Using manual mode on your DSLR


A lot of bloggers dream of getting a proper blogging camera. For me, it was the Canon 700d. I had wanted it for ages and finally took the plunge in January 2016. Before that, I was using a mixture of my iPhone 5 and my very old Fujifilm bridge camera. So when I finally got my camera… I was lost. Completely and truly out of my comfort zone. I had no clue how to use the manual settings and as a result, I stuck to using Auto mode for a while. Which obviously defeated the point of buying the camera in the first place.

After a lot of research I finally learnt all about the different settings. And it honestly changed my photography so much. So today I thought I would give you a (hopefully) easy to follow guide on how to use the manual setting on your camera. And if you have any other questions, then leave me a comment or send me a tweet! And if you want more photography help, read my Basic Blog Photography Tips.

Exposure Triangle

Ok. So we’ve finally felt brave enough to turn the dial to the ‘M’ option. Now what? Well, the first thing we have to do is learn what this manual setting means. And that means learning all about the exposure triangle. The exposure triangle is made up of three settings: ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

The main thing you need to remember about these settings, is that they all work together. If you change one, then in reality you should have to change the other two (if they are set up correctly of course). This might sound like it’s a lot of work, but I promise you, it’s not. Once you get the hang of these settings, you’ll find it so easy to take a picture exactly how you want it. These settings influence the lighting, the quality, the depth of field… In essence, they influence the entire photo. So lets get into the settings.


The aperture is, quite simply, how much light is let into your lens. This setting therefore influences the depth of field in your photo. The aperture is measured by f-stop numbers so: f1.8, f2.8, f3.5, f5.6, f8.0 etc. The smaller the f-stop the more exposure is allowed into your picture, and hence the larger depth of field. So if you are after a blurry background in you pictures (aka a large depth of field) you are going to want to choose a small f-stop. A lot of bloggers use the ‘nifty-fifty’ lens with their canon which allows you to go down to an f-stop of f1.8 which gives you a perfect blurred background. If you wanted less of a depth of field then you would choose a higher f-stop.

Just remember that the lower f-stop numbers such as f1.8 let in a lot more light than the higher numbers such as f5.6. Therefore, in order to counter balance the light let in by your lens (sometimes it’s too low or too high) you will want to change the other settings.

The following photos show you the difference when using a range of f-stops from 1.8 through to 22. For the purpose of these photos I have changed the other settings to ensure the lighting remains the same:

Using manual mode on your DSLR

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is how long your lens stays open to let in the light. It is measured in numbers such as: 1/4 (lower number), 1/25, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500, 1/4000 (higher number). The main use for shutter speed, is to decide how much movement you want captured in your photo.

Example: You are at a car race and you want to take a sharp picture of one of the cars going by. Because you want the image to be sharp, you are going to want to choose a faster shutter speed such as 1/2000.

Example 2: You are at a waterfall and you want to take a picture that has a lovely blurred effect to it to show off the movement of the water. You would select a lower shutter speed such as 1/25.

Now, when it comes to blog photography, this doesn’t really come into effect. After all, most of the time we are taking pictures of something that is still. But that brings us to the secondary result from the shutter speed: how light/dark your picture is. The smaller your shutter speed is, the more light gets let in which means a lighter photo than one with a higher shutter speed. For blog photography I tend to try and stay around 1/100 – 1/200, but I make this lower or higher depending on the photo.

Just remember that the lower the number, the longer the lens stays open, which means the more blurred your photo can become. So if you are going to use lower numbers you’ll be best to use a tripod so your camera stays as still as possible while the lens is open, otherwise you are going to get some camera shake.

So for the following pictures you will see how the light changes when you change the shutter speed. I have also tried to show how it portrays movement: As you can (hopefully) see, the higher shutter speeds show a lot less blurriness in the movement of water than the lower shutter speeds.

Using manual mode on your DSLR


Finally, we have our ISO, which is how sensitive to light the sensor in the camera is. It is measured in numbers such as: 100 (the lowest), 200, 400, 800, 3200, 12800 (the highest). The lower the number, the less sensitive to light your camera is, and vice-versa with the higher numbers.

