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.

What The Beginner Photographer Needs.

The last photography guide a beginner will need to start, I will cover everything.

  1. Camera Choice
  2. Lens Choice
  3. Mastering Manual Settings

Camera Choice

As a photography beginner camera choice is important, it should not stress you out as a beginning photographer. Your stress is better used in learning manual settings, composition, and lighting. Now that you’re aware of how minimal this decision is, let’s go over some camera brands.


  • Sony
  • Canon
  • Nikon
  • Fujifilm
  • Olympus
  • Panasonic
  • Pentax
  • Leica

To further simplify this beginner photography guide, currently, I recommend looking into Sony cameras. Sony has worked hard to create cameras in every budget range. Depending on your budget you could start at an entry level full frame camera or a crop sensor, which is less expensive and still can produce quality photos.

If you already have a camera, start learning with that one! Even if you have an iPhone, you can still learn the photography basics.

Recommended Camera Builds

“The best camera is the one you’re comfortable with”


Eager Beginner

For the eager beginner photographer, we should keep this cheap and of excellent quality. That’s why I will recommend an ASPC camera rather than a full frame. Personally, I think the A6000 by Sony is of exceptional quality and the sensor is the same in all the newer models. Yes, the camera is old, but you can get very far with this setup.

The Build

The Entry Level Professional

You’re still a beginner photographer but you’re aware, this is the path for you, welcome, or if you’re the college student like I was and the teacher is making you purchase a camera for the course, here is my recommendation. You’re going to want a full frame camera without a doubt. The advantage full frame has is not huge, but this is a competitive field and as a professional everyone shoots full frame. Going full frame will save you the money if you’re a professional, you will upgrade eventually, anyway.

The Build

Buying a Used Camera

You’re a beginner photographer and you’re not rich? oh, okay. Welcome to the clearence section, ladies and gentlemen. Used gear is scary, I know, I was hesitant to purchase my first piece of used gear but since then I’ve had nothing but good transactions. I complete every transaction in person at a local bank parking lot (lots of cameras), you can find used gear on Facebook marketplace or apps like offer up, but there are some rules for buying used gear.

The Used Gear Rules

  • Camera Sensor
  • Shutter Count

Camera Sensor

When buying a camera you have to check out the camera’s sensor visually by looking at it, then testing it by taking a photo of the sky at F11 this will show any imperfections of the sensor, most cameras will just have some spots that’re caused from dust that’s okay. If they broke the sensor, you will know, don’t worry.

Shutter Count

What’s the shutter count? shutter count is a lot like miles on a car, it shows you how many times the shutter has opened and closed, in human terms the shutter count is how many photos they have taken with the camera. They rate Sony cameras to have a shutter life of 200,000 – 500,000. Crazy amount of photos, but it’s worth asking sometimes.

If you already bought a used camera, that’s okay you can check the shutter count using this free tool. Last, do not stress about the shutter count this is just the rating for when the shutter might give out cameras exceed the rating and still work some do not.

Camer Choice: Recap

Again as a beginner photographer, do not stress about camera choice it is not the success of your career that this depends on what camera you choose but what you capture using that camera. For the entry-level professional lens choice is more important than camera choice. Camera bodies depreciate over time, lenses usually hold their value.

Lens Choice

Arguably more important than your camera choice is lens choice, remember bodies depreciate glass holds most of its value. Now, before you choose your glass, let’s go over something’s to consider.

  • What are Prime and Zoom lenses
  • Should I buy a prime or a zoom?
  • The advantages of these lenses
  • Focal Length
  • F-stop

Prime or Zoom

What’s a prime and zoom lens?

A prime is a lens of a fixed focal length, an example of that would be a 50mm lens, you’re not able to zoom with this lens. A zoom is the opposite of a prime, usually covering a range of focal lengths, such as a 24-70mm, thus, allowing you to zoom.

Should I buy a prime or a zoom?

