Travel Photography Essentials Part 1

Hello our lovely Pandas,

It’s been super hectic around here with summer travels! But we are going to start a new series today with you! This series will be dedicated to building some solid foundation and knowledge to start taking pictures in Manual Mode. My goal for this tutorial is to simplify Manual Mode as much as possible in order for you to feel confident about using it out in the field.

Let’s get it started shall we?

First off, what is Manual Mode and why is it important to learn how to take pictures with Manual Mode?

Answer: Manual Mode simply allows you to adjust all the settings manually without having the camera to decide for you. You will be solely responsible for how the picture turns out in every aspect which means you can get the MOST out of each image. Manual Mode is also important to learn as it will give you an excellent foundation and understanding of how the camera takes a picture and how YOU can manipulate the slightest setting to get EXACTLY the result you desire.

*MYTH – It’s too hard and takes too long to learn Manual Mode – Absolutely not, I’ve taught simple entry level DSLR courses where a customer can easily grasp the concept in an hour. Only 3 main things to really understand. Don’t worry, I’ll make it easy for you.

What is Manual Mode and do I have it on my camera?

Answer: You MIGHT! Misconception with most beginners is that Manual Mode is only available on fancy DSLR. In reality, it’s becoming more and more widely available on many mid to high end point and shoot cameras such as this guy right here.


This Canon G9x for example retails for $599 Canadian which in return, gives you an excellent pocket size camera with lots of features and amazing image quality but also the ability for you to manipulate the settings to your liking.

Now of course, Manual Mode is the mode of choice for most professional, amateur and picture lover out there who own a DSLR such as this Sony A7RII (I currently own the A7R first version, Miss Panda won’t let me buy the new one… sadface… haha)Sony-A7rii-GP100-Gear-Patrol-Ambiance

Most of you will have a different camera, some will have a Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Fuji. However, if you have a mid to higher end point & shoot, or even an entry to pro grade DSLR, then Manual Mode is there. It will be on your dial, just turn to it.

Because there are too many brands and ways to access your settings such as ISO/Aperture (F-Stop)/Shutter Speed, I can’t go into each menu for you so before you continue with this tutorial, make sure to be comfy on how to access ISO/Aperture and Shutter Speed on your respective cameras.

OK! Now let’s get to the 3 things I mentioned earlier. What are they and what the F******k do they do?? haha

Alright in today’s post we will cover ISO. What is ISO in plain English? ISO is simply the sensitivity of the sensor to light.

What does ISO look like?

ISO is a set of numbers that look like this: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800, etc…

And YES there will be numbers that you can choose that are in between, but for the sake of simplicity, I urge you to ONLY use those numbers above. There is a reason for that but it’s complicated and doesn’t need to be addressed in this tutorial.

Before we go into “what number should I use”, let me give you a super useful tip. Most of the time, you can preset your ISO before even heading out the door. I’ll explain that in a little bit.

What ISO number should I use and WHY??

As mentioned earlier, ISO numbers determine how sensitive to light the sensor becomes. Let’s break it down into something simple for you.

100 – Sunny Day or you have a ton of available light

200 – Not so sunny day, some clouds but not total over cast

400 – Overcast aka cloudy kind of a day or light is becoming a slight challenge to find or just typical indoor settings with lights turned on

800 – Evening and getting darker or indoors (yes even with some light)

1600 – Light is getting tough to find or indoor settings where most lights are turned off (Beginning of what we consider low light)

3200 – You don’t got light other than a candlelight in the corner of the room somewhere haha (Low Light)

6400 – You need light in your life buddy or you are desperate for the picture and will get er dun

12800 – Most cameras unless high end DSLRs will not go this far

As you see, the higher number you go, the MORE sensitive the sensor inside the camera becomes. Do you remember how I told you that most of the time, you can “preset” your ISO before leaving the house? Well, this is what I do. If I know that I will be going out for a walk on the beach (Maui preferably) and I know that the day is forecasted to be SUNNY, then before leaving the house, I will set my ISO to 100. Because there is SO much light available during a sunny day, I don’t need my camera sensor to be sensitive at all.

On the flip side, if I know I’m going to my favourite niece and nephew’s house and spending most of my time indoors, I will go ahead and preset my camera to about ISO 800 – 1600 because I know that their house doesn’t have a ton of available light. This means for this particular setting, I need my camera to be more sensitive to light to make my pictures come out perfectly.

That’s how easy it really is to set your ISO and GO! It’s honestly that easy and simple. Don’t overthink it, just ask yourself “what’s the weather like today?” or “If I’m going indoors with the camera today, how much light is there available?”

But WAIT! There’s more!! There are some side effects as you go higher in the number. It’s something we call DIGITAL NOISE. What’s that? Digital Noise is how grainy that picture becomes as you increase your ISO to a HIGHER number. The goal of digital photography is to capture the best possible image which means the “cleaner” the picture, the less digital noise it will have.

Cameras today are so good that most will not show signs of digital noise until you get into the 800 or more. I hardly will end up using 1600 or more in any situation I run into.

Now that we have ISO out of the way, don’t forget that ISO is ONLY 1 of 3 important settings and that they all need to work together in order to get that perfectly balanced shot. We will dive into that in the last part of this series.

In the meantime, love you all! Stay tuned for Part 2!

The Travel Pandas

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