I have had so  many friends comment about my photos and wonder how I get “such good pictures,” then they assume it MUST be my camera.  They ask what camera I use and then they are off to research cameras so their pictures can look that good too.

I have some sad news, friends.  A fancy camera won’t do it.  It’s not my camera that makes my pictures nice, it’s the knowledge I have about how to use my camera.  Now let me clarify, a fancy camera WILL give you good quality pictures with lots of pixels, but it might not be exactly what you expected it to be.  I try to tell people,  just because you buy a DSLR doesn’t mean your pictures will look more “professional.”  I know, it’s not fair, you just spent all that money after all.  But you have to learn how to use the camera.  Meaning, you gain so much control over how your pictures look when you use manual mode instead of auto.

I personally took a course to help me understand how manual mode works (though there is plenty of free info out there), and I’m still practicing every time I pick up my camera.  I haven’t “got” it down to perfection, I get better all the time, but it’s a learning curve; therefore, I’d like to give you some tips and share some basics!

First things first, what does it mean to shoot in manual mode?  When you shoot in manual mode it means you tell your camera what it should “see.”  In comparison, while in auto mode your camera just guesses what it’s looking at and tries to figure out what your picture should look like.  YOU are smarter than your camera.  In manual mode you are setting your own exposure, which is how much light you let into your picture.   Exposure will control how bright or dark your picture turns out.  There are three components to setting your exposure.

  1. Shutter speed– how quickly your shutter opens and closes.  With a fast shutter speed, you let in less light and with a slow shutter speed you let in more light.  This also controls motion in your images.  The slower the shutter speed the more motion you allow and the faster your speed the less motion you allow into your image.  If your shutter is too slow you might have blurry images.  But you can also use shutter speed to help tell a story.  Maybe you want to capture water moving, then you would have to slow your shutter speed down, or if you want to freeze that moving water you need to raise your shutter speed. 


I used a fast shutter speed here because I was outside in bright light and to freeze her motion


In this image I slowed down my shutter speed to let more light in (because my house was dim) and I also slowed it down to get more motion in my picture. I wanted to viewer to feel her motion and know that she was pretending to fly.

2. ISO – You can think of this as your cameras way of making its own light.  The higher the number the more light it’s putting into your images.  For example, an ISO of 100 is adding in less light than an ISO of 3200.  You usually want to keep your ISO as low as you can in order to properly expose your picture, because if your ISO gets too high then you have a lot of noise in your picture (noise is that grainy look that keeps your pictures from looking smooth). Grain isn’t always bad, but that’s a lesson for another day.

3.  Aperture (f-stop)-  This is my personal favorite, but it’s a little difficult to understand.  Aperture is how wide you open your lens. The wider open it is the more light you let in, the more closed it is the less light you let in.  That’s not the confusing part.  The confusing thing is that when you’re shooting wide open (lens is opened to let more light in) the number is smaller.  So if my aperture is set to an f-stop of 1.8, it is wide open and if it’s at an f-stop of 16 its closed down a lot more (letting in less light).   The smaller the number the more open you are, which feels backwards.

Aperture is my favorite “photography tool” because it also controls how much of your image is in focus.  For example, the more wide open you are (f-stop 1.8) the less of your image is in focus while shooting closed down (f-stop 16) the more of your image will be in focus.  I like to shoot wide-open so that I can isolate my subject and make the viewers eye focus on what I’m focused on.

  • All these images are shot with a wide open aperture to give a focal point that draws the image to one thing.  The raspberry, the ballerina, and the sunflowers are all in focus while everything else is more blurry.

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All three of those things play a role in how your image looks and how your viewer actually sees your pictures.  Essentially, what their eye is drawn too and how they feel when they see it.  When you are in manual mode you get to decide what you want your picture to look like and put your settings (shutter speed, iso, and aperture) to the right spot to get a properly exposed picture but also tell your story.

The other part of manual mode is your white balance.  Have you guys ever taken a picture and the color is all weird?  Maybe it’s got a green look or a yellow tint and it looks awful.  That’s because of your white balance.  You see, every light has a different temperature (measured in Kelvins) which means they are all different colors.  Your camera doesn’t always know what color the light is, it guesses, but it gets it wrong a lot.  Shooting in natural light your pictures probably look pretty good, but if you’re taking pictures inside under artificial light it might come out funky in your camera.  Even during the day your natural light color changes.  Morning light is a white color and during the day it has a blue color to it and then evening light is more yellow and red.  So you have to tell your camera what color the light is.  There are some presets on your camera for different lighting situations, but those are usually pretty hit and miss too.

White balance done automatically in camera- see the yellow haze
White balance done automatically in camera- see the yellow haze
This is with me manually doing the white balance
This is with me manually doing the white balance

My point is, just because you have a fancy camera doesn’t mean your pictures will look better.

This isn’t all to discourage you, in fact it’s the opposite!  I took my class in March 2016 and now it’s August and I am starting a photography business!  I have a lot to learn still but I’ve grown so much just in 5 months.  I’m not saying you should all become professional photographers, but I’m telling you, you can learn to use your camera to get pictures of your kids (or whoever/whatever) that you really love.  It just takes a little knowledge and practice!

Is your head spinning yet?

I know, this is all somewhat confusing! Please let me know what questions you have, I will be writing more education posts and I’d love to know what types of things you want to learn more about.  Leave your ponderings in the comment section 🙂 !

I hope this post gives you a better idea of how you can take control of your camera!

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