Howdy folks!

Wazzup? Without much blabber i wish to start with my next tutorial on photography (the previous two being this and that) which deals with manual mode…the monsterous “M” on our camera scene mode dial. I have drafted this tutorial atleast 7 times in past 3 months again and again to make it simpler. I couldnt make it any further simple, so chew it as much as you can 🙂

By Manual mode i mean selecting the scene mode dial as M as in image below (click on the images to view the enlarged version):

Now lets first lets understand how a picture is recorded in your camera memory.
The shutter mechanism inside a camera involves an image sensor covered by 2 shutters in front of it. It would looks something like this (pardon my poor drawing skills):

When you click the button to take a picture, the 1st shutter starts sliding down, then the 2nd shutter slides down and between this time, the light rays fall directly on the sensor. Sensor records all this light in whatever form it sees…the colors, the shapes, the reflections etc. Basically, whatever the sensor sees, is in the form of light. Everything reflects light and the sensor records this reflected light. Once the sensor records all this data, it saves it to the memory and you get the picture! These shutters are also called curtain, 1st shutter is termed first/front curtain and 2nd shutter is known as rear curtain or second curtain. Sounds complex? read it again and you will find it simple 🙂

Now lets meet the camera parts/features who manage this light-intake:


Aperture = opening of the lens blades
Its the diameter value of the lens opening in millimeters. Its generally displayed as ‘f’ in your display screen and is termed as f-stop e.g. f1.8, f2.2, f4, f8, etc. These values depend from lens to lens.
Bigger aperture = more light intake = brighter picture
Smaller apperture = less light intake = darker picture

It looks like this, if you peep good enough into your lens you will find this:

(courtesy – Google images)

Shutter speed

Shutter speed = its the time gap between the 1st shutter opening and 2nd shutter closing.
Slower shutter speed = more light intake = brighter picture
Faster shutter speed = less light intake = darker picture

You don’t need to memorize the above. Its pretty simple to understand and once its gone into your head…everything will be intuitive to you 🙂

Fine. Now we are almost done with the logistics of taking pictures in Manual mode. The big scary “M” is not that complex, right? Lets ensure that with few pictures.

The image below shows how the shutter speed and aperture will look like on your display screen when you turn your scene mode dial to Manual :

This one above is as it looks in a typical point and shoot camera screen. There is a +/- button which is used to shift focus between shutter speed and aperture. Then use the navigation buttons to increase or decrease the value. If your camera does not have a +/- button, then mostly chances are that the up and down navigation buttons will change shutter speed and left & right navigation buttons will change aperture (or vice verse).

Note: when your scene mode selection is not M, this +/- mode generally gives you a handle to change overall exposure settings. Refer my previous tutorial on this to know how to use that.

In DSLRs (well, in most medium and pro range ones), there are seperate dials to change shutter speed and aperture like shown in image below :

Ok, now that we understand how to achieve/change these settings, lets get to the gut by examining some pictures.

I will start with the Aperture first (i.e f-stop). Important thing about the f-stop values is that its always the reciprocal of whats displayed on your screen.
So, f1.8 means aperture = 1/1.8 mm
similarly f16 means aperture = 1/16 mm.
So now you know that f16 is a smaller opening than f1.8. Gaat it? So far good? If not, read again and u will find it all nice and smooth 😀

The images below will help you understand better (i have taken these shots with same shutter speed of 1/80 and varied apertures, to show how the results change by only change in aperture):

This one below is taken with an aperture opening of 1/1.8  (i.e f1.8 on ur display)

Did you see that under present lighting conditions, its just ample to make everything look visible and clear. If i go even a bit bigger with aperture, things may look blown out. The other problems of this image like ghosting etc, we will discuss in the next tutorial.

Now i reduce the aperture size to 1/5 (i.e f5 on ur display)

Now see that the image has gone darker.

Let me reduce the aperture further to 1/11 (i.e f11 on ur display)

Aaaammm…..its too dark now, right?
Anyways, you got the picture. Mmmm? 🙂 Mmmmm!

Now lets take a look at shutter speed which is generally known as the exposure. (Men love this word i know :D)
Shutter speed is shown in plain numerals on camera display, but goes bit more itchy with its notations. Following values display the amount of time for which light was falling on the sensors between 1st curtain open and 2nd curtain close. (refer 1st para again if this sounds greek)
10     = 1/10th of a second
600     = 1/600th of a second
4000    = 1/4000th of a second
1″    = 1 second (means the sensor records light for entire 1 second duration). It seems too less, but in photography, an exposure of 1 second is pretty big 🙂
10″    = 10 second

OK, so for exposure, its pretty simple that a shutter speed of 600 is much faster than that of 1″, isnt it?

Lets grab it with the pathetic example below (i have taken the shots with same aperture of f1.8 and varied exposures, to show how the results change by only change in exposure):
This one was taken with a shutter speed of 20 (i.e 1/20th of a sec)

The fan blades are not at all visible (and the image is bright too, since slow shutter speed = more light intake, ye?)

OK, so i speed up a more. This one is with exposure of 200 (i.e 1/200th of a sec)

The blades start appearing now, but still they are quite blurred.

Will speed up a lot more now with exposure of 1600 (i.e. 1/1600ths of a sec).

See that? I froze the fan blades (and u may see, how dirty my kitchen fan is :D). Naah! thats not the point i want to make…hihi.

Notice that the image is much darker. To take care of the brightness of an image at such faster shutter speeds, you need a bigger aperture and a more powerful surrounding light.
Now if you say that your image is still dark even after going to the biggest aperture supported by your lens (or camera), your only aid left is the ISO.


ISO = image sensor’s sensitivity to light
Larger ISO     = brighter light    = more grains in picture
Smaller ISO    = darker light        = much cleaner images

Above explanation must have cleared you why we dont always shoot in high ISOs, right? 🙂
Generally ISO values range from 100 to 6400…..6400 being the highest sensitivity level. Such large ISO values are supported by only high end proffessional DSLRs, which obviously make them much capable for shooting high speed photos in night (and much much costlier too).

So, when you are shooting something that involves lot of motion like your pet dog or your beloved little champ, then you need to work at the largest aperture possible on your lens and shoot at a minimum shutter speed of like 1/50th or 1/30th of a second. And if you still get blurr, then raise the ISO and use faster shutter speed and shoot. There is no thumb rule, you have to take picture, view it, if not right, change things and click again. Liberty of digital fotography (i know its photography, but like i usually say, i prefer writing it that way!) Yeah?! 😀

Cool, so we are done with the basics of Manual mode shooting. Repeat and practice the above again and again in different circumstances for different subjects and you will see how interesting images you can get by just adjusting these 3 factors. Use them and you will love them. Hope that everything said above makes sense to you as you use them and you will love taking pictures in Manual mode henceforth 😉

In my next post, i will explain you other aspects of an image that gets affected by adjustment of exposure and aperture….photography is going to be much more fun, when you know it all. Till then click click! 🙂 Chao!