Beginner’s Guide to Shooting in Manual

Over the weekend I attended the Southern Blog Society Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. It was my first time attending the conference, and my friend Rachel and I gave a photography presentation as part of the sessions! The conference itself was so great, and I met so many new bloggers! I’m hoping to do a recap post of the whole weekend later in the week, but for now, I’d like to share an overview of our presentation for anyone who attended or anyone at all who needs it!

the three pillars of photography: shutter speed, aperture, and iso

Shooting in manual can seem overwhelming and intimidating, but it’s so easy once you understand these three elements and how they work together.

shutter speed

Shutter speed is basically how fast the shutter opens and closes to capture an image. It’s measured in fractions of a second, so it will look something like 1/125. This means the shutter is only open for literally one hundred and twenty-fifth of a second. The smaller the fraction, the faster the shutter speed.

Slow shutter speed: A slow shutter speed means the shutter is open longer, which lets in more light. But also because the shutter is open longer, your camera will pick up any movements you make while holding it, so it’s easier for your photos to turn out blurry. This is when tripods and remote shutters come in handy!

Fast shutter speed: When you’re shutter opens and closes faster, there’s less time for light to be let in, so photos will be darker. There will be less blur though, which is great for action shots or getting that “moment frozen in time” look.

Typically I start with my shutter speed on 1/125 and then make adjustments from there, based on the amount of natural light I have at the time.

Lavender Meringues -
Lavender Meringues Recipe here!


Aperture is also known as the f-stop, or depth of field. It’s how big the focal point of your image is. If you have a small aperture, the focal point will be a smaller portion of your photo. More of your photo will be in focus if the aperture is higher. How high or low your aperture goes will depend on your lens.

As you can see in the photo below, a majority of the bottom half of the photo is in focus. My aperture was set on 4 for this one.

Cardamom Orange Scones -
Cardamom Orange Scones Recipe here!

Now this photo, which I posted back in in 2013, has a low aperture. As you can see, only the very point of the slice of pie is in focus. It’s not a great choice for this photo, mainly because if you didn’t know this was a slice of Oreo pie, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell what it is since so much of it is out of focus.



Technically, ISO is how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. If you take a photo and it turns out too dark, you can turn up the ISO. Or if you’re walking around the streets of Charleston trying to take photos of the gorgeous houses while it’s extremely sunny outside–like I did on Saturday–you’ll need to turn your ISO to a lower number.

If you’re in a situation where your photo is still too bright, over-exposed, and blown-out even when you’re ISO is all the way down, you can try using a faster shutter speed. Faster = less time for light to enter your lens.

A good starting point for ISO is 100 outside and 400 inside. Start there and then adjust depending on your situation.

natural light

I take all of my photos in natural light, but you don’t have to have a giant wall of windows. Any window will do! Just keep in mind the time of day and which direction the light is coming from. In the morning, the light comes in harshly from the East side of my apartment. So if I need to shoot in the morning, I take photos on the West side of my apartment. (And vice versa in the afternoon.) That way, the light is softer and doesn’t create harsh shadows and glares on my photos.

TURN OFF THE OVERHEAD LIGHTS. I didn’t know to do this for the longest time. The lights in your house can cause weird shadows from above, and also can cause odd colored shadows. When I lived at home with my parents and took blog photos in their kitchen, I would always have really orange shadows, which are hard to edit once the photos were on my laptop. My parents also have a light fixture in their kitchen that has multiple light bulbs, so I would get multiple shadows. So turn off the overhead lights! If there’s is enough natural light, your photo will still be bright enough.

Dark Chocolate Cherry Cake -
Dark Chocolate Cherry Cake Recipe here!

I typically set up my photo shoots on my dining room table where the windows are on the left side of my setup. Because the windows are on the left, the right side of my images can sometimes be darker since there isn’t any light coming from that side. So I prop up a white foam core board (which is super cheap at Target and other grocery stores) on the right side of my setup to bounce light back into the right side of the photo. You can cover a foam core board in foil to get even more light bounced back into your photo. Reflectors are also available on Amazon for pretty cheap.

Here’s an example where the light is coming from the right and I used a foil covered board to bounce light back into the image.

Reflector before & after
Strawberry Lemon Layer Cake Recipe here!

The photo on the left has more shadows, and the shadows on the cake have almost disappeared on the right photo. Neither photo is right or wrong. It really just depends on what you like and what your style is.

Strawberry Cheesecake Smoothie!
Strawberry Cheesecake Smoothie Recipe here!

I mentioned tripods and remote shutters earlier when I talked about shutter speed. They’re also great for propping and styling photos. You can set up your shot, your props, and adjust everything in the frame without having to pick up and put down your camera over and over. Remote shutters are helpful when you’re doing a shoot by yourself or with minimal help and you want to get one of those popular pour shots or have your hand in a photo picking up a cupcake. That way you can be in the photo and take the photo at the same time!


I personally use Photoshop (Light Room is another popular one) to edit all of my photos, but you may not necessarily need an expensive program. PicMonkey and Pixlr are two great free options that you can find online. But really, if you’re taking a great photo, you probably don’t need to edit it that much. If you do edit all your photos before posting them on your blog, I suggest adjusting the brightness, saturation, and sharpness. When images come straight out of your camera, they’re probably slightly dull. Or they might not be as bright as you thought they were when you were looking at the screen on your camera. Brightness is self-explanatory. Saturation is how vibrant the colors are, so you can bump this up a little bit. I always increase the sharpness of my images, but ONLY SLIGHTLY. This just helps images look crisp and less blurry.

And there you have it. Just some photography basics to get you off auto and experimenting with manual!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *