Camera Cheat Sheet: Manual Settings


Manual setting. DUN DUN DUN. The most daunting part of getting into photography.

I wouldn't consider myself an expert by any means, but I'm definitely more comfortable with my camera's settings after a few years of practice. Most of the time, sticking to the various automatic options will still give you great results, but other times they don't quite capture what you had in mind. So it's worthwhile to know the basics, and you can experiment from there!

Let's break it down, shall we?


On my camera the ISO ranges from 100-6400. The higher the number, the more sensitive your camera is to light. The lower the number, the less sensitive your camera is to light.

If you're shooting with a lot of natural light, or are in a well lit environment, you won't need a high ISO. Personally, I like to keep my ISO as low as possible in most situations because a higher ISO can make your image more grainy. But, sometimes it's necessary to be able to use a faster shutter speed.

Shutter Speed

This is always the one that's easiest to remember, because it is exactly what it sounds like. In completely untechnical terms, it's how long it takes for your camera to actually take a picture (measured in seconds, or more often fractions of seconds). But, there are specific reasons why you'd want a faster or slower shutter speed.

In terms of motion, a faster shutter speed can freeze action (ex: 1/500 or one five-hundredth of a second), while a slower shutter speed (ex: 1/3 or one-third of a second) can blur it. It depends on the effect you're going for.

Note that a slow shutter speed can start to show camera shake, which you can combat by using a tripod. Also, the longer the shutter is open, the more light is let in. This makes slow shutter speed ideal for low light situations or night photography.

Aperture & F Stop

Although technically not the same thing, they go hand in hand. "Aperture is the mechanism and f stop is the measure of engagement of the mechanism" (more detailed explanation: Peter Hill).

In your settings this is going to be the number with the F before it (ex: F5.6, F10, etc.). The smaller the number, the more light is let into the lens. The bigger the number, the less light is let into the lens.

Not to scale

Not to scale

This is also the setting that controls the depth of field, or the portion of a picture that appears sharp. A small f stop (ex: F4) will give you a blurry background, like the one of Falon above, whereas a large f stop (ex: F13) has more, if not all, of the photo in focus/sharp.

I tried to make this as basic and understandable for you guys as possible because I know when you're starting out, even the "beginners" articles use a lot of photography jargon. I hope it helps!

With love,