Photography - Beyond Auto Mode

Are you a photography enthusiast? Do you want to get more out of your camera? Are you thinking of a career in photography? Then knowing how to manually adjust your camera settings is a must.

My wife is a wedding photographer and I’ve been a hobby photographer for a number of years, so I’m often called upon to be a second shooter. Auto settings and variants like Shutter/Aperture Priority have served me well but there have also been many situations where I have had to go beyond auto modes. Hopefully this blog post will help you understand how and when to use these settings.

Ok, before we start let me say there is nothing wrong with full auto mode photography, if this mode gives you the photo’s you want then that’s great. Modern cameras do a great job in auto mode but if you want to be able to have more control and capture the moment just like you want to, then you need to go beyond auto.

To use manual mode, you need to understand three main camera settings and their relationship to each other.

Shutter speed: This is how fast your lens opens and shuts. If you’re taking a shot of a moving object and you want the subject to be frozen sharp, then you want a fast shutter speed. If you want to show the blur of a moving object, then you want a slower shutter speed.

Aperture: This is how deep and wide the sharpness is. If you’re taking a group shot and you want everyone in focus, you want a higher number setting (known as a f-stop). If you want to blur a background and make a single object pop, then you want a lower f-stop.

ISO: Basically this is how sensitive your camera is to light. If there is limited light and you need to brighten your shot the higher the ISO the brighter your image. The down side is a high ISO can often lead to a grainy image.

The trick to the above settings is to find the right balance to achieve the right exposure, to achieve the shot you want.

Pop Quiz

Give an example of how you could set up your manual settings for the following:

  1. You’re at a football match, it’s a beautiful sunny day, you want to freeze a player in action and you would like to blur the background.
  2. You’re at a wedding and there is beautiful ambient low light and you want to capture the bridal dance in this light.


  1. My main objective would be to get my shutter speed as fast as I can. There is plenty of light so first I would set my ISO at 100. I would like a blurred background so I set my aperture at approximately F2.8. Now I can set my shutter speed to as fast as I can until the exposure is right.
  2. This is tough because I need a slow shutter speed to allow enough light in but if I slow it down too much the movement of the bride and groom will blur the shot. The minimum shutter speed I like to use for this type of movement is 1/80, it’s not a wide or deep shot so I will set the aperture to as low as what my lens allows (F1.8), now I will set my ISO as low as I can until the exposure is right.

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