Manual Mode



A picture is basically capturing light.

If you get too much, your picture might look like this:

Photo of Berries

If you get too little, your picture might look like this:

Photo of Berries

We don't want that. We're trying to go full goldilocks, so tweak stuff to get it right.

What to Tweak


Aperture is a fancy word for an adjustable hole inside the lens.

A low number (like f1.8) means wide open:

A high number (like f22) means narrow:

A big hole lets through more light than the small one. If your picture is too dark or too bright, changing this can fix it.

Shutter Speed

The shutter basically passes an opening in front of the sensor. The shutter speed is how fast the camera does it.

A small number (like 1/1000s) is fast:

A big number (like 1s) is slow:

If the shutter is open for longer, more light gets in. If your picture is too dark or too bright, changing this can fix it.


ISO is basically a digital volume knob for the camera. It's kind of like turning up the brightness on your phone. If your picture is too dark or too bright, changing this can fix it.

How do I know if I've gotten it right?

Most mirrorless and DSLR cameras with manual mode have a thing on the screen or viewfinder that looks something like this:

Exposure Meter

Tweak your settings to get the those little tick tacks below the scale near the 0, and then snap a photo.

But wait! Why would I want to set these myself?

Each of these settings has its own effect the picture, so if you successfully juggle them, you can control those effects.


Make It Fancy or Make It Crisp

In addition to light, aperture affects your "depth-of-field", which is a fancy way to say how much stuff is in focus.

Depth of field is like taking a giant slice of cake out of the space in front of you. Stuff in that slice is sharp.

A big hole means the slice of cake is shorter. Stuff behind and in front of your focus point will be blurry.


A small hole makes the slice of cake very long, so almost everything is in focus.


In a portrait, you might want a blurry background, so you would use a big hole (large aperture, small number). In a landscape, you may not, so you would use a small hole (small aperture, big number).

Shutter Speed

Don't Make It Blurry

If something in the picture is moving or your hands are shaky, too long of a shutter speed means a blurry picture. Simple enough.

Generally, you'll want to keep this as fast (low number) as possible to minimize blur.

The shutter speed can be used for effect if you've got a tripod. Leave it open for days to get smooth water or clouds.


Don't Make It Noisy

ISO adds noise. That's pretty much the only effect. This one is usually used to compensate when you can't tweak the others more. The higher the number, dark areas look more and more like this:

Noisy photo of Berries

That's it.

That's pretty much all you need to know about manual. Better than hours of convoluted YouTube videos and ad-ridden articles, right?

The only hard part is using these settings to get the result you want.