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How to Use The Exposure Triangle to Improve Your Photography

Do you want to learn how to shoot in manual mode? Click here to get the exposure triangle basics of photography to take your pictures to the next level. #exposuretriangle #manualmode #photography #blogging

Learning to shoot in manual mode can be very overwhelming and frustrating to new photographers. There is so much to think about when you are taking the picture.

When I was first beginning, I felt like I was always forgetting something or doing something wrong. But now that I have been shooting with my DSLR in manual mode for several years, it has gotten to be second nature.

Today we are going to discuss the exposure triangle and how it can help you get great photos in manual mode.

What is the exposure triangle?

The exposure triangle is the intersection of the three parts of exposure: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. The balance of these three things gets you perfect exposure in manual mode on your DSLR.

Aperture

Aperture is the F-stop number on your lens. This number controls the depth of field (the part of the photo that is in focus) in your photo.

A smaller number means the lens lets in more light, which makes for a brighter picture with less in focus. This is called shooting wide open (usually between a 1.6 to a 5.6 f-stop number) or with a shallow focus. Your focal point will be in focus, but everything in front or behind it will be blurry.

Do you want to learn how to shoot in manual mode? Click here to get the exposure triangle basics of photography to take your pictures to the next level. #exposuretriangle #manualmode #photography #blogging

Many people use a shallow depth of field for portraits or macro shots, where they want to have a blurry background or lots of bokeh, as in the photo above.

A larger number means the lens lets in less light, which makes for a darker picture with more of the photo in focus. This is called stopping down (usually between f 11 to f22 (or 32 depending on your camera) or with deep focus. The bigger the number, the more of your picture will be in focus.

Do you want to learn how to shoot in manual mode? Click here to get the exposure triangle basics of photography to take your pictures to the next level. #exposuretriangle #manualmode #photography #blogging

People usually choose a large depth of field for landscape photography where they want every detail, from the front to the back of the photo, in focus. In this railroad picture, I wanted the tracks in focus and the mountains in the background.

To learn more about aperture, check out this post —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Aperture Basics.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is how fast the shutter moves when taking the photo. The slower the shutter moves, the more light that is able to get in. This makes for a brighter photo.

Do you want to learn how to shoot in manual mode? Click here to get the exposure triangle basics of photography to take your pictures to the next level. #exposuretriangle #manualmode #photography #blogging

Fast shutter speed ( 1/200 and up) is used on sports photography to stop the motion. It can also be used to stop any motion in a picture, but it will make the photo darker if you don’t adjust the other elements of exposure. In the photo above, I had to use a faster shutter speed because the deer were fighting and constantly moving. I wanted to make sure they weren’t blurry.

Do you want to learn how to shoot in manual mode? Click here to get the exposure triangle basics of photography to take your pictures to the next level. #exposuretriangle #manualmode #photography #blogging

Slow shutter speed (1/160 or less) is used to blur motion or low light situations. It can be used to make creamy water in a waterfall or river and can bring more light into your photo. You will usually need to use a tripod if you go with a slow shutter speed. This photo of Rainbow Bridge National Monument is taken with a slow shutter speed because the light wasn’t very good and there was nothing moving in the picture.

To learn more about shutter speed, check out this post —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Shutter Speed Basics.

ISO

ISO refers to how sensitive the sensor of your camera is to the light.

Do you want to learn how to shoot in manual mode? Click here to get the exposure triangle basics of photography to take your pictures to the next level. #exposuretriangle #manualmode #photography #blogging

Most people want to shoot with as low ISO as possible. This allows for the best quality of photo with the least amount of noise. If it is bright outside, like the fall photo above, then it is easy to use a low ISO.

But in order to make a photo brighter, you may need to increase your ISO. Most modern DSLR cameras start at 50 or 100 ISO and shoot without noise up to 1600 to 2000 or even higher.

Do you want to learn how to shoot in manual mode? Click here to get the exposure triangle basics of photography to take your pictures to the next level. #exposuretriangle #manualmode #photography #blogging

If you need to use a higher ISO in low light conditions, you may need to use post processing noise reduction to eliminate graininess in your photo. In this photo at Mesa Verde National Park, I had to use a high ISO to get enough light to take the photo.

To learn more about ISO, check out this post —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: ISO Basics.

How to adjust to get the right balance:

Anytime you adjust one of these three parts of exposure, if affects the others. Therefore, you have to balance all three to make a proper exposure.

  1. Start with ISO. Choose the lowest number that you think you can get away with: 50 or 100 is ideal but if you have less light you might need to go higher.
  2. Choose your aperture. Do you want everything in focus or just your subject with a blurry background?
  3. Pick your shutter speed. Do you need to stop motion or make it blurry?
  4. Adjust to balance all three. If you want a high f-stop or a fast shutter speed, you will have to increase your ISO to make the numbers work.

Ease into manual:

If all of this seems too overwhelming, you might want to start with one at a time. How do you do that? Pick a priority mode to practice with first.

