Shooting In Manual, Tips

An Introduction To Shooting In Manual Mode


‘I took the plunge and bought a decent camera to take pictures of my family but my pictures never turn out the way I want.’

Sound familiar?  This is overwhelmingly the most common statement I have heard from clients, parents and friends all hoping for the same thing from a decent camera. More professional looking pictures. Shooting in auto mode seems safe, but this won’t consistently help you produce beautiful photos with an artistic flare, nor will you become a better photographer. But how do you transition to shooting in manual mode?

In this series, Shooting In Manual  I will share my settings and simple tips to help you learn how to take pictures confidently and creatively with a focus on infants and children. Many of the moments you want to be able to skillfully capture are becoming increasingly about the everyday and I’m constantly reminded to really savor these seemingly unimportant events. They are beautiful moments. Why wouldn’t we want to capture them and capture them in a way that does that moment justice?


You’ll need your beginners Digital SLR kit, including an 18mm-55mm standard zoom lens. Examples of models are the Canon Rebel T7 or a Nikon D3400

Though I love shooting with my 50mm prime lens for portraits and creative detail, I am leaving this lens in the bag for this series and solely using the standard zoom lens that came with the camera kit. However, I highly encourage you to invest in a prime lens such as Canon 50mm f/1.8.

I always edit my pictures following a session. For this series I will be using Adobe Lightroom 3 but a basic editing software program would be sufficient too.



No doubt most know the answer to the question above, ‘What settings do you use?‘ There is no one set answer! It will vary, not only from location to location but also from day to day and from hour to hour depending on your light source and the changing seasons.

Perhaps this will put you at ease to know there isn’t a perfect setting! However, to achieve a balanced exposure for a picture you will want to understand the basic relationship between Shutter Speed, ISO and Aperture; the three pillars of photography. Without the right combination or adjustment of these three elements you can end up with an underexposed or overexposed image, motion blur and worst of all, frustration!

It is always embarrassing to own up to things you wish you knew earlier but thankfully I am not alone! For whatever reasons, for quite a while I’m not sure I ever understood this basic concept. I learned what each was and even how two of the three worked together, but not all three. There are other elements of course that make great photography too, and perhaps those who find the numbers easier to manage may have difficulty with the creative side, such as composing the picture.

There are some really great tutorials out there for more in depth tutorials but here is a quick description of Shutter Speed, ISO and Aperture.




Shutter speed, or exposure time can be compared to the function of your eyelid as you blink. It is the length of time the camera shutter is open for when you fire your camera. You can choose a faster shutter speed to freeze action, such as a child running or jumping, or equally you can set your shutter speed lower which will cause any motion to blur.

Shutter time is measured in fractions of a second. A couple of examples; 1/4 means a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second. Beautiful effects can be achieved from both ends of the spectrum if used correctly!




I like how Stacie Jensen of Colorvaleactions describes ISO as like mini-blinds on a window!
“The ISO is a light regulator, just as blinds are in your home.  When the blinds are drawn DOWN the light is minimal, when you pull them UP you bring in all the light from outside.  The reason that we choose blinds is so that we can pull them up or down depending upon how much light we want.  This is the function for ISO.”

If you are shooting in darker conditions you can increase the ISO, however as you increase the ISO, the digital noise increases too. It produces a grainy effect on your pictures. See the pictures above shot at ISO 1600. ISO 100-200 produces little to no noise. ISO 800 you will start to notice some noise and you will most definitely see noise at ISO 1600. To prevent noise, you will need to keep your ISO as low as possible for the situation.

Darker, grainier pictures are not all bad, they can look artistic in their own right and they can look especially great in black and white.




The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens that allows the light in, just like the role of the pupil in your eye. When fully dilated it will allow more light in.

As well as controlling light, aperture also directly affects the depth of field, the amount of the scene that is in focus.

A narrow or shallow depth of field is hugely favored by portrait photographers as it will produce tack sharp focus on the subject with a beautiful burry background, drawing more focus to the subject. It can add a stylish and creative element in developing portrait work.

A deep or wide depth of field gives just the opposite, often preferred by landscape photographers to bring everything into sharp focus.

Aperture is measured in f-stops, though interestingly, the smaller the f-stop number, the larger the aperture, this can seem a little backwards!



The question you should get into the habit of asking yourself is what your priority for each picture is, then you’ll be half of the way there! In different situations you will prioritize a different setting and use the other two settings to help balance things out. Some situations, such as shooting in low light,  you are more limited in your choice and you may need to compromise a little. Over the series you will learn more about the relationship between these three components. There is no need to try and get your head around everything before you begin, I find it’s more of a learn-on-the-job process and it will come together no matter your learning style.

Excited? Good!

Enjoy the short series, Shooting in Manual. Now it’s time to get your DSLR off of the shelf and into your hand. You can follow me on Instagram for new blog posts in this series! You can also join the Click Mama Click mailing list and receive your free guide to taking better pictures!

Shooting In Manual {Light, Bright & Airy}






7 thoughts on “An Introduction To Shooting In Manual Mode”

  1. Thank you for this great explanation! I have been spending a ton of time trying to figure out manual settings on my camera! I recently bought a Canon prime 50mm lens and have been playing with that as well. I am getting stuck somewhere and keep returning to automatic mode because I’m missing something. When taking pictures (inside or outside) I will have my ISO set as low as I can, even 100, and the picture comes out so bright I can’t see the subject.

    1. Hi Alyssa! I’m glad you found this post helpful. Have you had any more luck with your prime lens? I’ve been trying to think through the issue, if you’re still having these issues, feel free to reach out via email :-)

      1. Thank you! I think the problem was I was only changing ISO not Aperture. I am getting it figured out, but it takes a few times before taking a picture to get the lighting right.

      2. Absolutely! Practicing settings and lighting is really the only way to improve and get to know your camera and lens. Once you change one of the components (ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture) normally it requires you to change another or both. But I promise, if you continue to practice in manual, changing these settings will feel natural and instinctive :-)

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