Taking photos in manual mode is like driving a synchronous car. It can be overwhelming at first: turn on, clutch, throttle, change gear, take off the gas, hit the clutch, change gear, start the car again because it was turned off in one of the steps above.
You have to pay attention to many things at the same time and you have to achieve synchrony between them so that the car moves. But, once you do, you have much more control of the vehicle and your experience in it. This is the case with the manual mode of your camera.
Hay tres factores que debes conocer del modo manual que te permitirán lograr imágenes mucho más interesantes y explorar posibilidades de creación más amplias.
Controlling them all at the same time might seem like a feat of quantum physics, but you will see that with these tips it will be much easier to put them into practice.
Here we go.
This first factor refers to the sensitivity of the sensor. Yes, it is redundant, but that is how we understand it better. In slightly more technical words, ISO is the number that indicates the ability of your camera’s sensor to capture light. Surely you have seen it on the screen of your digital camera, it usually looks like this:
Cuando tomas una foto, lo que estás capturando es la información de la luz, y el sensor de tu cámara se encarga de procesarla como una imagen. El ISO te permite controlar la cantidad de luz que el sensor recibe, mientras más alto el número que ves en tu pantalla, más luz está recibiendo el sensor.
La cosa funciona así: mientras más valor de ISO le des a tu foto, mayor cantidad de luz tendrá tu imagen. Si estás en una situación bien iluminada o con mucha luz, es recomendable mantener el ISO bajo, para evitar imágenes sobre expuestas o con ruido. Sí, ruido.
ISO allows you to find light in dark situations, but as we well know, nothing is free in life and everything has to maintain its cosmic balance; so raising the ISO so that your image has light, can have another consequence: noise.
This term refers to the pimples that we see in some photographs, and lately in many Instagram filters. In these photographs that I give you as an example, you can see it more clearly.
This first photograph that I took with ISO 1600 was left with a slight noise, perhaps not very apparent, but look at the close-up:
You can see on the edge of the library that the image is blurred, the limits are not so well defined, as if the photo were made up of small grains.
De manera que, en una situación con iluminación suficiente para que se vean los detalles de lo que quieres fotografiar, el ISO 100 mantiene la luz sin sacrificar la suavidad ni, si se quiere, la limpieza de la imagen. Si por el contrario estás en una situación menos iluminada o quieres jugar con la posibilidad de una foto granulada, ¡a subir el ISO!
Speed: light and movement
The second factor that interests us is speed. About what? Well, the shutter. To avoid going into very technical details, imagine that the shutter is like the blind that you activate when you press the button to take the photo, which allows – or prevents – light from passing to the sensor. If the blind opens and closes very quickly, there will be little light that the sensor receives. If, on the contrary, we leave the blind open for a few seconds, much more light will enter.
But let’s go in parts, the shutter speed usually looks like this on your camera screen:
Mientras menor sea el número que acompañe al 1 de esa fracción, más tiempo pasará la persiana abierta y, por ende, el sensor percibirá más luz y más movimiento. Las velocidades altas suelen ser más utilizadas, ya que congelan el momento con rapidez y reducen las posibilidades de que las fotos salgan movidas. Te preguntarás, “¿cómo puedo evitar el movimiento indeseado en una foto tomada con velocidad lenta?” Usando un trípode o ubicando la cámara en una superficie que la inmovilice.
Let’s go with some examples to see this more clearly:
So what happens if I speed up? You can check it here
In short, the shutter speed allows you to play with the movement in the image in many ways.
Si te interesa capturar una figura que se mueve (deportistas, gente caminando, objetos en el aire, etc) y que esta se vea enfocada, usa una velocidad rápida. Si quieres crear líneas con la trayectoria de la figura que se mueve (escribir con luces en la oscuridad, hacer efectos de barrido con carros de noche, etc), usa una velocidad más lenta que permita que el sensor convierta ese movimiento en una imagen; como en este ejemplo:
On long exposure images like this, I have a video tutorial that explains it step by step and that I recommend you watch;)
Insight: We have two of three factors, and if you’ve read this far, you might be wondering: “If the shutter opens and closes very quickly, how can I compensate for the entry of light so that the photo is not dark?”
That’s what we have the ISO for! At a higher shutter speed, you can use a higher ISO so that the sensor is prepared to receive more light, even though the shutter opens and closes super fast.
– Aperture / Depth of Field
The last of the factors that I am interested in having you control is the part of the camera that most closely resembles, at first glance, your own eye: the aperture of the diaphragm. How is it like your eye, you ask? The answer is the pupil. The diaphragm is responsible for focusing and blurring the image captured by the camera, and its information is usually represented on the screen as follows:
It is the only one of the values that we have seen so far in which less is more. Let me explain: the lower the number that accompanies the F on your screen, the more open the diaphragm will be. But how does this translate into a photo?
As I mentioned before, the diaphragm is the part of the lens – or objective – that focuses the image and affects the depth of field. Let’s see it more clearly in this example:
To take this portrait without losing the depth of field, which in short is how much or little the background is distinguished, I used the narrowest aperture that the lens allows (F22). The pupil of the camera is as closed as it can be, so it focuses much more (Yes, like your eye!).
Let’s try opening the diaphragm all that remains, to see what happens:
Have your pupils ever been dilated at the ophthalmologist? Do you remember what happens? Objects that are closer to you are easier to focus on, while those that are further away are out of sight. The same thing happens here. I used the smallest possible aperture for that lens, which is the widest (remember, less is more!); and the result is a shallow depth of field – the background is almost completely out of focus.
Recapping: if you want to achieve an out-of-focus background, open the diaphragm to all that it gives. If you want most shots to be in focus, close it. Think of the face you make when you try to focus something that is far away.
Insight: With all this information you can already deduce that the diaphragm not only focuses, but also allows or prevents light from passing through. So how do you get depth of field without making the photo dark? Correct! You compensate the entrance of light with the shutter speed or with the ISO, depending on the image you want to achieve.
Summary and tips!
With these three factors in mind and the graphics that I shared so you don’t forget the essentials of each one, you have more information to manually configure the image you want.
Here is another group of tips that will surely help you a lot:
- ISO for taking photos outdoors during the day: In principle, use ISO 100. With this value you don’t risk graining the photo and you don’t have to break your head calculating the light input.
- Moving body photos: When you use a slower shutter speed, you can’t just rely on your pulse. Support the camera on a static surface or use a tripod to avoid moving the photo!
- Depth of field: Playing with the aperture of the diaphragm can allow you more dramatic effects on the photo, but don’t forget about the light! Always look at your ISO and speed values.
I hope that this basic information is useful to you and above all, that it gives you the necessary push so that you can take full advantage of the manual mode of your camera.
Go ahead and drive your synchronous car, don’t let the camera do the work for you!