  • Aperture priority-In this setting, you pick the ISO (or put it on auto) and aperture for your photo and the camera will pick the shutter speed. This can help you focus just on depth of field and not worry about the other things. Just know that if you choose a larger number, the shutter speed will decrease which means you may need a tripod to make the shot or your subject will need to be very still.
  • Shutter priority-In this setting, you pick the ISO (or put it on auto) and the shutter speed for your photo and the camera will pick the aperture. Now you can just choose the shutter speed appropriate for your subject and not worry about the other things. Again, if you choose a slow shutter speed, the ISO may increase or your aperture may get smaller to make up the difference in light. This may make your photos noisy or less in focus.

Action Steps

  1. Analyze your photo and decide what look you are going for: freeze motion, blurry background, etc.
  2. Choose your settings according to the 4 steps above.
  3. Keep adjusting your settings anytime the light or your subject changes to get proper exposure.

As I said above, fully understanding these settings and how to use them to make a great photograph will take some time. There are references below to help you get more information on this topic. But if you want to be a great photographer, you need to know how to shoot in manual mode. If you don’t understand some of the photography terminology above, check out this post for 30 Basic Photography Terms You Should Know.

[clickToTweet tweet=”See how to nail the exposure triangle basics of photography to take your pictures to the next level. ” quote=”See how to nail the exposure triangle basics of photography to take your pictures to the next level. “]

As with any skill, just keep practicing and manual mode will become second nature over time. It will be so worth it when you can have full control over your photographs. The better you can get it in camera, the less time you will have to spend editing later.

References

Cheatsheet: 3 Elements of Exposure @ Digital Photography School

Photography Guide to Mastering Aperture, ISO & Shutter Speed @ Dam Photo

The Exposure Triangle Explained @ Clickin Moms Blog

The Exposure Triangle Explained in 3 Animated Videos @ Peta Pixel

exposure triangle pin

Do you have any tips on learning the exposure triangle? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

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10 Steps to Manual Mode: Bracketing Basics

man in plaid shirt taking a picture

This is the last part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this tenth part of the series, we are going to talk about bracketing.

What is Bracketing?

Bracketing involves taking multiple images of the same scene, usually in 1/3, 1/2, or full-stop increments, to create a choice of exposure options.

How do we use it to take better photos?

When you add bracketing in your camera, you increase your likelihood that you will get the proper exposure on your photo.

To use bracketing, you stand very still and hold down the shutter for 3 photos that are taken one right after the other.

So you will end up with 3 exposures of the same photo. One will be the exposure you set, one will be darker and the third one will be lighter.

Look at the photos below:

These pictures were taken one right after the other with bracketing set to 1.0.

These are straight from the RAW file, so there is no editing, sharpening or anything.

But look at the light in each photo.

a river in the wilderness

The first photo is shot with what I thought was proper exposure. Since it was bright outside, I decided to use bracketing to get several exposures, just in case.

a river in the wilderness

The second is a darker version of the same photo.

a river in the wilderness

The third is brighter than the first photo. The highlights are definitely blown here, so it is too bright.

You can see that if I had chosen the wrong exposure for the first photo, the second or third photo would have been a better option to save the exposure.

3 Tricks to Bracketing:

  1. Learn when to use it-You won’t need to use bracketing all the time, just when you are unsure of the exposure. If it is really bright outside and it is hard to see the back of the camera, you might want to use it as insurance to make sure you got the shot.
  2. Stand very still to get the same exact picture-To properly compare the 3 photos, you should stand exactly in the same spot and take the same picture so you can choose from identical scenes.
  3. Learn how to use it for HDR photography-If you have a scene that could benefit from multiple exposures, check out the link below to try weave the exposures together in an HDR shot.

Bracketing is a trick you can use when your first start shooting in manual mode to help you get the perfect exposure every time.

It will add more pictures to your memory card and workflow, but it will be worth it to help you nail the shot you want.

Bracketing for HDR:

You can use bracketing to produce a high dynamic resolution (HDR) image.

I am not going to go into great detail in this post, because HDR is an advanced photography skill. I enjoy using it when I have great variation from light to dark in a photo and I want to get the whole range.

A good example is when you are standing inside a building, and you want a photo that properly exposes things inside the room and outside the window. This can’t be done with just one exposure.

So you can use bracketing to take 3 exposures of the same scene and then put them together in Lightroom or Photoshop for a more dynamic photo.

But you have to do it right, with subtlety, or it will look like a digital drawing instead of a real life image.

To find out more about HDR, go here: A Beginners Guide to HDR Photography @ Digital Photography School

Action Steps:

  1. Learn how to set up bracketing on your camera.
  2. Practice using bracketing to get the proper exposure in difficult situations.
  3. Analyze your photos in post processing. Are you picking the right exposure or are you always choosing the lighter or darker photo?

This is the last post in the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

I hope this series has given you actionable to tips to increase your knowledge and confidence while shooting in manual mode.

