Learning how to shoot in manual mode and understanding basic camera fundamentals can be intimidating when first picking up a camera. Every content creator has probably spent hours watching Youtube tutorials to understand manual photography basics. The challenge with this approach is trying to stick with the same person from video to video.
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While modern-day cameras have made massive strides with auto features, there are many instances when you will need to take control of the settings. Even the latest Apple and Android devices allow users to manipulate camera settings for the ultimate shot. Knowing how to use aperture, shutter speed, and ISO will take your content creator skills to new heights.
As phones, DSLRs, and mirrorless cameras continue to advance, understanding how to shoot in manual mode will unlock your full potential to become a successful content creator.
What is Aperture?
Aperture dictates how much light hits the sensor in a camera. A great example would be the human eye. The Iris dilates and adjusts the amount of light reaching the retina (the sensor). If the camera lens is wide-open, the more light is let in. The opposite effect occurs if the opening is smaller. Aperture is also commonly referred to as F Stop. If you hear someone say F/1.2, they are talking about a low aperture lens.
Benefits of Low Aperture Lenses
- The larger opening reduces the depth of field, which sharpens the subject and produces a blurred background effect (bokeh blur).
- Performs better in low-light conditions.
Drawbacks of Low Aperture Lenses
- More expensive than other lenses.
Benefits of High Aperture Lenses
- Typically cheaper than low aperture lenses.
- Are more versatile for a wide range of photos and videos because there is no background blur.
- Increased depth of field.
- Great for landscape photography, long exposures, and having sharpness in the background, foreground, and the subject.
Drawbacks of High Aperture Lenses
- Poor performance in low-light conditions.
- Less practical for most content creators who need sharpness on subjects.
Most photos taken on cell phones are considered high aperture because all aspects of the image are within a similar focal range. Here’s a challenge, pull your phone out and play around with the manual mode settings. If you select a portrait mode or change the manual camera settings, the subject will pop off the background. In the standard photo mode, you will notice that you blend into your surroundings because the high f-stop decreases the depth of field.
What is Shutter Speed?
Once you understand aperture, it’s time to learn the next manual camera mode, which is shutter speed. It’s measured in seconds or fractions of a second. The number determines the amount of time the shutter is open. Think of it as a door that opens and closes, allowing light into the lens.
If the shutter speed is quicker than a second, it will typically be displayed as a fraction (i.e., 1/115, 1/160, 1/200, 1/250). Some cameras only display the denominator. For example, 1/250 would be shown as “250.”
One thing to take into account is how the shutter affects motion blur. You can get away with a slower speed if you’re doing portrait shots or any work with limited movement. However, even holding the camera can create a noticeable blur. Motion blur is caused when a subject moves while the shutter is still open.
What Manual Mode Settings Reduce Motion Blur?
- Without a tripod, it’s best to increase the shutter speed slightly (1/250).
- For action shots, change the shutter speed to 1/2000, which will reduce the amount of time for light to hit the sensor.
The shutter speed will almost always depend on the surrounding lighting conditions. Below are some tips for different environments.
- In extremely bright light, boost up the shutter speed.
- Lower the shutter speed to allow more light to enter the camera if you’re in a dark room.
- Choose the lowest aperture, reduce shutter speed, and boost the ISO if needed in very dark conditions.
What is ISO?
ISO is a baked-in-camera setting that digitally adds brightness to the frame. It is never turned off and, as a standard, is always set to an ISO of 100. The higher the number, the more brightness is added to the picture. Avoid adjusting this setting if possible because it adds unwanted noise.
Image noise will result in grainy-looking specs all over your picture. The quality of ISO adjustments will also depend on the cost and manufacturer. For example, any of the drones on the market start getting noise if you go over 400 ISO.
When manipulating manual mode camera settings, only change ISO for the following scenarios:
- Dark outside environment.
- Using a lens without a low aperture.
- High shutter speed with a moving subject.
Auto Settings vs. Manual Mode Camera Settings
If you feel overwhelmed with learning manual photography, starting with the auto settings is a great alternative. Even for professionals, there are certain situations when it’s better to let the camera do the heavy lifting.
When vlogging, constant movement and changing environmental factors are better suited for auto settings, where the camera automatically performs aperture, shutter speed, and ISO adjustments. In manual mode, you are in complete control and must make the proper adjustments. Shooting in manual mode is excellent in studios or controlled environments.
Manual Mode vs. Automatic Focus Settings
Automatic focus is easily one of the most underrated camera features. If your camera does not have auto focus, invest in one. The software will track a subject down and bring it into focus. There is nothing worse than recording footage and then realizing it’s blurry!
Many creators who are a one-person show will love automatic focus. The accuracy of tracking does depend on the price and manufacturer of the camera. With manual focus, you need to adjust the lens’s focus by twisting the ring around the lens. Doing so tells the camera what subject you want to lock on to. The downside is the camera will apply focus to the selected point.
Let’s break down the different types of auto focus settings.
