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manual mode basics

manual mode basics

Over and over again I see people using extremely expensive (and nice) DSLR cameras who always stick to the auto mode. I was guilty of that for such a long time and then I realized it didn't make sense. If you're going to shoot in auto, you might as well use your iPhone. I'm being honest. iPhone camera quality is pretty good, and it's just a point and shoot.

Why go the effort to carry around a $500 dollar camera if you're going to get the same effect with a few more pixels than your iPhone? The advantage of shooting in manual mode is drastic. I never realized how big of a difference it would make when I was stuck in auto.

For example, look at how much better the picture on the left looks! It's much warmer, the background is blurrier and the light look so much better! Manual allows you to truly control every aspect of the photo. With manual, you can get the effect you want every single time! And not just the basic effect auto is going to give you. 

Sometimes, in strange lighting, even when the flash isn't necessary, auto will think it's needed. The picture on the left was shooting up into the sun. Even though it was dark below the flowers, the flash makes the picture harsh whereas manual makes the photo look WAY better!

If you're trying to learn manual mode, here's a quick intro in the different parts & how to get started if you're a beginner. 

Manual mode:

Manual mode on your camera consists of three main parts: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. It sounds really daunting, but each controls something different about the photo. 


 For example, this picture is f/2.2. It's only focused really well on one point, and the backgroud is super blurry!

For example, this picture is f/2.2. It's only focused really well on one point, and the backgroud is super blurry!

The basic definition of aperture is actually just an opening, hole, or gap. Aperture controls the opening of the camera lens. 

Whenever you see beautiful portraits, they usually have the subject in focus and the background is blurred. That's low aperture, when the foreground is in focus and the background isn't. 

The numbers range from about f/1.2 all the way to f/22. The f stands for f-stop, which is just another name for aperture. f/1.2 will only have the very first thing in focus (and the background blurred) where as f/22 everything in the photo will be in focus. With a lens, you usually pay extra money for the ability for it to go a lower and lower aperture. The lens that comes with your camera can only go so low whereas an expensive lens can go down to f/1.2. 

If you look at your camera lens while you have it on different apertures, you can actually see it's a difference in how wide the camera lens' opening is! 

Shutter Speed

 See how her hair is frozen? This is 1/500 of a second so all the motion can be frozen and not blurry! 

See how her hair is frozen? This is 1/500 of a second so all the motion can be frozen and not blurry! 

Shutter speed is simply how fast your camera takes the picture. Depending on what you're taking a picture of, depends on what shutter speed you'd want.

If you're taking an action shot, you'd want a fast shutter speed. If the camera takes the picture really quick, it won't be blurry from motion. If you're taking a long exposure however, you'd want a slow shutter speed and a tripod, that way it can capture multiple seconds or minutes even.

Shutter speed is a fraction- the fraction of a second you want it. If you play around with different shutter speeds you can hear the difference in the time of the click of your camera. So 1/640 would be a fast shutter speed, whereas 1/10 would be a lot slower. 1 would be a full second and so on. When you are shooting without a tripod, because your hands naturally aren't perfectly steady it's not smart to go below 1/50. 


To understand ISO, its easiest if you understand where it comes from. On film cameras, you just control the aperture and shutter speed, and your ISO is how sensitive the film is to light, so you pick it when you buy film.

Film has different sensitivities to light. If it's super super sensitive, it'd be great for shooting in dark or low light situations. Not as sensitive film would be great for full daylight photos. That's the easiest way to think of ISO, is just how sensitive your camera is being to the light. 

The numbers range from 100-3200. Think of 100 or 200 as complete sunlight, 400 and 800 for cloudier days, and 1600 and 3200 for indoors or low light situations. 


When you're taking a picture, all three things have to be set in order to get the picture you want in manual. To get the effect you want, you have to balance out your settings.

 f/6.3, 1/100 sec , ISO 100. These settings make sure the background is slightly blurry, it freezes a fairly still subject, and it's in daylight so ISO 100.

f/6.3, 1/100 sec , ISO 100. These settings make sure the background is slightly blurry, it freezes a fairly still subject, and it's in daylight so ISO 100.

For example, aperture lets different amounts of light in, which then effects the focus. So a low aperture with a blurry background (f1.8) has a wide opening, so it'd let in more light than f8.

Shutter speed also lets in different amount of light. A fast shutter speed only has the camera's opening for a fraction of a second, so not a lot of light can enter through the lens that quickly. A long shutter speed (think of long exposures where you can see light trails at night) lets in a ton of light.

ISO just means how sensitive your camera is to the light that enters through the lens.

Because all these let in different amounts of light, you have to balance them to get a good exposure. For example, for portraits if you have a low aperture (f1.8) to get a blurry background, that will let in a lot of light. In sunlight (ISO 100) you'd want the shutter speed to be quick so it would balance out the aperture. 

It's sort of hard to grasp at first how to get your aperture and shutter speed to correspond. It'll start to come more naturally after you play around with it for awhile.

I don't usually mess with my ISO (I leave my ISO on auto in manual mode) but if you don't have that option, it's the easiest if you just put it on a number that generally fits your lighting situation. A bigger ISO allows gives you more grain, so try to keep it the lowest you can go unless your pictures are turning out too dark.

To get used to what each number means, it's fun and easier to play around on the Shutter Speed priority and Aperture priority modes. These allow you to only adjust shutter speed or aperture and do the rest for you, so it's easy to see the different effects and help visualize what each one does and the effect the actual numbers have, especially since those modes will isolate just shutter speed or aperture for you. 

Once you can remember the numbers that go along with each one, start playing around with manual mode at home. I still prefer when I'm out and about to use aperture priority, but for portraits I saw such a difference in my photography once I started shooting manual. 

On Pinterest, you can find many "Manual Mode cheat sheets". If you print one out, it will give you a visual of how wide the lens is open or how fast the shutter speed is shooting. These may help you understand the balance between the elements as well, so at first it helps to print one out and have it with you, until you can remember the numbers.

Hope this helped! 

summer + kelli

summer + kelli

learning bible journaling

learning bible journaling