This part of the series on How To Shoot Manual will focus on bringing all the previously discussed elements together. So far, I have discussed ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture Size individually, trying to keep each as discrete as possible. However, ultimately any complete tutorial on shooting manually must discuss how the three work together.

The Past
If you have been following along, you should know that each of these items control how much light is ultimately recorded in your image. To recap, ISO controls how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. The Shutter Speed controls how long your shutter stays open, and thus how much time your sensor is exposed to light. Finally, Aperture Size controls the amount of light hitting the sensor, by controlling the size of the opening at which light passes through to the sensor.

Additionally, each setting has it’s own separate effect on your images. A higher ISO will result in a noisier image. Shutter speed controls how motion is captured and controlled in your image. Aperture Size controls the depth of field, or how much is in focus.

At first, it seems like a whole lot to juggle at one time, and it is. But there is a work flow and a logical order to determining what you should set first and what to set it at. This work flow or logical order is not the same for every photograph, it derives from what you as a photographer want to portray. If you want to do a special effect with motion blur, you necessary should choose a longer shutter speed first, and then your aperture size.

Set ISO For Light Conditions
But, first is first – usually. Generally you will set your ISO first, based on the lighting conditions that you are shooting in. Choose the lowest ISO that you possibly can, to keep noise to a minimum.

As a general guide, outside on a bright sunny day, you should be able to shoot both in the sun and in the shade at ISO 100. Towards the margins of the day, early morning and early evening, you should be able to shoot with ISO 100 for sun but not shade, the earlier in the morning or later in the evening, the more likely you will have to start shooting at ISO 200 or higher for the shade. Before and after sunset and indoors you will likely have to shoot at ISO 400 or 800. For particularly dark conditions, ISO 1600 or 3200.

If after setting your Aperture to the desired size, you cannot shoot fast enough to control camera shake (remember the general rule of 1 / focal length), consider changing your ISO setting.  If you do not want to change the Aperture Size to let in more light, or you can’t, that’s when you need to increase the ISO.

Setting Priorities

After setting the ISO you should be able to leave it untouched, until the light conditions change, i.e., you walk indoors from the bright sunshine or you last set the ISO at noon and now the sun is setting.  For most of your shots the ISO should be set and you should be mostly focused on the Shutter Speed and Aperture Size.

Next, determine what type of shot you want, and consider the depth of field that will help make that shot happen.  Choose a wider aperture, f/7 or less to create a shallow depth of field and an aperture greater than that to capture more of the foreground and background in focus.

Finally, select your shutter speed.  If your ISO and Aperture Size are already size, there shouldn’t be much leeway with your Shutter Speed.  Adjust your shutter speed while looking at your light meter.  You should focus on the subject and make sure the EV value is at 0.  If you find that your Shutter Speed is too slow, consider whether you can go up on the ISO or you can open the aperture more or both.

Most situations will call for the fastest shutter speed possible, but there are a few reasons for taking a purposefully slow exposure.  Common reasons for choosing a long exposure are for capturing star trails or streaking traffic lights or softening the look of water.  All three of these applications would require a tripod or steady surface to rest the camera.

Bracketing For Speed
Bracketing is the practice of shooting multiple shots of the same subject, each with a different setting. So after you have set your Aperture Size, you should then set the Shutter Speed to give you the exposure you want. But to make sure you get it right, you should bracket the Shutter Speed.  Shoot at least two more images of the same exact composition of the scene, one with a faster shutter speed, and one with a slower shutter speed. This will give you three exposures of the same image, and hopefully one of them will be the “perfect” exposure. That’s bracketing. Sometimes I will bracket two or more settings up and down, taking five or most shots of the same exact scene.

Bracketing For Aperture, When Speed Is The Priority
Of course you should bracket your Aperture Size in those instances where you are selecting the Shutter Speed first. Whether it be a long exposure, to capture a night shot or motion, or whether it is a fast exposure to capture a sports moment or nature shot, there are times you will want to choose your Shutter Speed first. In those cases, bracket your Aperture Size, take a shot at what you think is the appropriate exposure, than adjust the Aperture Size up one setting and take a shot, then down a setting and take another shot.

Auto Bracketing
Some digital cameras have an Auto Bracketing feature. When selected it will take three consecutive shots, one of the exposure you select, than one at a higher speed and another at a lower speed. Depending on your camera it will allow you to bracket the Shutter Speed and/or the Aperture Size. Check your camera’s manual for details as to if your camera has the feature and how it functions. It is usually accessed similarly to how you access your camera’s timer feature.

That’s all the basics of shooting manually.

Assess the light conditions you will be shooting in, choose an appropriate ISO, the lowest that the circumstances allow, for the cleanest image.

Consider what you want to keep in focus and choose an Aperture Size accordingly. A smaller F stop corresponds with a smaller depth of field, a larger F stop corresponds with a larger depth of field.

Adjust the Shutter Speed to compensate for the amount of light permitted by your chosen Aperture Size. Bracket the shutter speed to make certain you captured the proper exposure.

However, in situations where motion is a concern or a focus of the image you should choose your Shutter Speed first, then adjust the Aperture Size to compensate for the light. Bracket the Aperture Size. Situations where you should be focused on the Shutter Speed first are where you have a particularly fast moving subject(s) or where you want to capture motion with the aid of your tripod.

That’s All Folks
So that is all there is to shooting in manual mode, whether you are using a digital SLR or a digital point and shoot. You may want to shoot in manual all the time, or you may just want to shoot in manual when you don’t think the camera’s processor is judging the lighting correctly.

Shooting manually will give you greater control over the exposure in your images. Even if you continue to shoot in Auto Mode most of the time, understanding how to shoot in Manual Mode will allow you to capture some otherwise difficult or impossible shots. For example manual mode lets you capture fireworks, motion blur, silhouettes, silky water, crisp landscapes, and other great shots. It lets you get creative with the lighting in your shots.

Shooting manually is a simple matter to understand, knowing how to do it is just a matter of practice, and the results are typically fantastic. I would wish you good luck, but luck has nothing to do with it you … just keep shooting.