The Endless Possibilities of Manual Use of your Photo Camera

The Endless Possibilities of Manual Use of your Photo Camera

If you own a Single-lens reflex camera, whether it’s a camera with film (SLR) or a digital one (DSLR), it’s a pity not to use the different possibilities. 

Of course, I set my camera on full-automatic too at times, but the only advantage then is the speed of taking a picture. 

If you want to have special effects like depth-of-field for example, you have to put the camera on half-automatic or manual.

The manual use of your photo camera will improve your creativity and expose a whole new area of possibilities.

The manual use of your photo camera

Lumix DMC-GX8
My Lumix DMC-GX8 with an Olympus lens, range f/2.8 – f/22.

Three elements on your camera have a relationship with dark and light:

  • Diaphragm;
  • Time;
  • ISO.

All 3 can be maniputed manually. On my Lumix the buttons mean the following:

  • iA is full automatic, nothing can be adjusted;
  • P is also automatic but gives some control;
  • A is half automatic. It locks the diaphragm and choses the accompanying time;
  • S is also half automatic. It locks the time and choses the accompanying diaphragm;
  • M is fully manual.

Diaphragm, the aperture of the lens

The range of the diaphragm depends on your lens and can for example be f/5.6 – f/22. Or it can be f/1.4 – f/32. The lower the first number the better the lens is, yet also the more expensive!

Big pupils

A low diaphragm number means a big lens opening and little depth of field. Compare it to your eyes: in the dusk your pupils are big and you don’t see very well.

A high diaphragm number means a small lens opening and a lot of depth of field. Compare it again with your eyes: when you read in poor lighting conditions, you squint. The effect is that you see better.

If you put your camera on half-automatic and preset the diaphragm, the camera will take care of the time. The rule of thumb is:

  • high diaphragm number <-> long time;
  • low diaphragm number <-> short time.

Use a tripod if you want to have a lot of depth-of-field.

Variation in time

Another preset is time. If you deliberately want a blurred picture, use a long-time exposure. And for a frozen movement, the time must be as short as possible.
In half-automatic the camera will combine the preset time with the right diaphragm.

Passing by car
Taken from the car while passing the road work.
Running dog
Frozen movement of a running dog.

Want to take it a step further? 

Playing with these presets gives you a good feel for your camera. The main advantage of digital cameras is of course, that you can take loads of pictures and throw away afterwards what is not right.

Put the camera on half-automatic with the diaphragm preset on f/11. On the display, you can see what time goes with that preset. Let’s presume it is 1/200. Then turn the button on Manual, set the diaphragm on f/11 and the time on 1/200. Take a picture. Change the time to 1/100 and take a picture. Change the time to 1/400 and take a picture. If the sun hasn’t disappeared behind a huge cloud in the meantime you get a good feel of the impact of changing the time.
You can handle a similar process by leaving the time on 1/200 and changing the diaphragm.

ISO, the speed of film

Sometimes playing with time and diaphragm isn’t enough. If the light is very poor you can use a film with a high ISO number or put the ISO number on your digital camera to a higher value.

ISO is the film speed. The poorer the light the higher the needed ISO value.

ISO values

Most digital cameras can’t handle a high ISO very well and there will be some distortion, especially in big even-coloured areas that have few details. A high ISO analogue film will result in a coarser grain.

So if you can avoid it, that’s better. Try to photograph as much as you can with a low ISO value, for instanc, 100 or 200. Unless you want the distortion or grain for a certain effect, of course.

Play and don’t be too hard on yourself

It took me a pretty long time before I mastered the relationship between diaphragm, time and ISO. The most difficult for me was the fact that a low diaphragm number means a big opening and little depth of field. For some reason, I thought it wasn’t logical. It helped me to make it some kind of mantra and repeat it to myself a lot:

  • low diaphragm number – big opening – little depth-of-field;
  • low diaphragm number – big opening – little depth-of-field;
  • low diaphragm number – big opening – little depth-of-field. 🙂

Great effect: Bokeh

Bokeh is an effect of out-of-focus photography. Not every out-of-focus picture will have a similar effect. Nor will every out-of-focus picture even have Bokeh in the background.

Depending on the lens, some lenses have a circular Bokeh, others have hexagonal shapes. 

Macro lenses and telephoto lenses in particular produce a beautiful Bokeh effect. But again, this comes with a price.

Is manual use just for (D)SLR cameras?

In my opinion, it’s easier to manipulate the settings on a SLR or DSLR camera. The aperture or time values are visible on a camera, but not on a mobile phone.

Yet, you can handle some things on a phone as well. I am only familiar with an iPhone but I guess the same possibilities will be available on Android phones.

The modern mobile phones have excellent lenses and automatic settings but for special pictures, for instance a silhouette, you need to adjust them.

  • Put your finger on a spot on your screen;
  • BTW, this is also an action to focus on that area, indicated by a yellow square;
  • A vertical line with a sun in the middle is visible next to the square;
  • By moving the sun up or down over the vertical line, you can adjust the amount of light in the picture.
Violets, settings
The screen of my iPhone 13 when I take a picture.
Moving the sun up will result in a lighter photo. It is overexposed, but the difference is clearly visible.
the same subject with the sun moved in the other direction.

Do you manually adjust the settings when you take a picture? Let me know in the comment box below.

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