This question has been around since the dawn of man, I still think of this at night. However, before we answer this question, let’s answer a few others, what type of photography will you be doing most. Photographers that do a lot of travel seem to prefer a single zoom lens compared to three prime lenses in the same focal length. However, if I know im going to be shooting portraits, I bring my two primes i know i will need.

The advantages of a zoom

Zoom lenses have the benefit of being the “all in one” tool. If I was going to a photography job and I was unaware of the tool, I would need for the job. The zoom lens would be a safe tool to bring. However, by being a versatile tool, zooms lack in image quality when compared to primes.

The advantages of a prime

Prime lenses have the benefit of being faster in terms of aperture and better in image quality. However, they lack the zoom function this can make you less versatile at things such as events.

Focal Length

  • Wide angle
  • Telephoto
  • Standard

Focal length is important to learn luckily it’s very easy to learn as well. In short, focal length is the distance you will be from the subject to take a photo. For example, a 20mm lens is a wide-angle lens. While ideal for architecture, photography or landscapes, it’s not flattering for up-close headshots.

To be completely honest, showing you the difference in these lenses is easier shown then explained, I will update down below with pictures to further explain.

Wide 20mm:

Standard 55mm:

Telephoto 85mm:

Telephoto 105mm:

What do focal ranges do?

Other than changing your perspective of your subject as shown above, telephoto lenses cause compression. Compression is really flatters your subjects and really flattens the subject against the background.


You more than likely are wondering what this is. In short, F-stop controls the amount of light your lens lets in. People refer to lenses with a low F-stop as “fast” lenses. F-stop is the lowest your aperture can go, it’s displayed next to your focal length so people will commonly say things such as the Sony 20mm F1.8 or the Sigma 105mm F1.4.

The lower the “F” number, the more light the lens lets in. Lenses with a low F-stop are more sought after because of the low light capabilities and the “bokeh” these lenses create. They’re also more expensive, sadly. F-stop also controls your depth of field, I explain it in the video below and here.

What’s Aperture?
What’s “Bokeh”?

Bokeh is a term used to describe the buttery goodness lenses produce, also known as background blur. For example, look at the background of this image.

Russ’s Reccomendation

For your first lens i reccomend a 24-70 zoom or a 50mm prime. The 24-70 will cover the range needed for most photographs. The 50mm is a great prime for any photography niche you decide to try! (You can film an entire movie using just a 50mm) might try this, actually…

Lens choice recap

Lens choice is very important, quality glass is worth the cash. Know the difference between a zoom and a prime. Know what focal range works best for the subject of your photograph. Don’t just invest in lenses, invest in maintaining the quality here.

Mastering Manual Settings

The most important part of this article is this section. I will touch on it briefly and super easy to understand. If you would like more depth on this, I suggest you view my original explanation here: Mastering Manual Settings.

  • Exposure
  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed
  • ISO


Exposure refers to the highlights and shadows in your image. There are three types of exposure.

  • Over Exposed
  • Under Exposed
  • Properly Exposed

Over Exposed

If your image is too bright to the point, you lose a lot of detail, your image is over exposed.

Under Exposed

If your image is too dark to the point, you lose a lot of detail, your image is under exposed.

Properly Exposed

If your image maintains the detail in the highlights & shadows, your image is properly exposed.


Aperture controls two things, the amount of light let in the image and the depth of field.

Depth of Field

There are two types of Depth of Field (lol)

  • Deep Depth of Field
  • Shallow Depth of Field
Deep Depth of Field

There are two types of deep depth…. Na, im just playing. Deep depth of field refers to when your aperture is F11 or above and everything is in focus.

Shallow Depth of field

Shallow depth of field refers to when your aperture is below F6 and parts of your image are out of focus creating “bokeh”.

By adjusting your Depth of Field, you’re also adjusting the amount of light you let into your image. The lower the F-stop, the more light let in, the higher, the less let in.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed controls two things, motion blur and the amount of light let in.

  • Motion Blur
Motion Blur

This shows camera shake. If you have a slow shutter speed such as 1/25, you can capture motion within your image, such as an athlete. If you have a fast shutter speed such as 1/1000, you can capture that same marathon runner, but now it looks like they’re frozen in midair and extremely sharp.