Shooting in manual mode helps you become a better photographer by allowing you to communicate the vision in your head to the camera. It allows you more control over your images and gives you more leeway to take pictures in less than ideal situations.

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Do you use bracketing when you shoot manual? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks!

10 Steps to Manual Mode: RAW vs. Jpeg

a woman taking a picture of a man

This is the ninth part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this part of the series, we are going to talk about RAW vs. Jpeg.

couple taking pictures as tourist

What is a RAW file?

Many pro and semi-pro digital cameras include the option for capturing RAW files, which—unlike JPEGs, TIFFs, and other file formats—contain all of the data captured during the exposure in an unedited format. When processed, RAW files can be adjusted far more extensively than images captured in other imaging formats, and can be saved as JPEGs, TIFFs, etc. The original RAW file remains unaltered and can be reprocessed at any time for other purposes.

Pros of shooting in RAW:

  1.  All the data is saved from your camera without changes. When a jpeg file is made, color corrections, sharpening and compression all occur to make that file. In a RAW file, data is captured with no alterations, so you have the original file you can save and rework for years to come.
  2. There is more to work with for post processing. With RAW files, you have the most data to work with for editing. You are starting from scratch and you can make the photo into the best version possible. That allows you to bring back under or over exposed images easier than you can with jpeg.

Cons of shooting in RAW:

  1. It takes up more room on your memory card and your computer. RAW files are bigger, and therefore take more room on your memory card and hard drive than a jpeg file would. This could be a problem if you don’t adjust your workflow with more memory available.
  2. It has to be edited. If you are planning on taking pictures and then giving them to someone without editing, you want to use a jpeg file. But since most amateur and professional photographers do at least some editing before they show people their photos, this is not a big deal.

How do we use it to take better photos?

  • More data means it is easier to bring back some things that are lost if a picture is over or underexposed.
  • It also gives you more creative license to change a photo in post processing.
  • Edited RAW files seem to be more rich in color and sharpness than normal jpeg files.

Action Steps:

  1. Evaluate the pros and cons above to see if shooting RAW is right for you.
  2. Find in your camera settings the place to switch to RAW.
  3. Try out the advanced editing you can do with a RAW image.

This is the ninth lesson of ten that will be coming in the next 2 weeks.

Next week we will talk about bracketing and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Bracketing Basics.

Shooting RAW is not for everyone. It isn’t a requirement for a good photo. But I think it makes the photography process more fun because it gives you more creative license with your photos to make them into exactly what your vision is when you take it. And to me, that is worth a little more space on your memory card.

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Do you shoot in RAW? Please let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

10 Steps to Manual Mode: Focus Basics

lady bug on a leaf

This is the fifth part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this fifth part of the series, we are going to talk about focus basics.

landscape photo of canyonlands national park

What is Focus?

Focus can be a complicated terminology about how your camera and lens work to make something clear in your picture.

But for this post, I am going to make it a simple definition: when something is in focus in your photo it is clear and defined.

Making your subject in focus in your photos is key to a great photograph.

What does focal plane mean?

Definition: the plane that is perpendicular to the axis of a lens or mirror and passes through the focal point.

In normal words, the focal plane is the range of space where everything will be in focus depending on your depth of field.

If you are shooting wide open (small f-stop number), your depth of field is going to be smaller.

If you are shooting stopped down (large f-stop number), your depth of field is going to be bigger.

The vertical plane your subject is in is the focal plane.

So if 3 people are standing side by side, they are more likely to be in focus, even at a small f-stop.

But as soon as one person takes a step forward or back, they will be out of focus. How out of focus depends on the depth of field for that aperture number.

Choosing Your Focal Point:

Most camera brands do things a little different, but the idea is the same.

DSLR cameras have focus points you can use to choose where you want your sharpest point to be in your picture.

They may be dots or squares or something else, but they work the same.

When you take pictures with a point and shoot, most of the time the focus is dead center in the picture. You snap a shot and everything is in focus.

When you are shooting in manual mode (which I hope you are!), you should choose your focus every time. Your focal point will probably not be dead center (think rule of thirds), so you shouldn’t just automatically focus there.

The fancier and more expensive your camera, the more focal points it offers.

little boy eyelashes

4 Focus Modes on Your Camera:

  1. Auto Focus- In this mode, the camera finds and chooses the focus to use. If you are going thru the work of shooting in manual mode, you don’t want to use this mode. You want to find the focus on your own.
  2. Single Focus- In this mode, the camera focuses when you press half way down on the shutter, and by the time you finish pressing all the way down, the camera takes the picture. This is the mode you want to use when your subject is still because it doesn’t use as much battery.
  3. Continuous Focus- In this mode, the camera continues to find focus all the way up to the instant that you snap the picture. This is good for action pictures when your subject is constantly moving. But the constant refocusing can take up more battery than the single focus option.
  4. Manual Focus- If you use manual focus, you are using your hand to turn the lens to focus your subject. This is how it was done in the “old days” and how many professional photographers still focus. It takes a lot of practice to learn to focus manually, but you can focus things better this way. Especially if you are trying to focus on a subject in the dark (night photography) or on a busy background.

