While auto mode allows for quick point-and-shoot photos, which is fine a lot of the time, manual mode is where the real magic happens. Here are some tips on getting the most out of your camera’s manual mode.
- Choose the best camera app
- Frame your pictures using the grid overlay
- When to use HDR mode
- Macro photography
- Using ISO
- Flash in moderation
- What RAW means for editing
You might find some of the functions mentioned here to be missing from your camera app’s manual mode. If this is the case, we have a list of the best camera apps on Android, so try a few out and find the one that works for you.
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s how to make the most of manual mode.
Before photographing your subject, think about how to frame it. You can set it up so that everything appears aligned and uniform in the picture, but you can also opt for a picture with deliberately messy elements. The grid overlay feature can help you to decide how to frame your pictures.
The rule is very simple: horizontal lines help you frame the horizon, such as streets, mountains, seas and tables, while the vertical lines serve to align buildings, antennae, people and objects. You do not need to frame the subject of your photo in the main square of the grid; what you need to remember here is the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds basically states that your subject should align with one of the grid’s intersections or lines. Note that no line or intersection appears in the center of the image. The rule of thirds is precisely about not centering the subject, creating greater tension and interest.
HDR compensates for differences in light and contrast; it also changes the level and intensity of colors. The best way to use the function is in situations where your subject is backlit. We have prepared a specific article with tips for HDR mode. You can access it here:
Personally, I prefer to capture my images without HDR mode enabled and edit them in a standalone app, such as Snapseed. My advice is to take two photos – one with and one without HDR enabled – and compare them to see which you prefer.
Macro mode can add interest to almost any object. You just have position your camera at the right distance from your subject and focus. However, the results depend on the quality of the camera lens, since some smartphone cameras are better at focusing than others.
To get a good macro shot, get close to your subject. But not too close: most manufacturers recommend a distance of no less than 3 cm. You will also need a very steady hand, or a tripod, to achieve the best results.
Who said controlling the ISO is only for professionals? The ISO controls the exposure levels, so this feature can improve - or worsen - the photos you capture in particularly bright or dark environments.
Remember to adjust the ISO according to your environment and subject. If you choose a high ISO setting in a bright place, the image will be overexposed and, therefore, ruined. A higher ISO means a slower shutter speed is needed, which in turn means you can more easily capture fast-moving subjects. In general, a low ISO will achieve better image quality, as there will be less noise. Play around with your ISO and you will quickly come to understand how it works.
The flash should be a last resort. The goal of the flash is not to illuminate entirely dark areas; think of it as a kind of alternative to HDR mode. If you are taking a picture where the background is bright and your subject is dark, the flash can balance the two out.
Avoid using the flash too close to your or your subject’s face or near mirrors, glass or laminated objects, since the light will be reflected, leading to an overexposed image.
Many modern smartphones have the option to capture images as RAW format. We've gone over the advantages and disadvantages of the RAW format before, but in a nutshell it comes down whether you want to quickly upload and show the photo somewhere, or whether you want to take time to carefully edit all the fine details.
RAW data preserves all of the image sensor’s information, allowing for very precise manual edits, but the files are large and not easily shareable or printable. Saving a picture to JPEG, on the other hand, throws out a lot of image data, resulting in a compressed picture, easily shared on social media, in chats and so on. JPEGs are also better if you have limited storage space, say if you're filling up your gallery.
Ideally, if you're taking RAW photos, you should do so with a plan to edit the pictures on larger screen like on your PC. There you can tweak exposure and color settings without hurting the quality of the final product. In the end, you'll export the RAW file to a more widely readable format like JPEG before sharing it anyway.
Know any more tips for using your camera’s manual mode? Let us know in the comments.