Manual Mode for Blog Photography

One of the easiest ways to improve your blog is to improve the quality of your original photos. As the saying goes, a photo is worth a thousand words. Not only does your photography enhance the experience of your site, but it also creates a lasting impression for first-time visitors. If you do not have clear high-quality photos, it is very likely that you will not be able to attract and retain readers.

With the popularity of full-time fashion bloggers and the use of contracted professional photographers, it’s near impossible to grow a following with low-quality photos. The quickest way to enhance your blog photography is through using manual mode on your camera.

What is Manual Mode?

If you are using a DSRL, mirrorless camera, or even a point-and-shoot camera, you should have manual mode as a shooting option on your camera. On the dial of your camera, you will notice several letters and symbols. Usually, the giant “M” stands for manual mode. Manual mode allows you to adjust your camera’s settings so you can control how much light your camera lets in, the sharpness of your photo, and the amount of background blur your photo has.

ISO

ISO is your camera’s sensitivity towards light, as well as the amount of graininess/noise your photo has. The lower the ISO number, the less amount of noise your photo has and the less light sensitivity your camera has. The higher the ISO number, the more amount of noise your photo has and the higher light sensitivity your camera has.

Take a look at the two photos below.

How to Shoot in Manual Mode | Class Meets Couture
Manual Mode for Bloggers | Class Meets Couture

The first photo was shot with the ISO set at 100, meaning that the camera is less sensitive to light. The photo is smooth, and there is no noticeable grain. The second photo was shot with the ISO set at 10000, meaning that the camera is more sensitive to light. If you look at the photo closely (especially at the clouds and the sky), there are little grainy dots on the photo.

I always set my ISO first. If I’m shooting outfit photos outside, my ISO is somewhere between 100-200. The only time I drastically change my ISO number is when I’m shooting at night, making the ISO higher so that my camera will capture more light.

Aperture

Put simply, aperture is how open your lens in. You’ll often hear the term “depth of field” associated with aperture. The lower the aperture, the more light that gets let in. The higher the aperture, the less light that gets in. Aperture is measured in f-stops. So when you see a photo that has an f-stop of f/1.2, that means the lens is open very wide and a lot of light is entering the camera. When a photo has an f-stop of f/22, that means that the lens has a much smaller opening and is letting less light in.

Aperture is also responsible for how blurry the background of your photo is, also known as “bokeh.” The lower the f-stop, the more bokeh your photo will have. The higher the f-stop, the less amount of bokeh your photo will have.

Compare the two photos below.

Manual Mode for Blog Photography | Class Meets Couture
Fashion Blog Photography | Class Meets Couture
The first photo has the f-stop set to 2.0, making the background blurry (remember, the term for that is bokeh!). Only the first pole is in focus, and the background blurs together. The second photo has the f-stop at 10, making the scene clear. There is crispness throughout the photo, the clarity of the first pole no better than the second.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is essentially the amount of time your shutter is open for taking a photo. The faster your shutter speed, the less time your shutter is open and the less light your camera lets in, resulting in a darker photo. The slower your shutter speed, the more time your shutter is open and the more light your camera lets in, resulting in a brighter photo. Shutter speed can be as fast as 1/10th of a second (noted as 1/10) or as slow as 30 seconds (noted as 30”).

Shutter speed is what’s responsible for whenever you see those cool waterfall pictures where the water looks smooth. Since the shutter is open for a long time, the camera is recording that waterfall as one long stream. With a shorter shutter speed, your camera will be able to pick up the little details of each stream of water.

Here are two photos with different shutter speeds.

Manual Mode for Blog Photography | Class Meets Couture
Manual Mode for Blog Photography | Class Meets Couture

The first photo has a shutter speed of 1/8000 sec. Notice how you can see the detail of the crashing wave. You can even see a few of the individual droplets! The shutter speed of the second photo is set at 1/40 sec. The crashing wave looks smoother, making the details indistinguishable.

How ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed Relate

I usually set my ISO first. If you’re shooting outside, your ISO needs to be somewhere around 100-200. If you’re shooting at night, your ISO usually needs to be at least 2000.

I set my aperture second. When I’m shooting detail and portrait shots, I set the aperture as small as possible (f/1.2-f/2.0). For scenic shots, I usually set the aperture anywhere from f/7-f/22.

I save shutter speed for last. After setting the ISO and aperture, I take a test shot. If the shot is too dark, I increase the shutter speed (i.e., going from 1/400 to 1/100). If the shot is too bright, I decrease the shutter speed (i.e. going from 1/400 to 1/1000). I never set my shutter speed faster than 1/50 because that would leave the photo a little blurry from me holding (and shaking) the camera. If you want a slow shutter speed for an artistic shot, make sure your camera is on a tripod.

Most of understanding manual mode comes from experience. When I’m shooting outfit photos, I only have to adjust all of the manual settings once. I might have to make minor changes to the shutter speed given lighting changes. But when I’m shooting say, sunrise photos on the beach, I’m really having to put my camera knowledge to use.

In an unknown setting I set my ISO, then aperture, then shutter speed. But sometimes when I’m taking test photos, I notice that the photo is still too dark. I fix this by adjusting my ISO to a larger number, making my camera more sensitive to light. I keep my aperture the same, and then I test out shutter speeds again. I go through this process until I find the perfect balance of lighting, depth of field, and shutter speed for my shot.

Manual Mode Settings for Blog Photography

For most of my blog photos, I have my camera settings at:

ISO: 100-200

Aperture: f/2.0-2.8

Shutter Speed: Anywhere from 1/50-1/1000 sec

H&M Kimono | Class Meets Couture

ISO: 200 | Aperture: f/2.0 | Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec.

Wayf Dress | Class Meets Couture

ISO: 200 | Aperture: f/2.0 | Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec.

Wayf Ruffle Top | Class Meets Couture

ISO: 120 | Aperture: f/2.0 | Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec.

Summary

ISO: Light Sensitivity

  • Smaller = less noise
  • Larger = more noise

Aperture: Depth of Field

  • Smaller = blurry background
  • Larger = clear scenic shot

Shutter Speed: Length of Shot

  • Smaller = faster shot
  • Larger = slower shot
  • If test photo is too dark = increase shutter speed (i.e., 1/400 to 1/100)
  • If test photo is too bright = decrease shutter speed (i.e., 1/400 to 1/800)

Hopefully you now understand manual mode and can take some amazing photos for your blog! Please let me know what you think in the comments, or feel free to ask any more photography or blogging-related questions!

6 Comments

  • Nancy Bradley
    Excellent summary and examples, Cat. I love your blog and your photos; you are a stunning model!
    • Cat
      Thank you so much Mrs. Bradley! That means so much coming from such a skilled photographer as yourself.
  • This is a great post!! I will definitely be bookmarking this :)
  • This was incredibly helpful! I've had my Sony a5000 for over a year, and still stuck using auto mode...Sigh, I know. I just sat down with my camera while reading your post and feel like I can *finally* conquer manual mode. Thank you so much! -Dara
    • Cat
      I'm so glad this post helped you Dara! Manual mode can seem tricky at first, but once that "lightbulb moment" happens, playing with manual mode can be so fun :)
  • Great breakdown of these 3 settings! Thank you for including the shots with their settings for us to understand better.

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