What is (M), or Manual Mode on my Camera?
When you purchase your very first digital camera, you may take a look at the dial and wonder what all of it means. We will focus on a few of them now. On a Canon camera, you will see three things (along with icons for the type of shooting you want to do. These icons have the camera make all the adjustments for you, offering you no control) 1. M- Manual Mode 2. Av- Aperture value mode (see Aperture article here) 3. Tv- Time value/Shutter Speed (see shutter speed article here). Nikon, Sony, and others use M, A, and S.
M, or Manual mode setting means you as the photographer have the ability to control every setting on the camera. I always shoot in manual mode as it lets me adjust everything as I see fit. There are times when a situation can fool a camera, so using it in automatic modes does not result in the image you want. In manual mode, I can still allow the camera to set things like White Balance, ISO, Metering, etc for me, but I have the ability to set these as well.
Manual mode is intimidating to new photographers. I shot for a long time, thinking it was too complicated. However, the more I shot, the more I found situations where the camera did not do what I wanted it to. When I switched to a camera system with an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), I never shot out of Manual again. An EVF shows you a screen in the viewfinder that shows exactly what the sensor sees. It adjusts LIVE, so when I adjust the shutter, aperture, ISO, whatever, it shows me what the image will look like even before I take the shot. Think of all the photographers who snap a photo, then look at the screen to see how it turned out. On an EVF, you do not need to do that, as you see before you click, and again after the click, just what you are taking. That makes shooting in M mode easy.
On other cameras that use the Optical Viewfinder, it may take a little practice to see what your settings will do to the final image, but the beauty of digital photography is that you can see it easily after the shot (or before with and EVF). In my film days, back in the 1980s, I had to write the settings down on paper and compare to the images after they returned from processing to see what I had set. A very long, burdensome process it was.
To start using M mode, try this. Set your camera to ISO 100, then set your aperture to f 3.5 (most lenses that come with the camera can set here), and a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second. Take a shot and see what you get. From there, play only with one of the values (ISO, Aperture, or Shutter) and see how the setting influences the images. Remember that the amount of natural light will have an impact on this, but you will still get the hang of it quickly. After you have seen the affects of one of the values, switch to another, then finally after seeing all three, start to play with interchanging them and see how they all play off of each other. In not too much time, you will learn a lot about your cameras abilities.
Good luck and do not be afraid of the M mode!