How to start with shooting in manual mode?


You probably heard about it; the manual mode (otherwise you would not read this). But it quickly sounded complicated, but still you wish you knew how it all works. Well, I will explain in an easy way what manual mode is and how to start shooting in manual mode.

Let’s start with the beginning; what is the manual mode? Manual mode is a setting at your camera which gives you complete control over your camera settings. As opposed to automatic mode, where the camera determines the most optimal settings for you. In the manual mode, there are three key exposure settings that you can independently adjust, but they are all connected.

  • Aperture
  • Shutter speed
  • ISO

Together, the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO determine the overall brightness of your photos (i.e., the exposure). Thereby they also affect your photos in other key ways – sharpness, depth of field, and overall image quality.

This is also what makes photographing in manual mode so powerful. You can make your photos appear exactly as dark or light as you want, and you have full control over sharpness, depth of field, and image quality. Down here I will explain to you the 3 key settings in manual mode.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed is the exposure time of an image; that is, how long the shutter stays open to allow light to hit the sensor. So, the faster the shutter speed, the less light hits the camera sensor and the darker the final image. Thereby, the shutter speed also determines image sharpness. When you choose for a long shutter speed, the shutter stays open longer and will result in a motion blur (unless you have only nonmoving objects and place your camera on a tripod). A fast shutter speed, on the other hand, freezes the moment.

Long shutter (1/10) speed means that the shutter stays open longer, which result in more light.

Short shutter (1/400) speed means that the shutter stays open shortly, which result in less light and will freeze the moment.


The aperture is an opening in the lens. The wider the aperture, the more light it lets in, and the brighter the resulting exposure. We use f-stops to refer to aperture sizes, you can recognize this at the f/.. sign. A smaller f-stop refers to a larger aperture and vice versa.

So an aperture of f/1.4 lets in a lot of light (wide aperture), giving you a brighter image.

An aperture of f/16 lets in very little light, producing a darker image.

Make sense? It may feel complicated now, but start using the manual mode and at some point, it will be automatic.

Thereby the aperture is also responsible for controlling the depth of field. In other words; it controls how much of your photo is in focus. Ever saw a photo with a blurred background, that means the photo is taken with a large aperture. The larger the aperture (smaller f stop), the smaller the depth of field. So if you want to make a photo that is sharp from front to end (right picture), then choose a small aperture. Want to make a photo with a beautiful bokeh (left picture), then select a large aperture.


ISO is the last key exposure setting that you can adjust to ensure a well-exposed photo. The ISO controls your camera’s sensitivity to light. By adjusting the ISO, you can increase your camera’s light sensitivity which will result in a brighter image.

Now, this sounds like a magic trick. It is! But ISO does come with a significant drawback. A higher ISO will result in more noise. For this reason, always keep your ISO as low as possible and only use it when you have no other choice. So on a bright day, just leave your ISO at its lowest value. Shooting indoors and you cannot put your shutter speeds lower anymore or your aperture wider, then adjust your ISO.

And are you ready?

Now you have the basics of shooting in manual mode, you are ready to practice. Practicing is the best way to understand all the different exposure settings. Start with thinking about the aperture and shutter speed. How much of the image do you want to be sharp (depth of field) and is there any movement in my image? These questions help you to set the right aperture and shutterspeed. Adapt the ISO only if necessary.

Good luck! And don’t forget to edit your photos afterward to get the most out of your photos.