Taking Photos in Manual on a DSLR

Why Shooting in Manual is Better

Taking photographs on a DSLR camera in the manual mode helps with taking photos in a few different ways. When compared to the “auto” mode or the little green square, it allows you to take images to create something, rather than just an exact interpretation of what the camera sees. Manual shooting allows for this technique called bracketing (common in film photography), which is simply taking the same photo at different exposures to play with the light. I personally enjoy shooting in manual because I get to control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO which allows me to capture the image in a way that is different from what the eye can see. I am going to provide a quick tutorial on how to shoot in manual, and I will be teaching with my Canon 6D which might look a little different than a Nikon or Sony, but it is the same concept and functions the same.

The Manual Mode

The first step is to turn the dial on your DSLR to the “M,” that is manual. Next, your screen will show all of the different settings that you can adjust on your screen. The three big settings are the F-Stop (which is your aperture adjustment), shutter speed (which is going to show up as a fraction, for example, “1/1000”), and the third is ISO.

Aperture (F-Stop)

The aperture is the width of the opening on the lens, and provides depth of field (blurred background/foreground). I typically shoot portraits or images of a subject rather than landscape, so a wider aperture (lower f-stop number) is best because it draws all of the attention onto the subject because it is blurred around the subject. Lenses that have a zoom variable will usually come with 2:8 or 2:4 as the lowest f-number, however, lenses without a zoom variable, for example, a 50mm lens, will usually come with a 1:8 aperture which is great for portraits because of the shallow depth of field. I will always keep my aperture at the lowest number possible in any setting that I am shooting in.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is going to be the most important adjustment to be made while shooting in manual. The shutter speed is how you control how much light is let in (the exposure). On the screen of your camera and in your view finder you will see a little scale with the aperture and shutter speed numbers. As shown in the image, there is a small dot that moves along the scale when the dial is turned one way or the other. It is important to keep this dot as close to the center of the scale as possible. A lower shutter speed number is necessary for darker settings, such as inside, and a higher shutter speed is necessary for outdoor shooting with more light. When shooting in a low-light setting, it is very important to keep the shutter speed above 1/60 if you are not using a tripod because the shutter is too slow (it is letting more light in) to keep stable so the image will be blurry.


The ISO goes hand in hand with the shutter speed. I will always keep the ISO as low as possible because it helps preserve the quality of the photos A higher ISO, which is used in darker scenes, will increase the noise on the image, which is the same thing as grain in film, but in digital terms it is called noise. The images below are very helpful for knowing what ISO number to use in different settings, and once you have your ISO set, then you can adjust the shutter speed because the ISO number will determine how much light needs to be let in.

Shooting in manual requires experience, and it is important to practice it in different scenes to get the hang of doing it! It helps to shoot in manual because when you go to edit it, you will have the ability to create some amazing images because you get to control the exposure, which is the most important part of taking a photo.