How do we use focus to take better photos?

For this post, we are going to assume that focus means getting a sharp image where you want it to be sharp.

That doesn’t usually mean the whole image, but where you put the focus dot of your camera on the point you want sharp when you take the photo.

So if you use f/2 to take a photo of a person, you would focus on their eye (you almost always want the eye in sharp focus) and then the rest of the photo will be in varying degrees of blurriness depending on how far away it is from the eye (this blurriness is called bokeh).

little boy looking at the camera with blue eyes

Back Button Focus:

Back button focus is a setting you can add to your camera to allow you to set your focal point with each photo more easily. It is kinda technical, but once your set it and get used to using it, you’ll never go back. No more of this focusing, then recomposing a shot!

Here is an awesome tutorial that tells you all about why you should use back button focus and how to set it on your camera—> Back Button Focus Explained @ Cole’s Classroom.

3 Tricks to Get Proper Focus Every Time:

  1. Do not let the camera pick the focal point. Use the focal points available in your camera to choose where your photo should be the sharpest.
  2. If you are focusing on a face, always put your focal point on that person’s eye. If the eye is out of focus, it makes the whole shot look bad.
  3. If you are shooting a landscape shot that you want to be all sharp, focus half way thru the photo (distance wise) to get a larger depth of field.

Action Steps:

  1. Choose the focus mode that is right for you.
  2. Set up your camera for back button focus and learn how to use it.
  3. Practice moving focal points around in your camera to find the right focus.

This is the fifth lesson of ten that will be coming in the next few weeks.

Next week we will talk about light metering and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Light Metering Basics.

Focus is a key element in photography. If your shots are out of focus, you are going to look like an amateur no matter how well you do other things. It takes some time to learn how to focus properly and get a sharp shot.

Moving targets (like kids and animals) are even harder to get in focus. For that you might want to use a high shutter speed and continuous focus.

As with anything else, just keep practicing on focus and it will get easier. I hope this tutorial has helped you know understand the focus basics and where to start.

What tricks do you use to get better focus for your photography? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this tutorial helpful, please share. Thanks!

10 Steps to Manual Mode: Aperture Basics

close up of chipmunk eating something

This is the fourth part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this fourth part of the series, we are going to focus on aperture.

Aperture is one of three parts of the Exposure Triangle that is very important when understanding photography.

I discuss the basics of the Exposure Triangle in this post—> Exposure Triangle Basics for Shooting in Manual Mode

What is Aperture?

Aperture is the F-stop number on your lens. This number controls the depth of field (the part of the photo that is in focus) in your photo.

a squirrel in a tree eating something

A smaller number means the lens lets in more light, which makes for a brighter picture with less in focus. This is called shooting wide open (usually between a 1.6 to a 5.6 f-stop number) or with a shallow focus. Your focal point will be in focus, but everything in front or behind it will be blurry. In the shot above, the squirrel and the adjacent branches are in focus, but everything else is blurry.

cowboy on a horse with his dogs in a green meadow

A larger number means the lens lets in less light, which makes for a darker picture with more of the photo in focus. This is called stopping down (usually between f 11 to f22 (or 32 depending on your camera) or with deep focus. The bigger the number, the more of your picture will be in focus.

In the photo above, I wanted all of the photo in focus so you could get a better perspective of the context of the cowboy and his dogs in the forest, not just the cowboy himself.

How do we use it to take better photos?

close up of chipmunk eating something

Shooting wide open (smaller aperture number) is called a shallow depth of field. Many people use a shallow depth of field for portraits or macro shots, where they want to have a blurry background or lots of bokeh, as in the photo above.

Shooting stopped down (larger aperture number) is called large depth of field. People usually choose a large depth of field for landscape photography where they want every detail, from the front to the back of the photo, in focus.

How does aperture effect the exposure triangle?

Anytime you adjust one of the three parts of the exposure triangle (Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed), you will most likely have to adjust the others as well to get the proper exposure.

If you shoot wide open, you are letting more light into your photo. Therefore, you may need to increase the shutter speed to make sure the photo isn’t too bright. You can also more likely shoot with a small ISO.

If you shoot stopped down, you are letting less light into your photo. Therefore, you may need to decrease the shutter speed (by taking a long exposure with a tripod) to increase the light in the photo. You may have to increase your ISO as well.

How does proximity to your subject effect aperture?

The closer you are to the subject, the more pronounced aperture is.

In other words, if you are far away from your subject (lets say a you are taking a photo of a barn in the distance in a landscape shot) you could use F8 and get most of the photo in focus.

If you are very close to your subject (an ant on a leaf) you could use F8 and most of the photo would be out of focus.

This is an advanced perspective of aperture, but I wanted to make you aware of this phenomenon.

