How to shoot in Manual + Cheat Sheet

How to shoot in Manual + Cheat Sheet

Hey there! My name is Allie and i’ve been a wedding photographer for 4 years, but have been shooting with my camera in manual for over 10 years. I know the main thing I hear is “why would I learn if my camera does it for me in auto?” And that is the number one difference between high producing and professional photographers. When you know how to shoot in manual you are able to control how every single image will look, not have 5/10 images on manual be overexposed because you turned slightly and the light it hitting you differently. If you want to be a wedding photographer you NEED to learn manual and be 100% in control of your camera. Your couples will spend THOUSANDS of dollars on one day, and it’s up to you to make sure that as many moments as possible turn out.

Camera settings and what they mean


A BIG reason you should learn How to shoot in Manual is ISO. Your ISO settings are what make your photos grainy or crispy. If you’re shooting in any conditions you want your ISO to be as low as possible. Most full frame cameras are able to crank to about 1600 or 3200 and have minimal grain. it differs on camera to camera, so make sure to play around with yours in low light and see what you can get away with! You can add some noise reduction that will help with this, but you’ll find you hit a certain point where your image just looks flat.


Your F-stop/Aperture indicates how much of a blur in your background you will get, as well as how clear your subject will be. Every winder why lenses can get so expensive? It’s because they have a steady F-stop/Aperture, meaning no matter what focal length you are at, your number will be the same.

Shutter Speed

This is how fast your shutter is opening and closing. A good rule of thumb is to never go under 125 if you want to get those sharp images. The higher the shutter speed the better. This is why a lot of photographers under exposure when they are shooting, meaning they shoot darker in the back of the camera.

The exposure Triangle

How to shoot in Manual + Cheat Sheet

Im sure you’ve heard of this before, its basically all of the things I mentioned above. ISO, F-Stop/Aperture, and Shutter speed. This is the key to learn How to shoot in Manual. But how do you do this? Where do you start on this triangle? Here is how I do it and i’ve had so much luck with it.

Step 1: How blurry do you want your background and how dark is where you are shooting?

Let’s start with your F-Stop/Aperture! Do you want a blurry background? You’ll want a larger F Stop/Aperture, meaning a lower number. (it’s confusing I know). You have to think about it this way: If I have a wider F-Stop/Aperture my lens can create more depth of field, so what makes the background blurry. To get a wider depth of field you have to have your lens as close to 0 as possible, so smaller number equals more blur. Along with this the wider your lens in open the more light you have, so if you are shooting in a dark area, you’re going to want your F Stop/Aperture to be the lowest number that you can get with your lens.

Heres the catch with F-Stop/Aperture, you want to make sure that you are able to have a high enough number to get everything in focus that you want. So you might not always be able to use F 1.8, if you are new to this I would not go under 2.0/2.4 when you are shooting couples so you dont screw up your focus. Especially with couples or families.

Step 2: ISO

So we have the F Stop/Aperture all set. Not to move onto ISO – you want this number to be AS LOW AS POSSIBLE. Lower number=more crispy images. So start with 100 and go from there. You’ll have to switch this number as you do the next step if it’s too dark.

Step 3: Shutter Speed

Once we have the first steps done, now its time for shutter speed! This should always always be over 125 unless you really cant go that high. Then I would consider using flash. You’ll want your light indicator on your camera to be as close to perfect as you can, if not one or two ticks under.

Bonus: ISO and Shutter speed relationship

This one is weird to get a grasp of. Basically it works like this:

ISO = Shutter Speed

Meaning That if you have an ISO of 800 and Shutter Speed of 4,000 you can cut both of those in half and get the same settings with a crispy image.

ISO 800 & SS 4,000 = ISO 400 & SS 2,000 = ISO 200 & SS 1,000 = ISO 100 & SS 500

So out of all of the settings above you would want ISO 100 & SS 500 because you have a high shutter speed that will be crispy and the lowest ISO you can get.


Learning How to shoot in Manual is not something that will click right away, so don’t be discouraged! Use the different rooms in your house, different locations in different times of the day and practice! Remember learning How to shoot in Manual will take lots of trial and error, so don’t be afraid to fail!

How to shoot in Manual + Cheat Sheet

Are you looking for a mentor or someone to chat with (or both?!). I’d love to hear from you. My goal is to equip you with what you need to be the best you can be! Reach out and let’s chat!

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