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3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode

3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode

In this post, I am sharing 3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode that I created to better help you understand your camera’s settings. If the words ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed make you anxious and force you to shoot in automatic, then this is the right post to read. 

The number one reason I would recommend shooting in manual is that it gives you the most control and creative freedom.

With that in mind, I have tried to explain the concepts as simply as possible with practical examples because that’s the best way (for me anyway) there is to learn a confusing concept.

Before I jump in, I used a Nikon D3400  with a 50mm lens to take these images, and I shot in natural light.

To change your settings to shoot on Manual, look for the ‘M’ button on the dial of the camera or ‘manual’ on your phone’s camera settings.

3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode

3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode


Aperture (f-Stop) just like the pupil of your eye can be dilated, to allow more or less light into the camera.

When you move the aperture setting up, the amount of light entering the camera increases.

A large aperture or F-Stop lets in more light and a small aperture lets in less light.

Keep in mind, the aperture is set in the lens, not the camera body.  (my 50mm can go as low as F/1.8)

A low aperture (i.e. a low f/stop number) gives you selective focus (where part of the image is in sharp focus and part of the image is in soft focus).

Therefore, a high aperture (ie. a high f/stop number) gives a wider depth-of-field, meaning everything is in sharper focus.

If I am shooting a side-on image or at an angle, I shoot in a lower aperture (low f-stop)

For flatlay images, or for when the clients branding needs to be in focus in a scene, a higher aperture works well to keep everything clear.

See an example below of a bowl of strawberries, where the first was shot at an aperture of f/3.2 and the second f/10.

3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode 3

Shutter Speed

Think of Shutter Speed as your eyelid. When you blink, your lids are like blinds on a window, opening and closing.

So, the longer (or slower) the shutter speed, the more light you are letting in, and the shorter (or faster) the shutter speed, the less light you are letting in. Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second, meaning that at 1/250 the shutter is open for 1 of 250th of a second.

Faster shutter speeds (for example 1/1000) let in less light, so this speed is perfect for getting sharp images of something moving or in a very bright setting.

Keep in mind, a fast shutter speed will only work with good lighting.

Slower shutter speeds (for example, 1/5) let in more light and they can create a blur effect. (Think of those misty looking waterfalls)

Be mindful that when you shoot with a slower shutter speed, you may have to use a tripod, or your picture will end up out of focus with blurred edges. (not the good kind of blurry)

3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode


ISO is the measure of how light-sensitive your camera’s sensor is.

ISO is a setting I only understood very recently as without my knowledge, my ISO was set to automatic and even though I thought it was at 200, it was shooting at 2000 on occasion! (making for a grainy / noisy picture)

Make sure to check your ISO settings each and every time you shoot.

A lower ISO indicates that your camera is less sensitive to light (so the picture will look darker) and a higher ISO indicates that your camera is more sensitive to light (so the picture will look lighter).

Always set your ISO depending on the availability of light and your light meter.

Generally speaking, and especially in food photography, the lower you can set your ISO the better, as a high ISO can result in ‘noise’ or grain in an image.

I usually don’t shoot over ISO 200, but to do that, I make sure I am shooting in good natural light.

In short, higher ISO settings should only really be used at night or in very dark settings.

Where possible always try to shoot in a lower ISO.

High ISO is a way that the camera attempts to artificially brighten the scene, which is helpful but it does compromise the overall clarity.

The picture on left was shot at ISO 200 and then one on the right at ISO 1600.

3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode

In conclusion

Combining the correct ISO, aperture and shutter speed takes a lot of practice and patience.

In the beginning, it is a lot of trial and error, but to explain how to combine all the above settings to create a good picture, here is a simple example:

If you increase the aperture (f-stop) to decrease the amount of light getting to the sensor, you will also need to adjust the shutter speed and the ISO; or your image might come out blurry or too bright; overexposed or underexposed.

I hope that this blog post on 3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode helped you.

Everything I learned has been through YouTube, online courses and most importantly, practising all the time.

What blog post would you like to see next?

Thanks for reading my 3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode.



Next suggested post: How to Blog Better with Natural Light

3 Cheat Sheets for Shooting in Manual Mode 7


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