Mastering Manual Settings

a beginners simplified guide….

Image of a sony a7iii

Either you’re new to photography or you have taken your skills to the next level, that level being manual settings. Most people stick to “auto” on the camera dial, but the “M” on the dial gives you absolute control of the photo you create. Scary and exciting let’s master these settings so you are not scared anymore. However, before we begin, I may warn you that there is no right or wrong way to use your camera, if you create photos you love that’s all that matters. My job is to provide you with a skill set so you have another tool in your bag in case you need it for your artistic vision. So let’s get to it…

  1. Exposure
  2. Aperture
  3. Shutter Speed
  4. ISO


What’s exposure?

When you first take a photo it falls into one of three categories, under exposed, over exposed or properly exposed. The goal of this exposure game is to get a properly exposed image.

How do i get a properly exposed image?

You can get a properly exposed image by adjusting your aperture, shutter speed, or ISO. A properly exposed image captures details in the shadows and the highlights. In addition, most cameras have an electronic histogram that will help you get proper exposure if you learn to read it correctly.

What’s Aperture?

Aperture operates in increments of F-Stops, when you see it on your camera it looks like this “F 1.8”. The lower the F-Stop, the more light let into your lens. In addition, this is also affecting your depth of field, a common photography term referring to the depth of an image. An image with a shallow depth of field would be around “F 1.8”. An image with a deep depth of field will be around “F 11” or higher. The higher your F-Stop, the less light let into your lens.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter Speed operates in fractions of a second, this controls the way your sensor captures an image. A slow shutter speed is around 1/15th of a second or slower, a fast shutter speed is around 1/250th of a second or faster. If you wanted to capture the motion of a glass falling off the table, a slow shutter speed would do the job. If you wanted to freeze water droplets in mid-air, a fast shutter speed is what you need. In addition, the slower the shutter speed, the more light let into your image, the faster your shutter speed the less light let in.

What is ISO?

ISO controls how sensitive your sensor is to light. When you adjust your ISO, you’re adjusting the sensor’s sensitivity to light. Adjusting your ISO to 100 would lower the camera’s sensitivity to light, ideal on a bright sunny day or with studio lights. Raising your ISO would increase the sensor’s sensitivity to light. However, going past 6400 on your ISO can produce unwanted grain in your image, so be cautious of that.

Notice the difference in the left corner of the image. The image at 80 ISO has finer grain appearing sharper. The image at 12,800 ISO has more noise, resulting in an image not as sharp.


The goal is to get proper exposure, you can only get proper exposure by adjusting your aperture, shutter speed or ISO. However, tricky lighting situations may prohibit you from getting proper exposure, for these situations you would do exposure stacking.


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