The first thing you need to know before you switch to manual is what aperture and shutter speed is all about.
Taking a photo means choosing an aperture and shutter speed setting first.
Both alter the amount of light that enters the camera and hits the negative. Simple as that.
Aperture refers to how open the lens is. I.e. is it wide open or a tiny winy hole.
Shutter Speed is about time. The length of time the shutter is open for. The duration of the process of taking a photo.
Become familiar with these, like a painter becomes familiar with his/her paints, and it will help you to manipulate the scene in front of you, but its also just bloody important.
If you have your aperture wide open, that will let a lot of light in. So, you need to use a faster shutter speed. That makes sense right? Otherwise you’ll letting in vast amounts of light… too much light and the negative will get fried like an egg on a hot pavement. You need to have either the aperture or the shutter speed letting lots of light in, but not both. There is a balance.
You see, cameras and our human eyes work in a similar way. Our eyes adjust in the dark by opening up wider so more light gets in and we can see better. Likewise, our pupils shrink in the sun. You cant change our shutter speed though, unfortunately.
If you are in the dark with a camera you can create a photo in which the night becomes day. You do this by using a slow shutter speed. You can take the photograph for as long as you like, 2 seconds, 30 seconds, 5 minutes! Experiment to see what works best. It depends if you want realism or something odd! A camera can soak in the light from those 5 minutes and make things lighter. The difference between aperture and shutter speed in this example is that shutter speed can be altered to whatever you like using the “bulb” or “b” setting. Aperture settings are limted to a min and a max.
Aperture is more complex than I have let on so far. You know those gorgeous food photos where the background is all blury, sexy! The lower/smaller the number you set your aperture to, the wider the hole, and the wider the hole the less of the scene is in focus. This also means you have to take more care when focusing – making sure the precise bit you want in focus is in focus! Small aperture setting are like f 2.8 or smaller. It can look crap if you don’t focus right.
Narrower/higher aperture settings such as f32 or f22 means that the hole is very small. Its like squinting you eyes to see something far away, have you see your dad do that? It is what you would use for a wide open landscape because you want everything in focus. Later you will come to decide things like this, not simply based on subject, but on aesthetic. Remember, as the hole is small, less light is getting in, so you need a slower shutter speed.
Imagine you are taking a photo in the evening when the light is low. Its a landscape and you want to use f22. The hole is small. Your light meter therefore tells you to use a shutter speed of 10″ seconds. You cant keep still enough for 10 seconds to get a still shot… no you cant! You need a tripod.
You may hear people refer to some lenses as “fast”. That’s because they have low aperture settings, i.e. they can open up wide and let a lot of light in. This gives you more flexibility to take photos in low light as you can keep a fast shutter speed thus not need a tripod… does it all make sense now? You don’t need me anymore eh?
Thanks for reading,