Friday, July 6, 2012

EASY WAYS/understand your digital camera in manual!

Hey everyone! It's Pam here today and I am going to be talking about learning how to use your camera in manual. Here is my background on my schooling and how it relates to to how I will go about explaining it to you. I got my degree in biology and I went to one year of Optometry School. I did well but my heart was not into it so I dropped out. Your SLR is very much like your eye.. did you know that? I am going to explain things in terms of your eyes that I think will help and I also created a few helpful rhymes! I have a digital Rebel T3 fyi. I am only going to talk about a few settings b/c I don't have as much experience with the others.

First of all don't be afraid to use your camera in manual mode. Even though all of those letters and numbers seem confusing, it all really makes sense when you understand it in a way that relates to you. The eye is an amazing design. You can control so many things without even knowing. You blink quickly and your pupil changes sizes all within very little time which makes seeing a great experience. So as you read my explanations, try to relate as much as possible to a camera. Also, here is a good sites for more technical terms and explanations of each setting:

Tv or Shutter Speed Mode
Imagine if you will you are watching someone running outside. Or go practice for a second. Now blink your eyes every half second. You well get snapshots of instant images (if you close your eyes, you will see black and white images on your eyelids -from your retina). Now stare at something for a few seconds and try not to move your head. You are really controlling your own shutter speed. Sounds weird huh? Blinking is shutter speed. Why is this important?? With a camera you may want to get those photos of sports, people running or for instance my dog, Ollie who is a Whippet. He can run at up to 35 miles per hour!! When you keep your eyes open for a few seconds you will be able to see the running water in a river.  So the higher the number the faster the blink, the more you want to use this for action shots. Low numbers can be excellent for things like capturing sparklers or fireworks since the lens can be set to blink very very slow.
Here is something I made up to remember it: Dial high in Tv when you are trying to catch Ollie.  

Here is photo example of a high Tv or Shutter Speed of my actual dog Ollie in action. He is probably going at least 15 MPH. I used the number 1/1800 (meaning way less than one second since it is 1 divided by 1800 seconds). That means that there is a lapse of a tiny fraction of second from when the shutter opens to it closes. I got a pretty good shot of him going "whippet fast".

Here is a photo of low Tv or Shutter Speed of me playing with sparklers. You will need a tripod for photos like this unless your body is made of some sort of material which allows you stand perfectly still ;). I used the setting of 2" for my photo (meaning I had two seconds to make a heart while the lens was open capturing everything).

Your camera will go from 1/4000 (or maybe higher) down to number 30" (the symbol " represents seconds). That means that you could possible keep that shutter open for 30 long seconds. Wow, huh? Try not to blink for 30 seconds. :)
Photo/site example of Tv and how it works.

Av Mode
I am not going to go into the technical terms of this. You may also want to note that Av is also called F-stop (please visit this site for more info). Today, I am just going to help you understand it (the only thing I will talk about is depth of field as it relates to Av). First I will talk about low Av numbers. Lowering the Av actually makes the size of the aperture (or think of your pupil) increase.  When you go to the eye doctor you might have gotten your eyes dilated. Eye doctors do this so they get your pupils really large and they can see in the back of the eye much easier than having to deal with small pupils (can you imagine trying to see through a tiny hole to the back of the eye, trust me, it's hard work). The doctor is essentially lowering the Av number of your eye. Also, when you are in the dark or low light your pupils will get larger. Why? To let as much light as possible to be able to see what is going on around you.
A large Av is related to small aperture (or small pupils). You also experience this. It is a bright, bright sunny day and you go outside. Your pupils are going to shut so small sometimes it may be a bit uncomfortable. Look in someone's eyes outside, you won't see much black, but you will see those pretty colors of the Iris. :)
Back to a large Av number or a large aperture and how it affects your depth of field.  Think of depth of field as when you are focusing on an object, at what point or distance does everything else in the background get blurry.  Here is a great example.  So back to the eye doctor and getting dilated. After you get dilated, you can hardly see much clearly and everything is sooo blurry right? Your pupils are so large and so much light is getting in to your vision it messes everything up. Basically the doctor has messed with your depth of field among other things. You might be able to focus sort of okay on something right in front of you but everything else is soooo blurry. This actually works to your advantage with a camera. You can blur that background for a great portrait shot. When you use a small Av number, you have a small depth of field ...
Using large Av numbers is great for capturing scenery when there are gorgeous mountains in the background and you want lots of them to be in focus. This is when the aperture/pupil or opening of the camera is very small.  This affects the depth of field in a different way. It actually expands it and makes the distance of seeing things clearly larger.
Here is a good way to remember it: Lower the Av, the background will get blurry. So, this is an inverse relationship. When the Av number goes down the aperture gets bigger. Also when the Av goes down so does the depth of field.

Here is an example of a low Av number of 1.8. My son made this lego creation for a lego contest. We still don't know if he won yet :). As you can see the object is in good focus but the background is super blurry.

I cannot find a high Av photo that shows a good example so please refer to photo for an example here, it's the one on the left.

Manual Mode
The M on your camera refers to full manual mode which allows to you use both the Av and Tv together (along with other functions). This gives you so much flexibility. Let's say you want backlighting from the sun. Your camera likes to try to figure out how take the photo based on how much light is present.  So, when you are trying to take photos with the sun, it will automatically try to compensate for extra light by changing something else. You can get past this by using manual mode. This takes tons of practice. I would encourage you to work with both Av and Tv separate first to master them and then move on to full manual.

This is not a top button on your camera (found on the backside instead) but is very important when working with Av, Tv, manual and so on.  ISO refers to the speed of the film b/c old cameras used this feature. It is important to learn how to use this. This can be used in any function and I change it often when I use my camera in manual.  Sometimes I just keep it around 200 or 400. Basically, the thing to remember is to use a low ISO in high light levels.. and high ISO in low light levels. A very high ISO will also produce grainy images. You can use this rhyme to remember: Use high ISO when the light is not so nice-o.  Here is a photo I just took yesterday using my ISO. I forgot to bring my tripod and so I chose to work with a low Av number (remember big aperature) and a high ISO of 3200. This allowed me to catch the image without much blur but with the glow sticks in focus.

White Balance
This is also super important to use in Av, Tv, manual and so on. It should say WB on your camera. When you are working with automatic settings, your camera always adjusts to the type of light present. When are in manual mode, your camera doesn't do that. Instead you should be controlling it. I always check to see what white balance my camera is on. When you click on white balance you want to go to the closest type of light used. This will insure that your photos don't come out too blue or too yellow. If you forget to change it for every light you might get odd results. For instance, if you have it set for Tungsten light and you are outside, your color will be off. 

I hope this has helped you with your camera and understanding how it works and why. Have a great weekend!


  1. I am printing this post right now. Thank you for using simple language to express technical terms. TFS!

  2. LOL! Me too! I'm printing this and keeping it handy! Many, many, many thanks!