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Many photographers will say that you’re not a ‘proper’ photographer if you don’t shoot manually. Maybe such things as f/stops, shutter speed, and ISO are putting you off giving manual photography a go? Don’t worry too much if you’re not ready to go full-fledged manual just yet; two partial automatic modes can give you the control you need and a glimpse into what going fully manual would help you achieve – Aperture priority and Shutter priority.

The Auto setting ensures your image is exposed correctly, meaning the highlights aren’t too bright, and the shadows aren’t too dark. Aperture, shutter speed and ISO all contribute to this – your aperture; the size of the opening through your camera lens, the shutter speed; the amount of time the shutter stays open, and the ISO; the image sensor’s light sensitivity.

Mastering Manual

If you’re going from a smartphone to a compact camera or DLSR, you wouldn’t have had to worry about any settings before. In Auto mode, your camera will handle a lot of that for you. However, if you’re willing to venture into the world of manual photography, you will open all sorts of creative opportunities.

So let’s take a look at those manual settings you’ll need to know.


Aperture is all about controlling the depth of field, effectively deciding which areas of your image you want in focus. For example, if you’re shooting wildlife or people, you can determine if you wish to keep them in sharp focus while blurring everything behind them or whether you want the whole image in focus.

If you love visiting zoos and safari parks, you could use the Aperture setting to capture beautiful photographs of wildlife in sharp focus whilst their cages are so close to the lens that they would blur enough to disappear from the shot.

For an image with the subject in sharp focus with a blurred background, you will need a wide aperture (a small f/stop number) if you want everything in focus; for example, in a landscape, you will need a narrow aperture (a large f/stop number). Experiment with the aperture settings; it’s up to you how you want to do it.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed captures motion. Light trails and waterfalls are perfect examples of using shutter speed settings to create magical photographs. Being able to set your shutter speeds, you can slow down movement, or capture fast-moving objects in sharp focus.


ISO controls the quality of your image. If the sensor is more sensitive to light you will have a high number, so the shutter doesn’t need to be open for so long. ISO helps you get shots in low-light conditions without using a flash. However, there is a downside, the higher the ISO, the more noise your image will have, so it may look grainy. Some cameras are better at handling this than others, but how much noise on your shot is entirely up to you. In general, you’ll want to use the lowest ISO setting you can get away with.

Manual Photography

When shooting a series of images that you need to be the same, the same light level, the same aperture, then shooting in manual is your best option. If you take a series of images in Auto, you won’t get the same lighting, so all photos in your series will be different, which may not be what you want and may need editing further in post-production.

A feature that is incredibly useful in photography is shooting in RAW format. Unlike general jpegs, RAW files contain much more information and therefore can be edited further than the standard jpeg in post-production on programmes like Photoshop.