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"Idiots" guide to using manual mode on DSLR

Step 1: Observe the amount of light around you to set ISO

ISO 200 - 400 : outdoors or (flash photography which is not described in this post)
ISO 800 + : indoors or night shots without flash

Step 2: Know your light meter

The trick of photography is light. it's just to adjust the amount of light that comes through the lens. Looking through the lens is like looking through a HUD, other than the focus ring, you will see a light meter. it indicates if it is too bright or too dark.

the answer is simple, keep it in the middle. To do this, the 2 things you can change is the aperture and the shutter speed. you just toggle with the 2 until you get the meter indicator in the center.

Which one you do first depends on your personal preference. This is how I do mine.

Step 3: Set Initial Aperture

I first set my aperture to the largest which is the lowest number, e.g f2.8

Step 4: Set Initial Shutter speed

Depending on my focal length, I set my shutter speed to the same as the focal length. This is a setting that in longest possible to not have camera shake.

Step 5: Increase Aperture or Shutter speed

Ideally you will notice that the photo is overexposed from the light meter. You can take a test shot to be sure. If it is underexposed, go to Step 6*.

Otherwise, you have a choice to increase your depth of field by increasing your aperture, or if the object wouldn't sit still, increase your shutter speed. Do this until the light meter is centered and the photo is just right.


Step 6* (optional): Increase ISO and shorten focal length

I can increase my ISO and repeat Step 5.

I can also adujst my focal length (if possible) from 50 mm to 18 mm and slower my shutter speed to 1/20. This will work if the object is not moving.

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