Learning Manual Settings

When it comes to photography, nothing is more instrumental than learning how to operate the manual settings on your camera. All the settings are the same across all cameras, but they may be controlled differently, so make sure to check what controls what on your camera.

The 3 Main Settings

While there are many settings in a camera that can change the way you shoot, there are three main settings that I am going to focus on. The three main settings that every photographer should know are the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings. One important thing to note is that all of these settings effect the other when it comes to lighting and depth of field. So for example, if you change the aperture then you may need to change the shutter speed, or if you change the shutter speed you may need to change the aperture and ISO. This may make no sense right now, but the goal of this is to explain each of these individually to where at the end of this post you can understand it.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is about exactly as it sounds, it's the speed of the shutter closing. So what happens when you take a picture is that a shutter opens up and exposes the digital sensor or film to light. The longer the shutter is open, the more light that is allowed in and vice versa, the shorter the shutter is open, the less light that is allowed into the sensor. Now why is this important? The more light that comes into your image, the more exposed (bright) your image will be. So for example, let's say you are outside in the middle of a sunny day, you wouldn't need your shutter speed to be open that long since the lighting outside is strong. Now if it were night time or you were in a room with the shades drawn you would need to keep that shutter open a lot longer to allow more time for the sensor to take in light. Now this is just the basic concept of what shutter speed does to your image, but the shutter speed can also be used to do other things to create effects such as pausing things in motion, or creating an intentional motion blur.

These in camera effects can help add personality to your images. One way I use shutter speed to add effects in my images are for when I do rolling shots of vehicles. If you want to learn how to do rolling shots of vehicles yourself just click here!

Take a look at these images below and the settings used on these images. (Note: these images are the post edit versions, not the raw image.)

Image Differences

Here I am going to go into detail about the difference in the shutter speed on the images. If you feel comfortable with shutter speed, feel free to skip this section!

Looking at the images and the settings for each image, you can see that the shutter speed differs dramatically! The image of the Miata was taken at 1/1600 while the WRX was taken at 1/20. This is because the difference in lighting between these images. Since the WRX photo was taken at night time I needed to keep the shutter open longer to allow more light into the sensor. Versus the Miata photo was taken more during sunset where there's still plenty of natural lighting. Therefore, the shutter speed can be a lot faster at 1/1600.

There is also a difference in the ISO on these images but that will be explained later when we go over ISO and also how all of these settings affect one another when changed.


The aperture, or the F-Stop as it's sometimes referred to as, is the opening of a lens where the light passes through. This opening can be enlarged or shrunk depending on your needs. You can use the aperture to control your depth of field in your image. For this example I am going to show you sample images from my RF35mm f/1.8 lens. The 35mm is the focal length of the lens and the f/1.8 is how low the aperture goes.

Aperture: f/1.8 | Shutter Speed: 1/40

Aperture: f/8 | Shutter Speed 0.5

Aperture: f/22 | Shutter Speed: 5 Seconds

There are two sides of the spectrum when it comes to aperture, if you have the lens all the way open to f/1.8 then the subject will be in focus while the background will be completely out of focus. This is a very popular look because of how the subject looks separated from the background and stands out more to the viewer, but the con of this is that the sharpness of your subject may be sacrificed if it's a large object or a large group of people. Looking at the opposite end of the spectrum I used f/22 and as you can see the whole image is in focus, and the subject doesn't stand out as it once did. I also added an image at f/8 so you can see in between.

The depth of field is not the only thing the aperture affects, if you take another look at the settings I put below the images, you should notice that the shutter speeds are different. The reason being is because like I mentioned previously, the lower the aperture is, the more light the lens is allowing in, so the shutter doesn't need to be open as long. On the other hand, if the aperture is high at f/22 then the lens opening is almost closed to the point where it barely allows any light in, so at that point you'll need to keep your shutter open longer to counter that. That is why in my sample images above, you see the shutter speed decrease from 1/40 to 0.5 seconds, all the way up to 5 seconds. The image below is a visual aide to help you see exactly what I mean by the lens opening when the aperture is low or high. (Note: the shutter is part of the camera, the aperture is part of the lens, that is why they both allow light in separately)

So this is where you start to see how the settings affect each other. If you let more light in through the lens then you don't need to let as much through the camera body with the shutter. Next I will go into ISO and how it works individually, and how you can use it along with your other settings.


The simplest way to describe ISO is that it is your cameras sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive your camera is to light. One key thing to know about ISO is that you should always keep it at the lowest setting your camera can go which is usually 100 ISO, but some cameras can go lower than that. The reason being is because the higher you put your ISO, the less sharp your image will be. Once your ISO starts going to 400 on up you will start to notice noise (grain) in your image, which will take away from the sharpness of your photo. Below I put 3 images of the same subject with the ISO at 100, 1000, and 10,000. I put all the settings so not only you can see the effect ISO has on your image, but also the effect it has on your other settings.

Shutter Speed: 1/20 | Aperture: f/1.8 | ISO: 100

Shutter Speed: 1/125 | Aperture: f/1.8 | ISO: 1000

Shutter Speed: 1/1000 | Aperture: f/1.8 | ISO: 10,000

How Does ISO Affect The Other Settings?

I am going to use the same images I used previously to explain shutter speed to demonstrate how the ISO played a factor. For the photograph of the WRX, the ISO was at 2000 because there was very little lighting. I already had my aperture all the way open at f/1.8, and had my shutter speed down to 1/20. (Which was the lowest I could go without getting a blurry image since I was shooting handheld.) Yet this was not enough for my image to be properly exposed, so I was forced to increase my ISO so that my camera will be more sensitive to the little amount of light that was coming into the sensor. Like mentioned previously the higher the ISO, the more noise that will be in your image, but in post edit you can take some of that grain out using the "noise reduction" slider. Don't overuse that edit as it can take out all the detail and clarity of the image.

The Miata photograph, I kept the ISO at 100 because there was more than enough lighting to properly expose the image to where I didn't need the ISO to be changed. If there is no need to change it, then leave it at 100 as this will provide the best quality image.

A side note, all cameras "react" differently to different levels of ISO. For example, the intro cameras tend to have more grain in them than the intermediate to professional cameras have at higher ISO levels. This mainly has to do with the fact that some of these are crop sensor and some are full frame. If you want to know the difference between the two you can read my post about the differences between crop sensor and full frame cameras here.

I know there was a lot of information in this post, I hope I gave enough descriptive examples and sample images for you to understand each setting individually and how they all effect each other in the end result of a photograph. If you have any questions that need clarification please feel free to contact me through my contact form on this website, my email (stevenkphotos10@gmail.com), or DM me on Instagram (@stevenk_media).