So you got this fancy new camera and want to know why all your photos aren’t coming out like the everyone else s. It’s time to step out of the comfort zone and move your camera dial from Auto to M. Don’t worry, you won’t break it.

The basics are shutter speed and aperture (also called F stop). I’ll take you through a brief description and then let you play around until you feel more comfortable.

Shutter Speed

This is where you either freeze an object in motion (high speeds)

Shot at 2000 shutter speeds with a massive amount of studio lights on it


or slow it down (low speeds)

Shot at a 1 second exposure in natural light through a ND filter


Shutter speed controls the length of time that a camera’s shutter is open. The longer the time, the more action is caught and you get a blurring effect. A fast shutter and you can  freeze a water droplet falling.

The tricky thing with shutter speed is to get the right speed with the right amount of light. A fast shutter speed won’t pick up anything in the dark, and a long exposure on a bright day will leave you with an all white frame. To properly expose a shot the shutter speed works directly with


The aperture controls the amount of light that you let into your camera. It also controls the field of depth of your shot. The lower the number of F stop, the shallower depth of field and the more light will come through. Larger numbers will lessen the light but gain you a larger depth in your shots.

Most portrait photography is done with a low number F stop, this give the blurred background affect.


I used an aperture of 1.8 for this shot. It let in more natural light from the window and it let me focus on child while blurring the mother into the background. You can use aperture to highlight the main subject while still getting the surroundings.

My landscapes I try to average an F stop of about 11


Here is a shot at F13. I can capture all the details that surround my main subject that is farther away from the lens.

Working Hand in Hand

When you move one, you have to move the other. I will use a waterfall shot for example. For water, I want to slow things down and use a slower shutter speed, say 1 second.  To do so I set my camera speed and watch my light meter.

Light Meter

The light meter is your best friend. When you start moving you settings around keep an eye on this guy. You want to get your dial smack dab in the middle. With my waterfall set to 1 second, I most likely will be over exposed at  5.6 or below, so I slowly move my aperture closer to 11 or 15 until the bar is the middle. Once its there, snap it!

Now on portraits or macro shots, you want to do the opposite. You want to set your aperture first and then your shutter. With just one object in the shot, a 2.8 – 5.6 will work wonderful. Now with shutter, the higher the number, the less light will get in. The nice thing is that with a lower aperture, you can usually put your shutter at 100 or above (in full daylight) without issue.

The best way to see how these work is to get out there and start snapping shots. With just a small understanding of both, it should make shooting in manual mode much easier for you. The more you shoot, the better you get!

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