Using aperture to portray your vision:

Let’s take a look at a series of photos and how aperture played a role in how the landscape was portrayed.

cattails by a lake with aspens in the background

In the first photo, I use a stopped down aperture to get not only the cattails in focus, but the aspen trees behind it in focus too.

cattails by a lake

In this photo, I am almost standing in the same spot, but the photo looks different because I opened up the aperture a little more to get the cattails in focus but the aspens are blurry.

cattails by water

In this third photo, you can’t see the aspens at all. You can’t see anything in the background, only the individual cattails, which are now the focus of the photo.

In this case, I was in the same location shooting with 3 different apertures and I came home with 3 very different photos.

Using aperture to tell the story:

You can also use aperture to tell different parts of the same story. These 3 photos came from a birthday photo shoot I did several years ago with my middle son on a mini golf course.

boy in green shirt laying in mini golf course

Here is an overall shot of him on the golf course. I’m not sure the aperture here, but I would guess f11 because most everything is in focus except the buildings in the very far background. This gives context to where the shoot was and that he enjoys playing mini golf.

boy in green shirt sitting in a mini golf course

This second picture is closer up on him. This was probably an f5.6 or f8 (not sure exactly) because he is in focus but the background is out of focus. You can still tell we are at the mini golf course, but I use aperture to focus more on him and this cute smile (pre braces) and his personality.

boy in green shirt holding an orange golf ball

This last photo was just a cute way to show that we were playing mini golf by concentrating on the golf ball with him in the background. It shows how little is hands were then (he is 15 now and bigger than me!) and the texture of the ball. This would have been shot at a wide open aperture (as low as this lens would go) which was probably an f4 or f2.

Using aperture to help tell your story is a great way to make your photography stand out. You don’t need to use the same aperture for every shot. Play around with it and make it work for you and your story.

3 Tricks to Choose The Right Aperture:

  1. Think about and evaluate your vision of the photo. Do you want the entire photo in focus, or just your subject? If you want just your subject in focus, use a low aperture. If you want the entire photo in focus, use a high aperture.
  2. Practice with the aperture to see how low you can go on certain subjects without being too blurry. When you are first starting out, you might not want to go as low as your lens will go with aperture. It is harder to keep what you want in focus at the lowest numbers.
  3. Make sure when using a low aperture that the subjects you want in focus are on the same plane directly across from you. If you shoot at a diagonal or your subjects are different distances from you, you won’t be able to get them all in focus at a low aperture.

Action Steps:

  1. Test your lens to see how high and low it goes with aperture.
  2. Try using different apertures on different subjects to see how it effects the whole picture.
  3. Try getting bokeh (blurred out part of a photo) with a subject by focusing on one subject with a low aperture.

This is the fourth lesson of ten that will be coming in the next few weeks.

Next week we will talk about focus and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Focus Basics.

Aperture was the hardest part of the exposure triangle for me to learn as a new photographer. It can be a big part of your photography style once you know how to use it.

Don’t just shoot wide open because others are doing it. Try different kinds of apertures on different subjects to see what works best for your vision. Finding your personal style is a big part of photography and I think it is the fun part too! Good luck!

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What is your favorite aperture to shoot with? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

10 Steps to Manual Mode: Shutter Speed Basics

snow boarder flying thru the air

This is the third part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this third part of the series, we are going to focus on Shutter Speed.

Shutter speed is one of three parts of the Exposure Triangle that is very important when understanding photography.

I discuss the basics of the Exposure Triangle in this post—> Exposure Triangle Basics for Shooting in Manual Mode

fireworks in the night sky

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is how fast the shutter moves when taking the photo.

The slower the shutter moves, the more light that is able to get in. This makes for a brighter photo.

How do we use it to take better photos?

Fast shutter speed ( 1/200 and up) is used on sports photography to stop the motion. If you are photographing birds in flight, your child sliding into home plate or any thing else where you want to freeze time, you are going to need a fast shutter speed.

Slow shutter speed (1/160 or less) is used to blur motion or low light situations. It can be used to make creamy water in a waterfall or river and can bring more light into your photo.

You will usually need to use a tripod if you go with a slow shutter speed. You might also want a slow shutter speed to make light trails such as star trails or car light trails on a highway.

How does shutter speed affect the exposure triangle?

The higher the shutter speed, the less light that is let into the photo. So if you crank up your shutter speed, you are going to have to increase your ISO, decrease your aperture or both.

The lower the shutter speed, the more light that is let into the photo. So if you use a slow shutter speed, you can use a larger depth of field (aperture) or lower ISO.

I find I can hand hold my camera at about 1/60th of a second and get a clear picture. Anything lower than that and I need a tripod. Everyone is different, so if you plan on using a lower shutter speed, make sure you don’t have blur on your photos.

A Tale of Two Waterfalls:

Water is a great example of how you can use shutter speed to make a much different vision of the same subject.

a waterfall in the sunshine

Above is a waterfall taken with a fast shutter speed. The water is choppy because it is stopped in motion.

soft, smooth waterfall

Here is a waterfall taken with a slow shutter speed. The water is smooth and it flows together. It also makes the photo a little darker than I would normally like.