Similar to Aperture, the lower the shutter speed number, the more light let into your image. The faster the shutter speed number, the less light let into your image.


I have no clue what this stands for, but it controls the light in your image and noise.


Noise is the product of raising your ISO, if extremely high your image will appear grainy.

The lower the ISO the sharper your image will be, the higher your ISO the more noisy your image will be.


Choose a camera, then a lens. Learn manual settings, follow my blog, get happy and create content..

What camera should I buy?

Full frame camera if you’re going to be a professional. ASPC camera if you’re a hobbyist.

What does aperture do?

Aperture controls your depth of field. In additon, the lower your aperture, the more light let in and the less in focus. Similarly, the higher your aperture the less light let in and the more in focus you will have in your image.

What should I learn first to improve my photography?

Learn manual settings and focus on one focal length along with what you can photograph given your current tools.

Does photography gear matter?

Yes, this is a competitive field, to stand out anything will help you. However, skill vastly outranks gear any day.

Will A.I. takeover photography?

Not soon or the near future, for now they are just helping us in post processing, but someday yes.

I post short form content on my Instagram for those of you who can not sit still for an entire article! Have a wonderful day, guys.

Photo Entry – 2

Stunning shot, how did you get it?

Well, its a composite. I know im being frowned upon by photographers as we speak for doing this, but above all I am an artist. To me, art is mixing the ideal and the real, and that is what I put forward when I edit my images.

Do you have shame?

As a photographer, yes i do. It sucks knowing this could’ve been an actual moment I captured. Instead, I captured 90% of this moment and it left me with a blank blue sky behind the rock climber. Not entirely ideal for the energy of the rock climber had, so I simply changed the sky.

How did you change the sky?

This one was easy I just used the photo shop select subject tool. Next, I inverted the selection, then deleted and replaced the sky.

Finishing touches?

Last, I cleaned up the sky selection crop and added some gradients to enhance the energy of the image.

Need help learning the basics?

Photo Journal – 1

One of my favorite shots, I was camping at Bartlet lake in Arizona and I wanted to capture the stars in the background because they looked so gorgeous out by the lake.

How I got the shot:

Took some trial and error, but off to the left I believe we had a lantern that was admitting light into the frame. Keep in mind this a long exposure shot so all the light was bleeding into the sensor making it over exposed.

I used my iPhone flashlight to get this shot, since it was a long exposure of about 4 seconds I needed to light the foreground but also have the background in focus as well. I accomplished this by taking the photo and waving my flashlight at the foreground so that light would bleed in the sensor, then I cut the light completely; thus, allowing the stars to bleed into the sensor and not have the foreground over exposed.

Nightscapes tips:

The primary goal is to get both the foreground and the background properly exposed. However, the problem is if you expose for the stars your foreground becomes pitch black or over exposed, both resulting in wasted space. Now, the solution is being able to control the light. If you can light the foreground for a few seconds in your exposure, then let the image continue exposing for the stars you can strike the perfect balance.

This photo is literally trash bro?

A7iii V.S. A7rii

a7iii camera and a7rii

What Sony camera is right for you?

Let’s jump straight into this RAW. The price difference between these two may be a lens worth, so lets check the facts.


  • A7iii costs $1,900 new. Used EST ~ $1,500.
  • A7rii costs $1,600 new. Used EST ~ $1,100.

You’re thinking “well, I can’t afford either” but we’re window shopping so that doesn’t matter.


Clear, winner here but do megapixels matter to you? I for one loved them until my storage filled up twice as fast. If you invest in a higher megapixel camera, it is taxing on your computer and editing laggy images is not fun. Either set aside the money to upgrade weak computer parts or go for the a7iii.

Do I need the mega pixels?

No. I don’t but im also not you, we’re built different. I enjoy getting my composition correct on camera first. With that being said, if you crop your images a lot, the megapixels might help you keep a lot of your image quality still.

