The Beginner’s Guide to Manual Photography

Written by Vansh Srivastav, Manjari Sharma, & Nouhaila Dargane

Photography and videography, although can seem like quite easy ventures, can be hard to gain skills in and venture into especially with the upcoming technology that exists in the field. Here are some basic components of film and camera settings that can help you step up into the exposure of your shots into more compositions and complex backgrounds.


What is an aperture?

It can be defined as an opening that lets the light enter into your camera for the photo to occur and acts as a key element in photography while drastically helping you in getting a grip while just starting out in photography.

Understanding and using aperture:

  • The image that you see above, explains how ‘f’ i.e.focal length is the distance between the lens and the image sensor.

  • The higher the number, the lesser the value of focal length.

  • In a layman’s language, you should keep the aperture low so that you can get just the right amount of light and exposure you are looking for. (exposure is further explained later in the article)

How should one adjust it?

  • For a good bokeh effect, one should use a lower ‘f’ value. (according to Wikipedia bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out of focus parts of a photograph produced by a lens)

  • You can understand the definition here but the only thing that will make you and your camera besties is patience and practice and more practice.

The chart provided below explains the relation between depth and lighting along with the sweet spot-

Shutter Speed

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is the duration for which the sensor or the shutter inside your camera is opened. Or it could be explained as for how long if your camera’s lens is exposed to light entering in it, that is regulated by the aperture.

How does it affect an image?

In the two pictures, you can clearly understand that increasing the shutter speed beautifies the image. The image on the right has its shutter speed increased leading to a slight blur that gives it the oomph that it requires (motion blur).

In the second image, water thus appears to be in a soft wave of motion.

  • The numbers that you see, are generally in fractions of a second. Ex: 1/500, 1/200

  • There is no such thing as perfect iso, it differs with your choice and preferences, the more you experiment with it, the quicker you will get a hold of it.

How can one choose the correct shutter speed as per the scene?

As someone newly delving into photography, you can often wonder how to get a perfect picture with each minute detail recorded. For example, a starry sky like this one (the milky way in Morocco).

How should one adjust it?

This all can be achieved by a slight adjustment to your camera’s shutter speed, which could embellish the night sky or the mesmerizing milky way.

It is advisable to use a tripod or a stable surface to put your device on when taking pictures like this, that we often refer to as long exposure pictures, as the sensor remains exposed to the outside light for a long duration, hence we have to keep the device still, a timer is recommended as even the slightest of touch, blurs the entire image.

Quick shutter speed cheat sheet:

1/4000 sec: Freeze extremely fast movement (think hummingbird wings, bumblebees flying)

1/2000 sec: Freeze birds in flight

1/1000 sec: Freeze motorcycles, cars, and other fast vehicles

1/500 sec: Freeze mountain bikes, runners, and athletes – this is often referred to as a “sweet spot” for sports photography

1/250 sec: Freeze slow-moving animals or people walking

1/125 sec: Pan motorcycles, cars, and other fast vehicles

1/60 sec: Panning mountain bikes close to the camera

1/30 sec: Panning fast-moving cyclists at a distance

1/15 sec: Panning runners, kids, or moving animals

1/8 sec: Blur fast-moving water close to the camera

1/4 sec: Blur people walking

1/2 sec: Blur slow-moving water

1 sec or slower: “Milky” water effect


What is ISO?

ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. According to Wikipedia, ISO isn't an acronym, rather it’s derived from a Greek word. It denotes how sensitive the image sensor is to light.

In other words, It is simply a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo. When you increase your ISO number, your photos will be brighter. Thus, ISO can help you capture images in darker environments, or be more flexible about your aperture and shutter speed settings.

How does it affect an image and how can one adjust it?

When adjusting it, it would seem as if you are adjusting your camera’s brightness, but that isn't actually the case. Increasing the ISO to its maximum would result in the growth or rise in noise or often referred to as a grain.

The ideal goal while taking a film (otherwise if purposely done for aesthetic purposes) is to reduce grains to the least possible amount and thus, ensure to adjust your exposure and aperture appropriately and in a manner that is supported by your natural lighting.

Another key point to note is that natural light is one of the best means of lighting that one can obtain in a shot and are thus advised to shoot during the 'golden hour' that is the first hour after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset that produces a warm natural light when the air is filled with a flattering golden hue that is perfect for photographing everything from landscapes to portraits.


What is exposure?

Exposure is the duration for which the film or digital sensor inside the camera is exposed to light. You change the exposure of an image on the camera by adjusting either the ISO, the shutter speed, or the aperture.

The correct combination of these three parameters will give you the right exposure. However, for a given situation, there will be only one creative combination of these three parameters that will give you a WONDERFUL image.

You need the experience to get the creative combination. And you get the experience by keeping the process of practice.


In the end, photography is an ART that needs a creative eye to see the beauty of this world and turn it into photographs. There is no correct way of clicking pictures, just try to capture most of a story in one scene. Keep practicing and do it with love and passion.

“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”— Alfred Stieglitz