I like the look of the smooth, flowy water personally, but it is up to the photographer to make that choice by using shutter speed to bring about his/her vision.

3 Tips to Choosing the Correct Shutter Speed:

  1. Test your skills to see how low you can go on shutter speed without a tripod. This will be your baseline when thinking about low shutter speed.
  2. Use a tripod (and wireless release) for really low shutter speed. In these extreme cases, even pushing the shutter button can effect the camera and make your photo blurry.
  3. Blur isn’t always a bad thing. It can signify motion and make water silky smooth. Using shutter speed to complete your artistic vision is one way you can stand out from the crowd.

Action Steps:

  1. Test your shakiness. Test out different shutter speeds to see at what point you need a tripod because your handheld shots are too blurry.
  2. Experiment. Try out different photos with low and high shutter speed to see how changing the shutter speed can effect the vision of your photo.
  3. Get a good tripod. Using a very low shutter speed will require you to use a tripod to get a clear shot.

This is the third lesson of ten that will be coming in the next few weeks.

Next week we will talk about aperture and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Aperture Basics.

Learning shutter speed and how to use it properly will make a big difference in your photography. Whether it is star trails, silky smooth waterfalls or catching a hummingbird in flight, shutter speed can make your photos stand out from the rest. So take the time to learn this setting and how to use it to your advantage in your photography.

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How do you use shutter speed to make you photos unique? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

10 Steps to Manual Mode: ISO Basics

young girl taking photos of a flowering tree with a DSLR camera

This is the second part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this second part of the series, we are going to focus on ISO.

ISO is one of three parts of the Exposure Triangle that is very important when understanding photography.

I discuss the basics of the Exposure Triangle in this post—> Exposure Triangle Basics for Shooting in Manual Mode

What is ISO?

ISO refers to how sensitive the sensor of your camera is to the light.

Most people want to shoot with as low ISO as possible. This allows for the best quality of photo with the least amount of noise. If you are shooting on a sunny day outside, then it is easy to use a low ISO.

But if you don’t have a lot of light, you may need to increase your ISO. Don’t sacrifice the quality of a photo just because you don’t want to change the ISO number.

How do we use it to take better photos?

ISO controls the amount of light you let into your photograph.

So in order to use ISO at it’s best, you want to use the lowest number possible for ISO without sacrificing the quality of your picture.

You should experiment with your camera to see how far you can push the ISO before the picture starts to get grainy. This will be different for every camera.

For my camera (because it is an older model), the realistic ISO number I don’t want to go past is 1600.

But for newer cameras, some of them can handle 3600 or higher without noise. It just depends. The software is getting better every year.

Let’s take this photo above as an example. It is straight out of the camera. That means there is no editing, straightening, sharpening or noise reduction. This is taken inside my kitchen with no window nearby (there is a sliding glass door in the next room that is open to the kitchen).

I want to show you my thought process as I figure out what setting work best. The settings are at the top of each photo:

Photo #1: 

In this photo, I have my ISO at as low as it can go: 100. But as you can see, it isn’t bright enough and by hand holding it at 1/6th of a second, it isn’t super clear.

Photo #2:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

So with this one, I doubled the ISO to 200 but increased the shutter speed to 1/50th of a second. This makes the words a little clearer but the photo is still too dark.

Photo #3:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

On this photo, I increased the ISO to 500 and the shutter speed to 1/80th of a second. The words are clear, but the photo is still too dark.

Photo #4:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

Here I increased the ISO, but kept the other settings the same. Still too dark.

Photo #5:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

I doubled the ISO again here and it looks great! This might be a keeper!

Photo #6:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

In this last photo, I doubled the ISO again with not much difference, except I introduced more noise. That’s not what I want!

Introduction of Noise:

Noise is grainy or spottiness in your photo from the camera not having enough light to take the photo. You can tell the difference in these 2 photos. Noise usually starts in the shadows and if you keep pushing it it will cover the whole photo.

ISO 1600:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

There is a small amount of noise in this photo, but it isn’t too noticeable. Don’t forget that these are SOOC, which means I haven’t used any noise reduction software here.

ISO 3200:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

You can definitely notice more noise in this photo and we haven’t added much more light in contrast to the one above.

So the winner of these photos is photo #5: ISO 1600 Aperture 5.0 SS 1/80. Of course I could have introduced more light to the situation to decrease the ISO, but I wanted to show you the difference in settings on this photo.

How does ISO affect the exposure triangle?

Start with your lowest number ISO on your camera (usually 50 or 100).

Then set your aperture and shutter speed for the shot you want to get.

Then come back to ISO if you need to and bump it up to get the amount of light you need in the picture.