Photography and Videography

This will be the deciding factor for most of you.

Do you run a photography and videography business?

If your career involves you to do both, the better option is the a7iii. Both do 4k but this camera has the specs to pull off video and photo that is the reason I bought it. If I was just a studio or still photographer, I would go with the a7rii because of how cheap it is when compared to the a7iii and the clear advantage it has in photography.

These are the major factors that ultimately led me to sell my a7rii for those curious, I sold it for $1,100. I do not regret it but when I shoot stills; she crosses my mind.

Below are some FAQ:

Q: Best for sports photography?

A: Time is crucial in this area of photography, the a7iii is far superior in focus points and speed.

Q: A7rii a good secondary camera?

A: Yes, I use it often, especially if I knew I was posing subjects for stills.

Have a dirty lens to clean? Check out this post.

i cant afford this

Len’s Care

Your lens is dirty, so how do you fix it without scraping the lens you went in debt for?

It’s really simple but if you’re anything like me you want to do it right, let’s go over the tools you will need.


For some odd reason, we’re wired to blow things. not a joke, resist all urge to blow the dust off your lens using your mouth, not only can you spit saliva all over your lens you also have bad breath so just save it for your birthday cake.

Story time: Once in a blue moon I get the urge to just blow the dust off my lens using my mouth, I always end up getting saliva on it just don’t do it.

Where do I buy the tools?

The Zeiss lens wipes you can purchase from using this link. However, you may find them at your local Best Buy, I just don’t have one near me. You can get a 220 pack for about $15 on amazon though, and currently it’s the best deal (I do my research).

The microfiber cloth you can purchase using this link. Most photographers have like 20 of these, they literally just hand them out, matter of fact ill create some using my logo. Currently amazon has the best deal on the 6 pack for $8.99 which is pretty cheap considering I’ve worked out my entire life and still don’t have a six-pack.

The air-blower you can purchase using this link. You can also pick these up from a local camera store if you have one near (support a local business). I’m also considered a local business thanks to me being a business on the internet. Amazon has this listed for $7.99.

The brush you can purchase using this link. Again, your local camera store will have these more than likely, you just have to muster up the courage to leave your house. These will run you about $9.99.

All together this will run you about $40 if purchased Individually.

Crazy, right?

Well, don’t be, if you need the ENTIRE KIT just purchase it HERE for half the price. If you only needed one or two things, you can purchase them individually and you will get some better quality tools rather than an entire kit.

How to Clean My Lens

You have the tools to clean your high-quality glass, let’s get started.

Step 1: we use The blower first, this will help you get the big stuff off with nothing pressing into your buttery smooth glass.

Step 2: we use the brush next, I brush the lens to knock off any excess dust. I also use the double fist combo of dusting and blowing after each stroke.

Step 3: last we use the lens wipe or cloth with fluid, both work the same. With the lens wipe, you simply wipe the lens in circular motions from outward to inward. If you have the cloth with the fluid, spray some on the cloth and do the same.

Outstanding you’ve cleaned your lens and did not destroy it, I hope!

Below are some FAQ:

Q: Are lens cleaning clothes washable?

A: Yes, you can soak them in soapy water then rinse them out or throw them in the washer.. just not with bleach!

Q: Are lens cleaning wipes safe?

A: If used after blowing off bigger dust particles and brushing, they are 100% safe!

Q: What are lens cleaning cloths made out of?

A: Lens cleaning cloths are made of microfiber!

Q: Where can I buy the stuff needed to clean my lenses?

A: I’ve linked multiple resources of how you can purchase these items above in my article!

As always guys if you enjoyed anything reading this be sure to follow this blog and on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. I plan to help all new photographers in any way I possibly can.

Russ’s Review: Small-rig Cage

Not everyone needs a cage for their camera but those who do video work will appreciate the attachments you can add to your camera. Those who primarily record themselves will benefit by getting a cage for their a6400 or any a6xxx because the mic jack get’s in the way of the screen, you can counter this by purchasing a hot shoe mount to attach.

