A guide to Manual Camera Settings- The only camera guide you'll ever need!

how to use camera manual settings

Quick Summary(for if you have zero time):

  • Quicker shutter speed for moving objects
  • Lower F-stop/Aperture: More bokeh but less focus depth. Use a higher f-stop when photographing groups or objects that take up most of the photo.
  • Use low ISO when it's bright outside. Use high ISO in low light or shadows.

Are you like most people starting out in photography and terrified of shooting in manual settings? Fear not because I have a quick and easy guide that will get you shooting in no time! I won't be going into depth about what means what, just how the settings work and when you can use them. I'm all about quick and easy learning.

You'll first want to go to the top of your camera and turn your nozzle to the M for Manual. 

To bring up the settings hit the Q button (on canon) and it'll bring up a box similar to this one.

1. The first thing you'll want to look at is the circled fraction below. 


That represents how fast your shutter speed is. For example, the one above is at 1/200th a second. 

Shutter speed is how fast your shutter is releasing; how fast your camera is taking the picture.


  • The higher the shutter speed, the faster your camera will take pictures. 1/300 and above will help you capture quicker moving objects. 
  • The lower the shutter speed, the slower your camera will take pictures. 1/100 is almost the lowest you can go handheld without needing a tripod. 
  • For capturing smooth water scenes or long exposures for night skies, use a tripod and have your settings anywhere from 30" to 1/60th
  • Extra tip: If you camera has a "B" setting that stands for Bulb and it allows you to use a remote for extra long exposures. 

I'll go into depth soon about how you can use a quick shutter to your advantage during bright sunlight in a bit, for now I want to tell you what each of the settings do. 

2. The next setting is the F stop. There's this thing called the aperture which is the iris of the lens. It opens and closes, it expands and contracts. It does this to allow more light or more focus.

camera f stop menu

F stop can range anywhere from f/1.2 to f/22. An f stop with a lower number (i.e. f/1, f/2, f/3, f/4,) will give you:

1. More bokeh, meaning less focus on all of the subject matter and more on a specific subject. If you want a blurry background, this is essential. Increase the f-stop for more focus on all aspects of the photo.

2. MORE LIGHT, when the f-stop is a low number, it is WIDE OPEN letting in all of the light. 

camera low f stop f/2.0 35mm lens


Aperture is at the lowest number possible, letting in lots of light and allowing for beautiful bokeh.

Camera high f stop f/22


Here's what your f stop looks like when its all the way up. The "iris" is closed, not letting in a lot of light.


  • When you have a closed f-stop (bigger number such as f/22) you may get more in focus but you may also experience vignetting. Make sure if you edit in Lightroom, go into lens corrections and click "Enable Profile Corrections". This will fix the warping and vignetting caused by your lens. 
  • If it's a bright day and you want a lower f stop to allow more of a blurry background, but your pictures are coming out over exposed and white, simply increase your shutter speed to 1/1000 or faster. This little trick has saved me a few times and it's ideal for shooting in direct sunlight and bright situations
  • If it's a dark, cloudy day or you're shooting somewhere not very bright and you still want some bokeh, and your photo is too dark even with your f-stop all the way open (f/1.2), slow down your shutter speed to around 1/100 and increase your ISO (we'll talk about this one in a sec).
  • If you're only photographing one person, you're okay with an f-stop anywhere on the map. If you want two people in focus I suggest shooting at least at f/2.5-f5.6 to make sure both subjects are in focus. If you're shooting groups, go f/5.6 and higher to make sure the family/group isn't looking like a blurry mess. Bokeh is nice, just not when it's people's faces being big, blurry blobs. 


ISO is how light sensitive your camera is. The lower the number, the less sensitive your camera is. Unless you're going for a grainy look, try to keep your ISO at a lower number. That's really it.

  • If it's dark outside, make your ISO a higher number, making your camera's sensor increasingly more sensitive to light. 
  • If you want a faster shutter speed (taking faster pictures for capturing moving objects) but your photos are coming out too dark, increase your ISO.
exposure manual settings

NEXT is the internal exposure. If you turn the dial to the right, it'll make your photo brighter. If you turn it to the left (negative numbers) it'll get darker. 

This is kind of a quick fix if you need the photo just a little darker without having to change a lot of other settings.



AI SERVO is for when either you or the subject is moving, I generally use AI SERVO because during weddings and photoshoots, couples and models are always moving and changing up their posing.

ONE SHOT is for when neither you or the subject is moving.

AI FOCUS can be useful if your camera enables subject or facial tracking. It works similar to ONE SHOT but if it has tracking, it'll follow the subject.


Last but not least... ALWAYS SHOOT IN RAW.

Hope you enjoyed this, feel free to leave any comments or questions.


Jessica Stivers Photography