Understanding the Basics of Manual Mode

If your camera has an option to adjust the settings manually but you haven't had a chance to learn how to use them this article is for you. While modern cameras take amazing photos you may find yourself wanting to achieve looks that can only be captured in manual mode. Shooting in manual mode gives you total control over your camera and allows you to do things like blur out backgrounds, show artistic motion, and avoid using your flash in low light settings.

There are three things you will set in manual mode to control your exposure: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.



In film photography, the ISO determines how sensitive a film will respond to light. This is measured in various numbers from 100, 200, 400, and so on, and referred to as “film speed.” Lower numbered film has a finer grain and is less sensitive to light. This is ideal for outdoor and bright light situations. Higher numbered film is more sensitive to light and is ideal for evening and low light photography. However, this sensitivity comes at a cost as higher ISO films will produce more grain (or what we refer to as noise) in an image. In digital photography, DSLR’s can create higher quality images at higher ISOs due to sophisticated image sensors - but the basic principles remain the same. Consider the the trade offs and shoot at the lowest ISO acceptable for your shot.



Aperture, also commonly referred to as f-stop, is a hole in your camera that lets in light much like our eye’s pupil. It determines how much of your image will be in focus. Lower f-stops open the camera’s iris wider and give your image a shallow depth of field (this is what creates blurred out backgrounds). Higher f-stops keep the hole smaller allowing for less light and more of your image to be in focus.


Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed is simply how long your camera’s shutter is open allowing light to hit the sensor. It’s usually measured in fractions of a second, for example 1/150. Slower shutter speeds let in more light but can cause a blurry image or require you to use a tripod. Faster shutter speeds let in less light but allow you to take sharp pictures without the concern of camera shake. Faster shutter speeds are also ideal when photographing moving subjects.


Putting it Together

All three elements of exposure work together and you can determine which one to give priority in order to achieve different looks. For example, many people like to show movement when shooting moving water. In this case, you would want to use a slow shutter speed. Additionally, in order to not overexpose the image, you would want to use a much higher aperture. The best way to learn is practice with a knowledge of the basics.



While in the process of mastering manual mode, you may want to continue to use auto settings when shooting important events and practice when you have time for trial and error. Practice in a number of situations from low light to moving subjects and you will quickly see you photography improve.


Whether your a beginner or a photography fanatic, we hope this gives you insight into the basics of understanding the manual mode of your camera. If you are interested in learning more about the basics of photography or would like to discuss adding professional photography to your social media feed, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Contact The Burnette Agency by e-mail at info@theburnetteagency.com or by phone at 404-850-2081.