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Learn How To Shoot In Manual Mode In 10 Minutes

Shooting in manual can be daunting at first, but in about 10 minutes time you’ll know the fundamentals for shooting any photo in manual mode. 

So you’ve finally saved up the money to buy yourself a DSLR or maybe someone bought you one as a gift.

You’re excited to take some pictures and rack up the likes on social media. But you’re scared to take it off auto and don’t know where to start?

Let’s start with aperture

Aperture refers to the ‘f stop’ you set your camera at. Under most circumstances this is where you should start.

To break it down…

The lower the f-number (e.g. f/1.8 is pretty low), the more light you let in (brighter picture) and shallower depth of field (less things in focus).

E.g with everything else equal, an image shot at f/16 will be darker (because less light is let in), have more things in focus (because larger depth of field) than a picture shot at f/2.2.

Most of the time you will start with f stop…

Example 1

You’re doing a product shot of an expensive watch and don’t want the background to distract the viewer.

You want a shallow depth of field so only the watch and its features are in focus.
To achieve this look I’d start to go for a low f stop, maybe somewhere between f/2-f/4 then adjust from there.  

Example 2

On the other hand, you might want to shoot a picture of a landscape or a busy scene in a city, but now you want lots of things in focus and not just one subject.

So you need a larger depth of field.

You’ll go for a higher f-stop probably f/8 and go from there. 

But wait, there’s a problem – not enough is in focus. You’ll make the f stop a higher number like f/11 and see if what you want is in focus.

But what if this happens instead… You have enough in focus but the picture is too dark and not exposed right. You might drop the f-stop to f/5.6 and see if the depth of field is still how you like it.

That’s it.

Seriously that’s it. Ok maybe it’s not EVERYTHING you could know about aperture, but it’s more than enough for now.

Use these questions to help you decide on an f-stop: 

  • Do you need to have a lot of things in focus to portray the image you want?
  • Are there background/foreground elements that are distracting? 

Shutter speed

The next thing to know is your shutter speed. It determines how fast your shutter opens and closes on the camera, sometimes it may even come before your f stop. But we’ll get to that in a second.

In essence, the slower the shutter speed (longer it stays open), the more light is let in (the brighter the picture).

BUT this will result in motion blur after a certain point – if the shutter is too slow to capture and freeze any movement in the picture. 

On the other hand, with a fast shutter speed (opens and closes very quick), less light is let in (darker image) and this is better at capturing motion without blur.

In sports photography, you may want to use a fast shutter speed and you may start here instead of f stop. 

A general rule of thumb to avoid motion blur when shooting hand-held is to use a shutter speed which is the same as your focal length.

E.g. If you have a 50mm lense , keep your shutter speed at least 1/50 or faster to avoid motion blur and have a sharp image. This would need to be faster if your subject is moving quite a bit. 

Example 2

If shooting still life /product, you can use lower shutter speed since there’s no movement in the subject!

If you really need more light, but you’ve exhausted your aperture and ISO settings – use a tripod! 

Use a tripod if you need a much lower shutter speed than you’d be able to from just shooting handheld. 

Example 3 

For action shots of sports, use a fast shutter speed to freeze any action then worry about f stop and ISO afterwards. 

Example 4
For long exposure shots you would also start at the shutter speed because you may want movement to be blurred in the shot!

Your shutter speed could be something like 10 seconds or even longer.


This determines the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light.

Low ISO e.g.  ISO 100 will let in less light compared to ISO 1600 

High ISO results in a brighter picture. ISO is normally the last part of the triangle that you’ll look at after f stop and shutter speed, it’s normally used to compensate. 

So if you’ve got f stop and shutter speed at a perfect setting, but the image is too dark at ISO 100 ,you would up the ISO till you’re happy with the picture. 

BUT the higher the ISO, the more ‘noise’ you have in the picture . This is when the image starts to get a grainy look.

Different cameras can work at varying ISO values without getting grainy. A general rule of thumb to use is to set ISO as low as possible to avoid grain, unless it lends itself well to a picture -maybe it’s an old Western theme that is meant to look grainy and gritty. 


Please. Don’t just read this post and do nothing. I want you to enjoy photography and you can’t do that by just reading.

You have to take photos!

Go outside or stay inside. Pick a  subject, maybe a cup of coffee, a bottle, a pen or even a sock. It really doesn’t matter.

Now experiment with what you’ve learnt

Set your shutter speed to 1/200 .
Set your ISO to 200.

Now try shooting at a high f stop and a low f stop. And compare! 

If the picture is too dark, try lowering your shutter speed till it’s bright enough. Still not bright enough? Bump up your ISO.

Still not bright enough? Looks like you could do with a tripod or lighting in a situation like this.

But don’t stress about that now. These exercises are to learn about your kit.

Try the same above exercise with the following modification. Set the f-stop to the lowest on your camera, and play with shutter speed and see how it affects the picture. Do the same with ISO.

Top Tip

Use your live view on your camera’s screen to see how the picture changes in real time as you change the settings.

This really helps in showing you how each setting affects the picture differently. 

Now you know pretty much all you need to start shooting in manual mode .

We hope you found this helpful! As always we appreciate your time for reading this.
– Photography Pursuits Team

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