Furthermore, you can attach lights and 4k monitors if you’d like; the possibilities are endless until you run out of screws that is. My favorite attachment next to the hot shoe mount is attaching my light from aperture! i suggest looking into the cage if you are a videographer. Let me know how you like it!

If you decide to purchase any of these items head over to the My Gear tab and use my link if you’d like. Thank you.

Russ’s Review: 85mm 1.8 Sony

The 85mm 1.8 Sony is one of the highest quality lenses you could get for little investment. With that being said, let’s find out if it’s right for you.

1/125th ISO: 400 f/1.8

Lens Price

This lens is one of my first additions to my very small collection, also the best quality lens for the price in my opinion and of many others. I originally purchased this lens for around 600$ new, this was before i was comfortable buying used gear. Furthermore, i have seen this lens go for as low as 400$ on Reddit’s photomarket and on offer up, (be sure to inspect and ask for detailed photos). At this price i think this would be a good addition to any photographers toolkit.

Lens Use

The price is right but, is this lens right for you?

Personally this lens was worth every penny to me. However, i primarily do portrait work. This lens allows me to get close to my subject without breathing down their neck, this is a huge benefit by the way. As you can see from my portfolio most of my portraits are up close and personal with people and sometimes its easier to get a longer focal length than actually getting closer to someone you just met.

Lens Quality

The build quality of this lens is very sturdy, it has a switch on the side so you can alternate between Manual Focus (MF) and Auto Focus (AF). This comes in handy when shooting through windows. Furthermore, this lens is light, it will not break your back hiking a mountain. As for the image quality this lens is very sharp not as sharp as the 55mm 1.8 Zeiss but it is second in my collection. The main selling point of this image is the bokeh it produces, that is thanks to it’s aperture and its focal length.

Do i buy this lens??

This statement entirely depends on you. Speaking honestly, i only pull this lens out when doing portraits. That being said i shoot a lot of portraits haha. However, im not walking down the street with this lens taking photographs or climbing mountains, not saying that you shouldn’t but most don’t. This lens stays at home unless i know i will be shooting portraits. So if you shoot a lot of portraits or think you can use this lens in other ways by all means purchase it. Compared to all the other lenses in this focal range, this one is the best bang for your buck.

Is the 55mm F/1.8 Zeiss worth the cash?

The Sony 55mm 1.8 Zeiss clocks in around a whopping 1000$ new. If you’re lucky and can wait for a great opportunity, you can find it selling for around 600$ – 800$ used on Facebook marketplace or offer up, just be sure to inspect the lens first. I purchased mine for 600 and it was in perfect condition.

What are you paying for?

The reason this lens is so pricey is simple, in a lot of cases you get what you pay for, this is one of those times. While this lens might not be needed for everyone, those working professionally will appreciate the extreme sharpness and build quality of this lens.

A lens around the 50mm focal range is needed in all camera bags, its the most versatile lens a photographer can own. So, if you could only afford one professional lens, it would make sense to go with the 55mm Zeiss; especially if you’re working professionally.

How’s the low light?

The 55mm 1.8 Zeiss holds up nicely in low light as you expect given its stats. Personally this is one of my favorite lenses for low light shooting and street photography. Previously, the 85mm 1.8 from Sony was my most cherished lens and it still holds a place in my heart for portrait work but recently i have had the 55mm stuck to my a7iii.

55mm 1.8 or the 50mm 1.8?

The big question for most of you is will it be worth it choosing the 55mm over the 50mm, the honest answer is no. Most people can not handle this much power, i mean um, sharpness. If you’re focused on videography the smarter choice would be the 50mm. My photographers will have to weigh out the options.

Are you a hobbyist? Do you want to have at least one high quality lens? Do you work professionally for clients? Do you need a competitive edge?

For most, you will not need this lens. I suggest you rent and try this lens out and decide if you actually need it, if you do head over to the My Gear page and purchase it using my link if you’d like, be sure to check offer up and other used local places first though, we’re all about saving money here.