Photography 101: How to use Manual mode & My settings

Hello! As I haven’t done a photography post in a while, I decided to come back with a little beginners series, where I show you some hopefully helpful tips and tricks for photography beginners!

Disclaimer: If you’re already familiar with manual mode this may be of no help to you. I really wanna help people who are just starting out with manual mode, and I try to explain everything in the simplest way possible!

Honestly, until I began to shoot in manual, I always thought that my camera and lenses were just crap, however, that was not true at all. While auto just assures that your picture is well lit, sharp and has the right tones, it does not care about aesthetics. That’s where manual comes in and where you can start to rock your pictures!

First off, there’s more than one manual mode. You have “A” for Aperture priority, “S” for Shutter speed and “M” for fully manual. So let’s talk about what each of these modes controls!

Close-up of a lens
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash


Aperture priority is a mode, where you set your aperture, and the camera handles the rest. You might ask yourself: “What is an Aperture?” Well, let’s dive into that!

If you take a look into your lens (or the picture above), you can see that there’s not just glass, but also a little black ring. This ring controls the aperture. Aperture literally means how wide this thing opens up. Therefore, you can in- or decrease the level of light coming in. The aperture is sat in increments and usually goes from about 1.4 to 22, depending on the lens. (1.4 are quite expensive tho, but it’s cool).

Now that you know the theoretical basics, let’s talk about how that helps you take nice pictures.

Well, if you, let’s say, shoot a portrait, you want to have a lower aperture, to get that nice blurry background. Furthermore, by lowering the aperture MORE light comes in and your picture is lighter.

However, in aperture priority your camera handles the amount of lighting, so no matter what aperture you choose, the camera will make sure that your picture is well lit.

If you set a LOW aperture MORE light comes in, if your aperture is HIGH, LESS light comes in.

Shutter speed

So, when you take a photo, light comes into the camera for short amount of time and that’s how your picture is taken. The amount of time the camera’s shutter stays open (so basically how long we’re going to let the light come in) is our shutter speed!

The shutter speed varies, but basically, a high number means the shutter closes faster. So, the question is, why would you like to alter the shutter speed? If you imagine a picture as a freeze frame of what’s happening, the shutter speed catches the frame.

A fast shutter speed then means that fast movements are still crisp and sharp (as the photo only catches THAT exact moment when your subject is moving a specific way). A slower shutter speed, catches a longer movement. Therefore, if your subject runs, for example, it can be that it is blurred.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


The last thing controlling the light is the ISO. The ISO basically controls the light-sensitivity of the sensor and when shooting analogue, the ISO is based on the film you purchase. I’m not going to go deep into theory as I don’t really think that’s necessary, but instead here’s a simple thing to know.

If your sensor is more sensitive to light (high ISO), the picture becomes brighter, if it is less sensitive (low ISO), it becomes darker.

However, you want to have your ISO as low as possible, because a higher ISO also means that your picture might start becoming grainy.

Just think of it as a handy tool for brightening your image when it’s too dark and you can’t lighten it up it with setting the right aperture or shutter speed.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Manual Mode

I already explained the main components of manual mode: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. So now, let’s take a look at how to combine them all for your photos!

My personal workflow mostly starts with setting the right aperture. I usually use about 1.8 for portraits or still life, 2.2-3.2 for groups of people (as you want everyone to be in focus), and also something in that range for macro photography (close-ups of things).

Now that I’ve decided on my aperture, I will start to adjust the shutter speed so my picture is perfectly lit. When it’s sunny, the shutterspeed may here be anything around 2000, when it’s dark, I go as low as 100.

When it’s darker outside, you might reach a point where adjusting your shutter speed isn’t enough. You already use a low on, but your picture is too dark. When you then go lower, your photo might be blurry.

That’s the moment you can adjust your ISO. I like to keep it at about 50-100 until that point and then I go up and choose a higher ISO in order to brighten my images.

And that’s it, there you have it, my typical workflow in manual mode!


And because I was quite confused at the beginning on what realistic and “normal” settings are, here are a few more of my pictures and the settings (and focal length – will be explained in an upcoming post! ) used, so you get a feel on how those affect your photography!

Girl sitting with the Hungarian Parliament in the background
Focal length: 100mm || Shutter speed: 1/ 160 || Aperture: f 2.8

This one was taken during sunrise at the fisherman’s bastion in Budapest. The sun didn’t cover the city yet, so it was not fully bright yet.

I took this with a 100mm lens, so the parliament would “come closer” to the subject.

I chose my aperture to be quite low, as it wasn’t very bright yet, furthermore not too low, because her whole body and the balcony should be in focus.

The shutter speed is set as low as needed, which in this case was 1/160.

The ISO was set to about 100.

Asian dumplings
Focal length: 50mm || Shutter speed: 1/1600 || Aperture: f 1.8

This one was taken on a sunny day, but inside a restaurant. I chose an aperture of 1.8, but I could have gone up to about 2.8 if i wanted the whole dish to be in focus.

Due to the aperture being quite low, I had to set a faster shutter speed, because of the sunlight flooding the area.

The ISO was set as low as possible (probably around 50 – 100) as I didn’t need to brighten up this picture.

Long exposure pic of Hamburg
Focal length: 50mm || Shutter speed: 13″ (13 seconds) || Aperture: f 6.3

This one was taken during night time. I choose a very low shutter speed, because I was able to put the camera on a bridge and as there was no movement, my picture wouldn’t get blurry.

With the shutter speed of 13 seconds, I was able to catch a lot of light and had to heighten the aperture number, so it won’t be overexposed.

The ISO was also set to about 100, I didn’t have to go higher due to the slow shutter speed.

portrait of a girl in the dark
Focal length: 50mm || Shutter speed: 1/250 || Aperture: f 1.8

This one was taken at night time. A lot of different lights were flooding the area, but it still wasn’t very bright.

The aperture is set to 1.8, because I wanted the lights in the background to be blurry. Furthermore, a low aperture, allows more light to enter the lens, which is crucial at night.

The shutter speed is pretty low, however, I could have gone lower. I suspect that I heightened the ISO instead, so there is no chance of the picture being blurry.

However, I usually always go down until about 1/125 with my shutter speed and then start heightening the ISO.

The ocean and a cliff
Focal Length: 50mm || Shutter speed: 1/6400 || Aperture: f 1.8

This one was taken on a very sunny day in Mykonos. The rocks were light and reflecting the sun.

My Aperture was set to 1.8, so I had to get really high with the shutter speed, so it’s not overexposed. I could have also increased the aperture number instead, to make it darker. ISO was set as low as possible.

Thank you for reading!

And I hope this blogpost was helpful to some of you! I wish you good luck and if you got any further questions, feel free to ask them i the comments!


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