A la mode

I’m always encouraging budding photographers to learn how to use their cameras in manual exposure mode. With the exception of when I use my cellphone or a point-and-shoot camera, I always shoot manually. with my digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera.

I know it can be daunting for someone starting out to figure how to shoot manually. Its much easier to pick an automatic setting and go. Learning the aperture scale can be counterintuitive and confusing: the larger numbers correspond to smaller aperture openings while the smaller numbers represent the larger ones. But learning how to set your exposure manually can not only give you creative control of your camera, it can also help you use the automatic settings more effectively as well.

Three things to consider with exposure are known as the exposure triangle: Shutter speed, aperture and ISO.


Shutter speed controls the speed at which the shutter falls. A faster speed can stop the motion of a moving person or object. It can also help eliminate fuzzy pictures due to a shaky camera.




Aperture controls the amount of light coming through the lens It also controls the depth of field, or the amount of what’s in focus, of the picture.

ISO controls the camera’s light sensitivity. The higher the sensitivity, the darker scenes and situations you can photograph in. But with the increase in ISO comes an increase in visual noise in the photo.

Program mode is probably the mode that most people use when they first get a DSLR camera. It sets both shutter and aperture for you. Most camera’s algorithms will average the exposure the overall scene. Sometimes that’s a good exposure but sometimes a the better exposure for a scene is a little over or under from that average. Think of taking the bus somewhere. It may take you precisely where you want to go, but most likely it will get you close but not to your exact destination.

The next two modes are more like taking a cab or Uber. They may get you where you want to go but they may or may not take the best or quickest route there.


Shutter priority allows you to pick the shutter speed while the camera sets the aperture. This mode is good for photographing sports where you have to stop the motion. A fast shutter speed can freeze the movement of a race car or football player. The opposite is also possible. Using longer time-exposures are essential for night photography.

Aperture priority is just the opposite of previous mode. You pick the aperture while the shutter speed is handled by the camera. This mode is good for when you need a lot of depth of field such as when shooting a landscape. on the other end there is a technique called selective focus. It uses wider apertures and a shallow depth of field that brings more attention to what is in focus in your picture.

Greater control of your camera should be the goal of any photographer, beginner or advanced, who wants to step up their game. Total manual exposure will give you that control, but shutter and aperture priority modes can be the first steps to that goal.

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