A New Feature: Photo Friday//The Basics of Manual Mode

Happy Friday everyone! I hope those of you here in the US had a wonderful day full of relaxation and Thanksgiving left overs...and managed to avoid Black Friday lines/stampedes! (Speaking of which, Take a look at this cool info-graphic some friends made last year about Black Friday. Check out the sales happening at local/small businesses, or take a look in my DIY archives for presents you could make yourself instead!)

I have had a wonderful week at home (perks of working in a public school!) - I surprised my mom for her birthday, attended her big 50th birthday bash, had a yummy thanksgiving dinner with family and friends at Taylor's house, and finally finished and submitted my first grad school app (woo hoo!). Of course, all of this meant no time for blogging. Oh well! I'm back today with a new feature! This is going to be a bi-weekly feature to help me (and hopefully you as well!) improve my photography!

Here's the plan: Every other Friday I will choose an area of photography to learn about and focus on over the following two weeks. I will start with basics, like how the heck to use the manual setting/what all the numbers mean, and then move on to things like how to take good photos in different types of lighting, or how to take flattering portrait photos (some of the posts might be specific to a DSLR camera, but others could be used to improve your photography using any type of camera - even your phone). I know nothing about photography, so I won’t be writing my own tutorials. I will just be sharing my notes and links to the resources and information I find online or through books. I figure this will be a chance for us to learn together! I hope that these posts will be a forum for us to share information – if you know anything about photography or have some input on a particular technique, I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments. 

In each post I will share a few photos I took using the new techniques I’m learning...So the posts will also be a way for me to share some personal photos. If others are interested in joining along and linking up each week with the photos you took using your new skills, that would also be great! - Just leave a link to your post/photos in the comments.

Also, if any of you talented photographers (or non-photographer bloggers who still take amazing photos) out there would like to contribute to this feature, let me know! It would be really cool to have occasional posts with original content from photographers themselves who actually know what they’re talking about.
Ok, so, here is the first topic for this feature: how the heck to use manual mode.

This is something I have learned half heartedly in the past, but the info never really sunk in. Every photography blog I have read says that learning to use manual is the first step to getting great photos with your SLR...so I figured it's a great place to start! (Sorry to readers without SLRs, future posts in this feature will apply to you, I promise!)

This post explains the different modes on your DSLR: Besides Automatic, there is also usually Aperture Priority Mode, Shutter Priority Mode, Program Mode, and Manual. Today we're talking about Manual (although some of this will definitely help you out with other modes!). For those of you who also use a Nikon DSLR, this post tells you a little about how to adjust each of the elements discussed below in Manual.

To understand how to use Manual Mode, you need to understand the 3 main elements that influence exposure:

-Shutter Speed: This is how fast your camera captures an image. The number you set it at will depend on how fast/slow whatever you are capturing is moving, how much light you want let in, and how much movement you want to capture. Here are some general points of reference:
1/2: Slow shutter speed, could be used to blur slow moving water
1/4: Pan people walking 
1/30: Pan sports/cars
1/125: Standard setting
1/1000: Sports
1/4000: Freeze very fast objects

Read this post for a more in depth overview of shutter speed (this also tells you about panning, if this isn't a familiar term).

-Aperture: This is how wide the hole in your lens opens to let in light. It is measured in "f stops" (f/1.8, f/5.6, etc). A larger aperture lets in more light and makes your depth of field smaller. The tricky part is that a larger aperture is represented by a smaller number (for example f/1.8) while a smaller aperture (less light and larger depth of field) is a larger number (such as f/22). Confusing, huh? Here's a little more information about aperture.

-ISO: This is how sensitive your camera is to light. A high ISO number means your camera will be very sensitive to light, but also very grainy. So, unless you are going for a grainy look you want to keep your ISO on the lower side if you can. Read this for more info.

Here is a little cheat sheet I found to help you remember the basics of each:
(If anyone knows the original source for this, let me know! Pinterest didn't have one)

Now, let's talk about bringing all of these elements together. This post is great and gives an example of how to go about adjusting each setting depending on the conditions you're in. You need to think about what you want to emphasize, how wide you want your depth of field to be, what the light conditions are, etc. If you decide you want to have the subject of your photo be very crisp, but have a blurry background, make your aperture wider (so put it on a smaller number). This means more light will be let in, so you can use a faster shutter speed...I have already started working on this and it is really just a lot of playing around and figuring out what works, once you know the basics.

I hope this post is helpful for some of you! I would love to hear any feedback or see links to tutorials that have been helpful to you in the comments. I will be back in two weeks with some photos and the next topic! 


  1. Hey Ella, what a great post! I'm a total novice and a big girl camera is on my Christmas list. Do you have any suggestions for which camera I should choose?
    -Lauren@ glimpseofgutierrez.wordpress.com

    1. Hi Lauren! I have the D5100 and I love it! It is a great camera for a beginner, but is advanced enough that it leaves you a bit of room to grow. The other cameras I was considering were the D3200 and D3100 which are both just a step down. I know quite a few people who have both and they love them (including a few people who know much more about photography than I do). I did tons of research before buying and it seems like in terms of brand Nikon and Canon are the 2 best and there is really no significant difference between the two...some people are Canon people and some are Nikon! Hope that's helpful! Thanks for reading :)

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I am getting a DSLR for graduation, and while I have shot with them before for school projects, I can't wait to have one of my very own to play around with and really get to know. Definitely going to be book marking these tutorials and posts!

  3. I just got the Nikon 3200 (with a great Black Friday deal!) I'm just getting started...looking forward to more tips!