots. Manual isn’t difficult. Like Cabe said it’s all about practicing and getting comfortable with your camera. Another source that has helped me in the past is my camera manual. They seem a little intimidating but they really aren’t. Your manual will give you step by step instructions on how to use your manual settings.

    Comment by Stacy — December 14, 2008 @ 3:50 pm

  2. My Canon XTi has a max ISO setting of 1600. But I rarely set it above 400. I keep the ISO sset to 100 when using a tripod, I figure the exposure time will increase, and all I’m doing is just standing there waiting anyway.

    The histogram is a big help to determine if you underexposed or overexposed your image. Sometimes you need a faster (or slower) shutter speed than the camera thinks. This is why I shoot manual mode, so that I can override what the camera thinks is correct.

    Comment by Rob — December 14, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

  3. I’m now experimenting with night photography and not using the auto functions. I’m sure that it will take a while before I can put them on the internet but that’s the only way to learn.

    Comment by nana — December 15, 2008 @ 2:39 am

  4. I’m so out of my league here.I won’t tell you what ISO I was using. I have been brave enough this weekend to shoot in manual and really enjoyed it.

    The biggest thing I always worried about was missing the shot. The canon tutorial above was really helpful. I think I need to change my metering and to AI servo.

    Comment by Sheila @ — December 15, 2008 @ 3:38 am

  5. Hi, Cabe, I finally pulled out my DVD that explains my camera more fully and played it again, challenging myself to move beyond “program”. It’s a good thing I bought the DVD. The manual was written in “Greek”….Well, the DVD is almost “Greek” but a little simpler. I’m going to start experimenting again. Thanks for the encouragement to get away from automatic. It’s funny, when I had that little OM1 and could only use manual, I loved it.

    Comment by Gail — December 15, 2008 @ 10:25 am

  6. I’ve always shot in just auto mode, but this blog has been pushing me lately to want to get the *right* shot so I’ve been experimenting with the manual more 🙂 Thanks for the info, I really enjoy your blog and appreciate the advice. I love seeing everyone’s photos each week!

    Comment by Jaden — December 15, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

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