A Deeper Explanation: Your basic camera manual mode.

Camera technology in smartphones has progressed to the point where they can have near DSLR quality controls. The cameras on a lot of phones are simply for point-and-shoot purposes, but a lot of upper tier phones have a manual mode for people who really pay attention to smartphone photography. If you have a phone with a manual mode in the camera, and you want to start catering your shots more to your liking, there are a bunch of settings and dials to help you with that, but it can be a bit confusing for those not familiar with photography. Here’s a deeper explanation of what’s in your basic camera manual mode.

1. Exposure compensation.

Your camera tries to keep your pictures from being too bright or too dark. When it takes a shot, it automatically pulls the exposure (brightness) of dark areas up, or the exposure of bright areas down so that they’re closer to a neutral gray. This is good for some situations, but not for all. Sometimes we want those pure whites or deep blacks that our cameras are trying to fix; that’s where exposure compensation comes in. Exposure compensation is a setting where you adjust the exposure so that it’s higher or lower than what your camera automatically wants. Say you take a picture of a white sheet of paper. Your camera is going to pull that white down to a neutral gray (See picture a), but you don’t want gray. Adjusting the exposure compensation will bring that sheet to a pure white (b). The exposure compensation is measured in “stops.” When adjusting, you’ll see +1 and +2, or -1 and -2. Those numbers are the stops, so if you pull the exposure down to -1, you’re pulling it down one stop, and vice versa. Pulling it down one stop halves the exposure, and pushing it up doubles it. Some cameras have as many as 5 stops, but most likely, your phone camera has two in either direction.



Adjusting the ISO is another way of adjusting the brightness of the image. The definition of ISO is the camera’s sensitivity to light. If an image is too bright or too dark, it’s as simple as dialing up or down the ISO. But be cautious, the higher the ISO, the more digital noise in the image. The left picture shows a scene that’s dark, and the right shows the scene where the ISO is cranked up to full. Notice the digital noise in the photo.

iso iso-full

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is the amount of time that the camera sensor decides to take in light. True DSLR cameras have actual physical shutters that open and shut to allow for sensor to be exposed, but smartphone cameras typically don’t; it’s handled digitally. The shutter speed is measured in how many seconds the sensor is open to absorb light. It can range from many thousandths of a second to over 10 seconds. The higher the shutter speed, the lower the number and vice versa. Adjusting the shutter speed has a few effects. One effect is the brightness. Having a lower shutter speed means that the sensor is open longer, allowing more light to shine through, resulting in a brighter image. There’s a tradeoff though, as another effect is the clarity of the photo. A slower shutter speed results in a blurrier image if the camera is not mounted on a tripod. Raising the shutter speed means that you’ll have crisper photos, but the image overall will be darker, so it’ll take some experimentation to get a feel for using shutter speed.


The focus is pretty self explanatory. Your camera is usually able to pin-point a subject to focus on in auto mode, but the subject might not be the one you want to focus on. You can adjust the focus of the photo with the focus feature. Like I said, pretty self explanatory.

White Balance

Our eyes are far more advanced than the lens in our cameras. They can adjust to and compensate for different lighting conditions automatically without us even noticing. One trait of our eyes is being able to see white objects as white under different lighting conditions. Our cameras have trouble with that. This is where white balance comes in. Different types of light have different effects on the color temperature of the photo. If you take a picture of a sheet of paper under sunlight (a), it’ll look one way, but if you take a photo of the same flower under a tungsten light bulb using the same white balance (b). It’ll look completely different. It’ll have a yellowish hue, or a warm color temperature. Adjusting the white balance adjusts the color temperature in order to find the color most accurate to how the scene looks in real life. Changing the white balance more towards the cooler (bluer) side of the spectrum will bring the color of that sheet of paper closer to how it looks to your eyes (c). It also depends on how you want the scene to look. Maybe you want the scene to be warmer than it actually is, or cooler. Adjusting the white balance helps make the scene look the way you want.

wb-a wb-b wb-c

These are your standard manual mode settings. Feel free to take your camera out and experiment with some of these settings. You never know! You might have a knack for smartphone photography. Hopefully this taught you a little bit about the camera that’s in your pocket right now. Keep tuned for more articles like this on Techleagues.com.