The most important thing we need to know about ISO however, is that the higher the number, the grainier the image. I personally try to stick with an ISO of 100 or 200 for my images, and I never go higher than 400.

Using manual mode on your DSLR

Using manual mode on your DSLR

How do these all work together

Ok, so as I have already mentioned, all three of these settings have to work together in order to create a high-quality image. I’m going to give a quick explanation of this now:

Ok, so I took these pictures on a very bright day which meant I had to set my shutter speed much higher than what I normally like to go. But for the first image I had my settings at: f/1.8, 1/640 and an ISO of 200. For the second picture I decided I want less of a depth of field so my first step was to raise my aperture to f/4. Because of this I had to let more light in to make-up for my image now being darker. To do this I raised my ISO to 320, and then lowered my shutter speed to 1/400.

As you can see, by changing the settings I was able to produce to very similarly lighted images. Now I took these images on my Olympus Pen E-Pl8. According to the exposure ruler on my camera these are both perfectly exposed pictures. I would normally let my images be a touch over-exposed and therefore brighter than this, but for the purposes of this post I wanted to show you perfectly exposed images.

Using manual mode on your DSLR

So there you have it. A (hopefully) easy to follow guide to using manual mode on your DSLR. If you have any questions whatsoever please feel free to message me! I’m not a professional by any means, but I will try to help in any way. And if you have any other advice that I have left out, please leave it in the comments below!


Using manual mode on your DSLR

  • Hayley The Tiny

    I’m re-reading this over and over again until it’s engrained in my memory lol. This is so so helpful and I’ve definitely have to give this a go when I’m taking some blog photos tomorrow! My canon is a bit older so it’s trying to find all the buttons and how to change certain settings. Mine also doesn’t have a screen I have to always look through eye piece but I’m sure I can implement loads of these tips <3 What a brill post!!

  • Sian…

    I’m so bad at photography, I don’t even know what half of this means haha! I’m sure when I buy a camera, I’ll be saving this post for then! It’s amazing to see the difference between the photos, just by making a couple of changes in the settings!

    Sian x

  • Omg i have this camera and I’ve been looking everywhere for a post that’ll teach me how to use it properly! Thanks a bunch xx

    xx Ashley

  • Thank-you for this. I am trying to learn as much as I can to see if I can improve my photos. I feel they are the let down to my blog. Thanks for this šŸ™‚ xoxo

    Rach |

  • This is an incredibly useful post! I still haven’t invested in a proper camera yet but I’m really keen to buy one xx

  • I find cameras confusing! I only use my phone haha! xx

  • Lauren this is amazing thank you!! I have the Canon DSLR I love it but have no idea what I’m doing with it šŸ˜‚šŸ˜‚šŸ˜‚ this is amazing and I’ve bookmarked it so I can refer to it xxxxxxx

  • These are some amazing tips, I’ve learnt all these from being photography trained at university as part of my degree x

    Kayleigh Zara šŸŒæ

  • these tips are great! When I get round to buying my prof camera I’ll deffo be referring back to this! x


  • I was trying to decide between a canon and the olympus and I’m kind of glad I went with the olympus since it seems slightly less confusing than a DSLR.
    Alicia x

  • This is SUCH a useful post Lauren! Thank you so much for sharing all your tips! I am terrified of manual mode on my camera because it seems so intimidating, but this has given me the confidence to try it out! I am sure that with a bit of trial and error, I’ll be able to work it out! This calls for a bit of experimentation! You’ve explained everything so clearly as well, this is a really well written post! Thanks so much again!

    Abbey šŸŒø

  • This is an amazing post and so helpful. Your photos here also show the different setting which is useful as well. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Steph xx

  • Holly

    This is an AMAZING blog post! so many of us struggle with knowing the difference between camera settings so this is so helpful.

    Holly x

  • Emma Ramsell

    I’m not going to lie, I’m looking at buying a new camera, and I have no idea what pretty much anything means. So this post has helped confuse me a little less.
    Em xxx