Switching from auto mode to manual mode is one of the most important but also daunting steps of becoming a professional photographer. Mastering your settings and being able to adjust them during a shoot can seem impossible when you first start out, but with a basic understanding of the three main components:
ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, you can switch from auto to manual with ease!
First off let's talk about what the heck ISO stands for?
ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization. The range is different for every camera, but typically it ranges from 100 to 1600. Let's keep this as simple as possible.
Lower numbers 100-500 = Brighter situations
(Shooting outside in daylight, cloudy days, indoors, spotlights)
Higher numbers 800-1600 = Darker situations
(Shooting at nighttime, street lamp lighting, dim indoor lighting)
The higher you set the ISO, you risk losing the quality of your image due to the grain that will accumulate from raising it up into the 1000s. I will typically stay around 100-200 ISO when I am shooting in the evening time outside with my clients. The only time I go above 200 is when the lighting source is dim due to being inside or the sun is setting during a shoot. If I am shooting at blue hour (after the sun has set but before dark) I will kick my ISO up to 600-800.
Now moving on to aperture, in simple terms it simply means a hole or opening in which light travels through. Which is exactly what it is. Your aperture controls how much light you let in when you snap the picture. It affects how blurry or sharp you want the background to be behind your subject! It can range from 1.2-22. When you are shooting at 1.2 you can achieve those really creamy, blurry backgrounds with lots of bokeh. The higher you raise your aperture, the sharper your background becomes. While bokeh and a blurry background can make a beautiful image and really emphasize your subject, as you lower your aperture you risk your subject falling out of focus as well. For this reason, I typically keep my aperture around 1.8-2.8. Aperture is definitely one of the most creative settings you will work with, so set it to whatever you like best! I also set my aperture first before any of my other settings and typically won’t adjust or change it unless absolutely necessary due to lighting changes.
Last but not least is shutter speed! I decided to put this one last to end on an easy one. Shutter speed is really quite simple, it controls how light or dark you want the exposure of your image to be. In technical terms, your shutter speed is the length of time your shutter on your camera remains open and exposes your sensor to light. Shutter speed can also be used to freeze your subject when you are shooting events such as sports.
I personally change my shutter speed continuously throughout a shoot. Like I said above, think of it as a way to balance your lighting. Your shutter speed can range from 1/4000th of a second all the way up to 30 secs depending on your camera. A good rule of thumb with shutter speed is to make sure the number never falls below the number of the lens you are using. If you are shooting with a 35mm lens, try to keep your shutter speed above 1/35th of a second. Ultimately your shutter speed number is something you will have to play around with as you shoot. The higher the shutter speed number = the more in focus and “frozen” in time your subject becomes. When you drop your shutter speed down to ¼-1/10th of a second, you will realize your subject becomes blurry as they move. As the sun goes behind clouds or pops out, your lighting will change and therefore you'll have to adjust your shutter speed to properly expose your image.
Alright, that's it, all the basics you need to know before making the switch!
The only way to truly understand and master manual mode is by getting out there and practicing. So what are you waiting for? GO SHOOT!