Shooting in manual mode is SO INTIMIDATING! But at the same time, manual mode completely changed my photography in a million great ways. When you shoot in manual mode, you have so much more flexibility in deciding what your final images will look like. I hope that this blog can help assist all photographers who are struggling in finding the right settings for their camera.
So let’s get right into it!!
There are three PRIMARY settings that will change the way your final images look: ISO, aperture (or f stop), and shutter speed. We’ll also talk about white balance and a few other small details that make a big impact on your final images.
ISO – sensitivity to light.
ISO is a number that defines your camera’s sensitivity to the light. This is the first setting I’ll usually determine when I get to a new lighting situation.
Raising a camera’s ISO is also raising the camera’s sensitivity to the light, thus, making your image brighter if needed.
Here’s a little helpful hint that I use to remember ISO:
-The brighter it is outside, the LOWER you’ll want to set your ISO.
-When the setting of your photos is darker, you’ll raise your ISO HIGHER.
Here’s the catch: raising your ISO will add grain to your photos.
The higher your ISO, the more GRAIN you’ll see in your images. Grain can be a stylistic choice, but generally, you want to avoid grain and noise in your photos. Grain can ruin images, and makes your images impossible to use. Grain looks like small specks of texture that make it harder to enlarge images because of the low quality.
ISO ranges from 100-30000, but you’ll almost never want to put your ISO at it’s highest capability.
This next part is crucial! You’ll need to know what is the highest ISO your camera can go WITHOUT adding too much grain to your photos. I work with a lot of canon cameras, and I’ve found that for a Canon t5i, 60d, or 80d, you shouldn’t go higher than 1000 for your ISO. With the Canon 6d Mark ii and 5d mark iii, I never shot higher than 1600.
Sony mirrorless cameras are different, and I can raise the ISO on my a7iii to 5000 without seeing too much grain. It all depends on what camera you use & how much grain you prefer in your photos.
Here’s a few examples of settings to use in unique lighting situations:
Direct Sunlight during the day outside – ISO 100
Shady/overcast during the day outside – ISO 200
Indoors with window lighting – ISO 400
Indoors with bad lighting – ISO 800
Outdoors with limited light (dusk)- ISO 1250
The higher the number, the brighter the images will be while also adding more grain as the number increases.
Aperture or F Stop – depth of field.
Aperture is the number that defines the DEPTH in your photo. This setting allows you to decide how much of the subject will be in focus.
The lower the aperture, the more light you’ll let in & the brighter your images will be. When your aperture is low, you’ll make the background blurrier and less of your subject will be in focus.
The higher your aperture, the less light you’ll let into the camera & the darker your images will be. When your aperture is high, more of your image will be in focus & you’ll have a less blurry background.
Low Aperture = Brighter images & less in focus
Higher Aperture = Darker images & more in focus.
Aperture is highly stylistic & based on preferences! Many portrait photographers today shoot with a lower aperture (f/1.4-f/3), which will give the background more depth and creamy bokeh.
If you’re shooting something where you’ll need MORE in focus (for example: group photos of people where everyone is in a line), keep your aperture higher…like at f/3.5-f/5.0.
Another reason you’d want a higher aperture is for landscape photography, because you’d want to capture every detail of the shot, not just a plant or a random tree (unless you’re into that!).
A low aperture is ESSENTIAL for low light photography, because a low aperture let’s in more light & will help to brighten your images.
Here’s a short recap:
-Less is in focus
-A blurrier background
-Low aperture allows more light in to the camera’s sensor.
Medium / High Aperture
-More of your subject is in focus
-The background will be less blurry
-Allows less light into the sensor.
Everything in focus, no depth in the background, allows little to no light to the sensor.
Shutter Speed – the length of time a sensor is exposed to light.
Shutter speed is a number that represent how quickly your camera takes a photo. If you listen to your camera, you should be able to hear it take each individual photo. Shutter speed lets you determine how quickly each photo will be taken.
I typically adjust this setting last, once I establish my ISO and aperture.
Lower shutter = a brighter image but a risk of motion blur.
Higher shutter = a darker image but will capture motion very quickly.
This setting depends on what you’re shooting: If you’re shooting a relatively still subject you can keep your shutter lower (1/200-1/500). Once you start shooting fast moving objects, you’ll want to keep your shutter speed higher so that you can freeze the subject in a clear composition (1/500-1/2000).
I usually won’t shoot with my shutter speed lower than 1/200, only because I find that I cannot stay still enough while I take the photo to get a clear image without any blur. You can shoot at a shutter lower than 1/200, but I would highly suggest using a tripod at that point.
Low shutter = brighter image but can be blurry
High shutter = darker image but will freeze motion
In dark situations, I keep my shutter low to let more light in but not low enough to where I’ll start to see motion blur in my images.
Manual Settings Templates
Now, here are a few helpful settings templates you can use when you’re in these specific lighting situations. Keep in mind, these are just templates and you’ll most likely need to change a few of these setting depending on your unique situation. These are the settings I would use while shooting portraits. I keep my aperture lower because that’s my shooting style.
Daylight & outside with direct Sun…
Shady outside during the day…
Indoors with natural lighting (ie. a window)…
Indoors or outside with terrible dark lighting…
I hope this has been helpful for you – whether you were brushing up on your skills or this is your first time learning about camera settings! Now, go out & make some beautiful images 🙂