Shooting in Manual Modes

The photography conditions are not too bad… the engineered intelligence on your camera is making decisions about all sorts of settings while you point and shoot. While the photos are coming out great, some curiousity arises: Who takes more of the credit for those masterpieces? You or the camera?  Automatic mode is cheating, but it’s ok because it sucks. Ok, that’s a bit too harsh. Seriously though, shooting in only automatic mode with today’s advanced cameras will probably work a great deal of the time, the problem is when automatic mode doesn’t cut it.

Learning manual shooting modes will be a great asset when taking photographs where the automatic mode doesn’t know what kind of shot you are looking for. Automatic mode doesn’t know when you want to do something creative. Getting a photograph with soft flowing waterfalls, selectively freezing action or nearly any shot that you say to yourself, “This would be really cool if I could…” will likely not become a reality using the Auto mode. The best summary is probably simply that control of the camera depends on the photographer’s ability to manipulate it in manual mode. If you’re not truly controlling the camera then you get whatever you get.

Once familiar with selecting settings offered by a manual mode it will be much easier to just get the camera to capture what you desire, and will be able to do it on the first shot. Most cameras offer different shooting options such as: portrait, landscape, close-up, sports, night and more which still automatically configure the aperture and shutter speeds but now the camera has a better idea of what you are trying to shoot. Those are a nice feature to have away from the full-automatic mode, but the modes found on some cameras, usually SLR style cameras, which are known as the creative modes are where the real settings are. These manual modes are labeled as P, Tv, Av, M and A-Dep.

The P mode, or Program AE, allows the photographer to set the AE (automatic exposure) which is really a fancy way of saying the camera chooses the optimum aperture and shutter speeds, just like in an automatic mode. The difference is that using this P mode, now more options such as continuous shooting, ISO, white-balance and more are now accessible.

With the Tv mode the photographer has control over the shutter speed. In this mode the aperture will still be set by the camera’s calculations on what will help achieve the best exposure. Setting this will now allow for photographs where action is frozen or long exposures, so this is a very dynamic mode full of many great opportunities.

Now with the Av mode we have control over the aperture. While the photographer now has control over how large or small the aperature is, the ability to adjust the shutter speed is lost. Adjusting the aperture can make a difference greatly on how fast a shutter speed can be used to get a good exposure. Aperture also has an effect upon the dept of field.

Manual is the control to rule them all in my book. This is the true manual mode which allows access to everything. Like the other manual modes, ISO, metering, white-balance and more are available, but the real deal is that shutter speed and aperture are both adjustable in this mode. With both the shutter speed and the aperture in the hands of a photographer any setup can be attained.

The final mode is the A-Dep mode which works by once the depth of field has been determined when taking a photograph the camera then figures out the proper shutter and aperture settings to attain the image. This mode seems like an automatic mode but does need some special attention to setting the depth of field.

There’s just a quick overview of what the different modes are and what they each do. Once comfortable with setting up the camera it will feel strange to ever go back to an automatic mode, where you cannot change the camera for yourself. Remember to explore the different shutter speeds and apertures to find that perfect exposure, and good luck with each shot taken.


In the world of photography there are millions of different things to think about when shooting any subject. There is the consideration of the tools for the job and their endless settings that will be tweaked, the lighting conditions, locations to capture the scene, and more than I’ll probably ever think to list need to happen before the bytes begin to transfer onto the memory card (assuming we are all shooting digital now). These are all very important but just as important as all of that is the way our photographs are composed.

Quite a while back I heard someone talking about the difference between a photograph and taking snap shots; How photographs are carefully thought out works of art, while snap shots are casual, without all of that methodic thought a photograph requires. All of the preparation and detail to how an image is captured shows a great deal of professionalism and always produces greater results than when you head out the door without a plan, clicking away in fully automatic mode.

Take the time when it’s available to place items in an organized manner, move the model’s hair into place, or find an interesting angle that gives a new perspective. There are many ways to improve the quality of a photograph by just thinking of it as an art. Before photography, when portraits  and landscapes were painted those skilled artists went by the principles of design remembering unity, balance, emphasis, contrast and everything else that goes with creating good visual pieces. They would not paint something with distracting poles in the subjects way or people’s limbs randomly cut off at the edges, so when composing a photograph it’s best if issues like those can be avoided. And when a perfect picture is burdened with a distracting element, photoshop is more than happy to help rectify the problem.

Since nearly all of the traditional art’s design concepts can translate to photography is stands to reason that two rules of composition are very popular in the photography world. These two rules are “The Rule of Thirds” and “The Golden Section Rule”. The rules work by dividing the frame into sections from verticle and horizontal lines. Where these lines intersect is where the subject should be photographed. Using these rules usually are a sure fire way to take interesting photos, much better than everything being focused at the center of the picture.

The Rule of Thirds describes itself well, because it works by dividing the frame into thirds vertically and horizontally to create the intersection points. These points are further towards the edges than with the Golden Section Rule, so I find that this layout can assist in creating movement in the composition. The Golden Section Rule is much more complex. It is much like the Rule of Thirds with how there are four lines dividing the image into nine sections with the intersection as the places geniuses throughout the ages have realised are where we humans naturally find visually comforting. This rule makes the intersections like the Rule of Thirds but they are closer to the center of the picture. Here’s a link to wikipedia’s page about the Golden Section Rule if you’d like to tackle understanding how exactly it works: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio.

In this digital age where film has nearly become a thing of the past it is easy to take tons of photographs and hope for some good ones, but just even a few minutes of looking at the subject’s position and layout as well as remembering the artistic details and rules will help transform snap shots into aimed well composed photographs that will impress everyone.