- It allows you to select a point on your screen to tell the camera where to focus continuously.
- The camera will only focus on subjects within a specific frame region like manual mode focus.
- Typically found on higher-end cameras.
- Tracks the human face wherever it is in the frame.
- The closer you are to the camera, the more accurate it will follow and focus.
Servo or Continuous
- The camera looks across all the focus points and tries to determine where the dominant subject is.
Next, let’s dive into camera fundamentals like metering, white balance, and RAW vs. JPEG.
Understanding Camera Basics
In auto mode, metering is when your camera measures brightness. If it’s center-weighted, the sensor will look in the middle of the frame and decide how to expose it. Another option is evaluative or matrix, which analyzes the entire image to determine the best exposure settings. Generally, the default settings are acceptable and require no changes.
Auto White Balance (WB)
As the name suggests, the white balance is your camera’s effort to keep your whites looking white. The software will analyze lighting conditions and attempt to adjust between warm and cool hues to get the most accurate color. When recording in a studio setting, it’s best to turn on manual white balance because you don’t want the shot to look warm and cold a few minutes apart. The difference will be noticeable if you are cutting and splicing clips together. Auto is the better choice if you have more continuous footage and are moving around outdoors.
Manual Mode White Balance (WB)
When shooting indoors, lighting is typically warmer and can be hard on skin tones. To avoid this, you will want to select the Tungsten option. Doing this introduces cooler tones to balance out overly warm colors and reds. If you’re recording outdoors, try the daylight option to add warmer tones, which also makes foliage colors pop.
Auto white balance will be the way to go most of the time. If the image is too warm or cold, white balance is the culprit.
RAW vs. JPEG File Formats
The key to having stunning pictures is capturing the most data possible. A RAW file is packed with information as the camera software has not altered the footage. RAW images will give you complete control over saturation, sharpness, white balance, and other parameters in post-production. A JPEG is a compressed file inside your camera. When you edit a JPEG, what you can change will be more limited.
The info in a JPEG is baked in, and because it’s not a full-sized image, any edits will cause data loss. Many cameras and drones are equipped to capture RAW and JPEG files simultaneously. Using this feature serves a dual purpose as you can use the JPEGs to sift through your footage without loading RAW files.
There are three different types of camera sensors, Full Frame, APS-C, and an M43. A full-frame is the largest (excluding cinema cameras), APS-C is slightly smaller than the full-frame, and the micro 4/3rds is the smallest. It is important to note that sensor size does not dictate the quality you get from a camera.
The lens focal length is affected by the sensor size, which should be considered when choosing a camera. How much light is captured will also vary; the larger the sensor, the more light can enter the lens. Smaller sensors offer more value for the money and include great slow motion and 4K quality.
APS-C and M43 sensors usually mean less-expensive lenses and lighter camera bodies.
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Mirrorless and DSLR Camera Bodies
Are you trying to decide what type of camera is right for you? Well, we need to discuss two types of cameras. The first type is the trusty DSLR camera, which uses a reflex mirror to bounce light upwards into the viewfinder. The second type is a Mirrorless camera, where light is directed into the image sensor without the need for a mechanical component like the DSLR.
While there is nothing wrong with DSLR cameras, they are becoming obsolete when looking at the advances in mirrorless cameras.
Benefits of Mirrorless Cameras
- You are not limited by a physical door that has to open and close.
- Slimmer and lighter camera bodies.
- The digital viewfinder is better when recording in manual mode because changes are seen in real-time.
- There are no obstructions when taking photos because there are no moving pieces.
Now that you have a better understanding of manual mode cameras let’s get into the lenses.
Prime vs. Zoom Lenses
A prime lens can only shoot one angle compared to a zoom lens with a range of 24x to 105x. You may be thinking, why would I use a lens that only has one angle? The simple answer is the prime is the master of one and will be sharper and be able to achieve a lower aperture than a zoom lens.
For example, a zoom lens is capable of 100x, but because the aperture varies with adjustment, it will never achieve the same quality as the prime will at 100x. Another factor to account for is as you zoom in, the frame will become darker.
Prime lenses are fantastic for cinematics and if you know what focal length you usually shoot at. If you’re not concerned about the Hollywood look but still need an awesome image and convenience, a zoom lens is a great choice.
What is the Frame Rate?
The frame rate is the speed at which your camera is taking photos. Think of a video you recorded as a series of pictures strung together. If a camera is recording at 24 fps, it captures 24 micro photos within a second, which turns into one second of usable footage.
Common Frame Rate Speeds
- Considered the gold standard of cinema.
- Looks great for anything at normal speed.
- The motion looks relatively normal, and it captures audio.
- This frame rate allows you to go 50% speed, which now becomes 30fps.
- Reducing the speed is helpful for cinematics and flexibility when editing.
- Great for slow-motion and action shots.
- The footage can be slowed down four times slower than reality.
- Some cameras do not record audio at 120 fps due to the large data capture.
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