3 Tricks to Keep Your ISO low:

  1. Use a low shutter speed- If movement isn’t part of the vision for your photograph, use a tripod to stabilize your camera. This will allow you to let more light in the shot by lowering the shutter speed.
  2. Add in more light- Are you shooting indoors? See if you can shoot by a window or other light source to add more light to the shot without raising the ISO.
  3. Use a wider aperture- Still need more light? Decrease your aperture number to allow more light in the shot as well.

ISO is one of the 3 parts of the exposure triangle and it is crucial that you know how to use it properly to make a well exposed photo. By keeping the number as low as possible for the amount of light you have, you can take a photo that is well lit but not noisy or grainy. This is the key to using ISO properly.

Action Steps:

  1. Use the lowest ISO possible for your lighting situation.
  2. Test your camera to see how high you can push the ISO without introducing noise or grain into the photo.
  3. Try to get it right in camera: It is better to use a higher ISO in camera than to try to bump up exposure later in post processing.

This is the second lesson of ten that will be coming in the next 2 months.

Next week we will talk about shutter speed and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: ISO Basics.

Shooting in manual mode on your DSLR is important for every amateur photographer to learn. Knowing how to balance the 3 parts of the exposure triangle (including ISO) is the key to doing it right.

It will take many hours of practice before you get it right, but it will be worth the trouble, I promise!

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What is the ISO your camera goes up to before it introduces noise? Let us know in the comments below. And if this post was helpful, please share. Thanks!

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10 Steps to Manual Mode: Holding Your Camera

a man taking a photo with a DSLR camera

Over the next two months, every Monday I will be teaching a new step to learning manual mode on your DSLR.

If you are wondering why shooting in manual mode is such a big deal, check out this post—> 6 Reasons Why You Should Learn Manual Mode in Photography

This first week may seem basic and boring, but it is very important.

Knowing how to hold your camera and use it properly can make a big difference when learning how to shoot in manual mode.

How do I hold my camera properly?

When holding a DSLR camera, you want to make sure it is secure and stable.

You need to use both hands, one on each side of the camera.

Keep you elbows in and your feet steady.

Lean against a wall or other steady object if needed to further stabilize yourself.

When you are holding the camera, you are the tripod. You want to keep your camera as still as possible so you don’t add hand shaking motion to the photograph.

This may seem trivial, but it will be very important to how clear and clean your photos come out.

Especially when you start using manual mode to take pictures with low shutter speed or wide open aperture. You will need a steady hand (or tripod) to make them the clearest they can be.

man taking a picture with a monopod and DSLR camera

How do I look thru my camera to take a picture?

A DSLR is not an iPhone. You do not hold it out in front of you to take a picture. You DO NOT use the screen on the back to look at your picture while taking it.

When taking a picture with a DSLR, you put your face up to the viewfinder and look in the hole.

Why do we do this?

When you look through the viewfinder, you are eliminating the other distractions around you.

This helps you focus on what you are shooting. It helps you see things in the photo that shouldn’t be there.

Maybe it is a tree branch sticking out of someones head or a rogue toy laying on the floor.

By looking in the viewfinder, you can find these distractions and remove them before you take the picture.

This helps speed up your workflow later and increases the quality of the straight out of camera shot.

So just pretend like the digital screen is not there when taking the picture and look thru the viewfinder the old fashioned way.

Why am I even talking about these things?

Don’t these things go without saying?

No, not really. These days, everyone is used to taking pictures with their phones.

With the phone, you have to look at the screen to take the picture.

It can take some getting used to to go back to the “old school” way of looking thru the camera viewfinder.

And, with a phone, you are in auto mode. This means that the camera uses a faster shutter speed for less camera shake.

Just doing these 2 things will make a difference when shooting in manual mode.

Action Steps:

  1. Hold your camera steady with both hands and feet firmly planted on the ground.
  2. Use a wall or chair to hold yourself in place if needed.
  3. Look thru the viewfinder, not digital display, when taking a photo.

This is the first lesson of ten that will be coming in the next 2 months.

Next week we will talk about ISO and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: ISO Basics.

So stick with me and we will work out the ins and outs of shooting in manual mode together.

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What would you like to learn about shooting in manual mode? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

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6 Reasons Why You Should Learn Manual Mode in Photography

a fall scene around an lake in the mountains

It has been about 6 years since I taught myself how to shoot in manual mode on my first DSLR.

I struggled for a couple of years after that before I felt like I really had it down.

Now it is like second nature to me, but for awhile I thought I would NEVER get there.

I would read tons of tutorials, watch videos and even took a couple of classes before I learned it.

Why would I spend all of that time and energy learning this skill?

I wanted to. . .

  1. be a professional photographer
  2. learn how to use my new camera to its fullest
  3. be able to take control of my photos
  4. learn to take pictures of people with blurry backgrounds
  5. learn to use the light I had without the flash
  6. be able to shoot in RAW to edit however I wanted

Couldn’t I do all of these things with a smart phone?

Then, no. I had a flip phone back then and the pictures were TERRIBLE.

