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An Introduction To Shooting In Manual

Getting into photography can be a daunting process, there are so many numbers and rules to learn that it can be so overwhelming that you may want to give up before you get into the thick of it.


Once you get over that hurdle it's the most fun you can ever have, it is extremely rewarding, and not to mention cameras are a powerful tool to have when it comes to capturing moments and memories.

Whether you want to shoot film or digital, I am here in hopes to make the learning process as easy for you as possible. Remember it's not easy, so there are no bad questions, if you are confused or would like to know more about a topic I have not yet covered please let me know either in the comments below or send me an email :)

There are 4 topics that you will need to understand about photography before you start shooting manual:

  1. Exposure

  2. Aperture

  3. Shutter Speed

  4. ISO

Now you may look at those words and think WTF, or maybe you are already familiar, either way I hoper after reading this it will all be a bit more clear.

Everything about taking photos revolves around light, and how the camera takes it in. All of the topics above are a way to manipulate light in your camera to give you the settings you need for the outcome you desire.


Having correct exposure is the main goal when taking a photo, unless you are purposefully breaking the rules to fit your style, which you will learn about later on. Both digital and mirrorless cameras have sensors, which is how it measures it's sensitivity to light. Almost like your eye, if there's a lot of light shining then it's really really bright (hence why we wear sunglasses), but if there is not enough light then you can't see much because it is too dark. This is how exposure in a camera works, so the goal is to use Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO to adjust how much light is coming in accordingly.


Aperture is how wide the opening of the lens is. The best way to understand aperture is by thinking of it like this: imagine you are in a box that is pitch black inside, if you made a small hole in the box it will let very little light in, but if you make that hole bigger, it lets more light in. This is how an aperture ring works, the smaller the hole the less light gets let in the bigger the more light. Aperture also plays a role in deciding how sharp your image will be and the depth of field - this is how you make your image have a blurry background with the subject in focus (e.g. portraits), or your whole image to be in focus (e.g. landscapes).

The way that aperture is measured, is called F-Stop. There is also a maximum and minimum F-stop, but the way the sequence is measured may be confusing, so I will try and make it as simple to understand as I can. The smaller the hole the higher the number, and the bigger the hole the lower the number. Have a look at the examples below:


Shutter Speed is how long the camera allows light in for. Think about taking an image with your phone camera, when you push that button it takes a picture pretty quickly getting what you need in focus. Now let's think about it on a deeper scale; when you take a picture with a fast shutter speed it captures motion, eliminates blur, and lets less light in. But when you take a picture with a slower shutter speed, you are exposing more light, making pictures lighter, as well as blurry because it is capturing more motion, this is where you may want to use a tripod.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of a second. The way you want to choose your shutter speed depends on what you are trying to achieve in your image. If you want to take a picture of a fast car or bird in focus, you use a very quick shutter, but if you want to take a picture where the water is soft and smooth then you will use a longer exposure.


The best way to imagine ISO is by thinking about it as a direct way to change the brightness of an image. The higher the ISO the lighter the image will be and the lower the ISO the darker the image will be. ISO is the light that is captured by the camera sensor, so the more light that is exposed will also cause more image noise, or what we call Grain.

Once again: the higher the ISO the lighter and grainier the image, the lower the ISO the darker and smoother the image will be. Noise is something you wan to avoid in a high quality photo, but cameras these days handle higher ISO much better and noise doesn't seem to be much of an issue.

ISO is measured in levels, and the level you choose is based on what Shutter speed and Aperture you want to use as well.


These 4 elements are the essential keys to capturing a good photo. Just remember that Sutter Speed, ISO and Aperture all work together to create the correct exposure for your image. You will need to adjust them as you go depending on what is it you want to capture and your lighting situation.

Just remember, the best way to learn and remember all of this is by going out and practicing!