The Cheers Babe Blog

How To Shoot In Manual Mode [in Layman’s Terms]

There are thousands of tutorials on the internet that can teach you how to shoot in manual. But what I found when I first picked up a camera was that those tutorials used lingo I barely knew at the time and didn’t explain anything in layman’s terms. I want this learning curve to be easier for you, so I’ve written the basics of how to shoot in manual using easy-to-understand language.

Let’s gooooooooo! It’s time to take the training wheels off & learn to use your camera’s manual settings. Flip the “mode” out of Auto, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority and into Manual mode. In manual mode, you are the architect of the photo, not your camera, so you have full control over the outcome. 

In auto mode your camera is working hard to get you the best technical image, but it doesn’t leave much room for the craft of photography itself. In manual mode, you’ll set 3 main settings for each image: your ISO, your aperture and your shutter speed.


Your ISO setting corresponds to how bright or dark the space you’re shooting in is. The brighter the atmosphere, the lower your ISO should be. So on a very bright day, set your ISO at 100. As the day becomes dark or you enter a dark room, you’ll raise your ISO to tell the camera to be more sensitive and allow more light onto the sensor.

Understand that the higher your ISO setting is, the more noise (aka graininess/grit/less smooth) will be present in your photograph, so it’s best to keep the ISO as low as possible relative to your other settings. Personally, I recommend keeping your ISO set between 100 and 4000, even if your camera can go much higher.


The next setting you’ll choose in manual mode is your aperture. The aperture is how wide your shutter opens when you snap a picture. It feels a little backwards at first, but the smaller the aperture, the wider your shutter opens. The higher your aperture, the more narrowly your shutter will open.

The aperture affects 2 things in your image: the exposure and the depth of field.

It affects the exposure (how light or dark the image is) by allowing more or less light to enter the lens. For example, a f/2.0 aperture will open very wide let in a lot of light, where an f/9 aperture will create a much smaller opening, therefore letting much less light in.

The aperture also affects the depth of field your image has. The easiest way to describe depth of field is how “blurry” or “not blurry” your background is. A smaller aperture (say f/2.0 again) creates what we call a shallow depth of field — a soft, “blurry” background. (I’m putting blurry in quotes because that’s actually called bokeh – it’s not actually blurry)! Likewise, a higher aperture (like f/9) will create less “blur” in the background, and more of the image will be crisp and in focus.


The last manual setting you’ll need to choose is your shutter speed. The shutter speed is how quickly the shutter opens and closes when you snap a photo.

The slower the speed, the more light it allows in and the faster the speed, the less light it allows in. Therefore, shutter speed also affects exposure.

The shutter speed also determines the focus of the image. If the shutter speed is too slow, you’ll get motion blur (which can sometimes be intentional!) and if the shutter speed is too fast, your photo might be too dark.


At first, choosing all 3 for each photo may seem daunting, but with more practice, this becomes like muscle memory! Need help learning other things for your photography business? I’ve got you covered.

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