Now, maybe. My iPhone 8Plus takes pretty good pictures.

But a iPhone doesn’t replace a DSLR. I discussed my opinion on the subject in this post—> 6 Reasons the DSLR Isn’t Dead (From an iPhone User)

And if you want to use your DSLR to the fullest, you need to get out of auto mode and move over to manual.

So let’s break this idea down to see just exactly how manual mode can help me achieve this list above.

6 Reasons Why You Should Learn Manual Mode

To Take Control of Your Exposure

a fall scene around an lake in the mountains

A DSLR is a complicated tool with many functions. When you are shooting in auto mode, you are only scratching the surface of what this tool can do.

When you go into manual mode, you can control the exposure triangle (ISO, Shutterspeed and Depth of Field). These are key components to any photograph. You don’t want the computer to guess these things for you. You want to control them yourself for every photo.

I discuss more about the exposure triangle in this post—> Exposure Triangle Basics for Shooting in Manual Mode

I love this photo I took in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado on a fall afternoon. Because I chose my own settings, I was able to capture this beautiful day in all its glory.

To Take Control of Your Available Light

sunset in hawaii

When you are in auto mode, the camera uses the light available and determines if it is enough to take a proper picture. If it is dark outside or indoors, the camera will kick on the flash to boost the light.

But the on camera flash makes photos harsh and leaves dark shadows behind the subjects. It isn’t flattering at all. You want to avoid the on camera flash at all costs.

But by using the manual settings, you can use your available light to your advantage. This helps you produce a soft, manageable light that makes for great pictures.

Sunsets are almost impossible to capture properly in auto mode. I took this one on North Beach of Oahu, Hawaii a few years ago.

To Take Control of Your Focus

a close up shot of a boy with a green shirt on

Focus is a key element of a good photo. It draws in the viewer and lets them know what you think is the most important.

Now, obviously, you can nail focus in auto mode. But to really get the focus you want, you need to use Shutterspeed and Depth of Field to make it pop.

For instance, if you are taking a photo of a small lizard on the ground, you want to choose your focus carefully to make sure it can be seen among everything else going on in the photo. You could use a high shutter speed and small depth of field to isolate the lizard from the background and make it the subject. If you shoot in auto mode, everything would be in focus and your subject would be lost.

I took this picture of my son a few years ago (he is 15 now). I wanted to focus close up on his face just the way it was in that moment. I especially wanted to focus on his beautiful eyes, long eyelashes and cute freckles. I did this by using a wider aperture and letting everything in the background just fade away.

To Take Control of Your Vision

light trails in the city under the subway station

Anyone can pick up a point and shoot camera and take a photo. My kids do it all the time. But to really craft a piece of art, you need to have a vision.

That vision may include a subject with a blurry background, star trails in the night sky, or a silky smooth waterfall. All of these visions will need to have custom settings using manual mode to make them happen.

Once you learn manual mode, you will be able to consistently and thoughtfully be able to share your vision of the world around you through photography.

Vision in photography moves your photo from okay to awesome. It may even have people asking, “How did you do that?”

In the stock picture above, the photographer used their vision (and long exposure) to create the light trails of the city and subway system you see here. In auto mode, this would have looked just like a normal city street without the wow factor.

To Take Control of Motion

a silky smooth waterfall

Do you want to freeze time in your photo? Increase your shutter speed.

Do you want to shoot a light trail on a freeway full of cars? Decrease your shutter speed.

By evaluating how you want your photo to look and then changing your settings accordingly, you can take control of the motion in your photos.

The difference between a waterfall with choppy water or smooth water? Shutter speed. That is why you need to learn how to shoot in manual mode.

In this stock photo, the photographer used a long exposure to get the silky smooth water of the waterfall in motion.

To Take Control of Your Editing

an HDR shot of a green forest

Editing is the last step in making a good photo great.

You can’t save a terrible photo with editing. The picture needs to be fairly decent to start with, and editing in software like Lightroom or Photoshop can bring it to the next level.

This is where a DSLR comes in. You need to be shooting in RAW, not Jpeg. This gives you the ultimate control over your image. And while you can shoot in RAW in auto mode, the more you know about your camera settings, the more you can manipulate them in post processing to get the look you want.

In the stock photo above, the photographer used several RAW files and compiled them together for this HDR (high dynamic range) shot that could not have been shot with auto mode.

As you can see, shooting in manual mode is all about control. Controlling your camera so you can control your photo so you can control the final product. Auto mode will never give you that level of control of your photography.

Action Steps:

  1. Get a DSLR camera (even if you have an iPhone).
  2. Learn how to shoot in manual.
  3. Practice, practice, practice until it becomes second nature.

Are you lost on where to start with manual? We are going to be starting a series every other week for several months to help you learn all you need to know to make manual shooting part of your workflow.

Edited: I have a blog series about shooting in manual mode. If you want to find out more, start with this post —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Holding Your Camera.

Until then, what has been the hardest part of manual mode for you? Please let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

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