How To Shoot in Manual – The Exposure Triangle


Happy Thursday! For those of you who caught my post last week, which announced the new How To Shoot in Manual series, you’ve seen why shooting in manual is so important if you own a DSLR camera! Today we’re going to overview the three main settings which will affect the exposure of an image.

1. ISO
2. Aperture (also known as f-stop)
3. Shutter Speed

Exposure Triangle Diagram Borrowed from:


All three of these settings will affect the exposure of the image (how light or dark it is). They each also have a secondary effect on the photo (grain/noise, depth of field, and motion blur), but we’ll get to that later. First, let’s nail the exposure. Second, we will get all of the effects down to achieve better results when we have a specific vision.

To get started, change your camera to the “M” for manual on the settings dial. Next, you’ll want to figure out how to change these three settings on your camera. If I was there, I’d simply show you! Since I’m not, go to google and type in “How to change your (insert setting) on a (insert camera model).” You’ll quickly find instructions on where your buttons are.

There’s so much to learn, but first I think an overview of all of the settings might make getting into details a little more enjoyable. So here is a fun challenge for you, just to play with the manual settings. Don’t worry if you don’t get it all right the first time. This exercise is simply to get you familiar!


Start with getting your settings correct outside.

1. Pick up your camera and go outside on a sunny day. Find some shade and maybe even a model (borrow your roommate or spouse if you need to!).

2. Set your ISO to its lowest setting, commonly 100-200, depending on the camera body you are using.

3. Set your aperture to 2.8 (if your aperture doesn’t go that low on the lens you own, choose the lowest setting it allows).

4. Set your shutter to 1/1000, (likely to appear as “1000” on your camera). This 1000 represents 1/1000 seconds, which is how fast the shutter is opening and closing, affecting how much light is let in.

5. Take a photo of your subject. Too dark? Too bright? Change only your shutter speed. Take test shots and see how the numbers affect whether the image gets lighter or darker. Take note of whether higher or lower numbers make the image brighter.

Go walk around and play with your settings in different lighting scenarios. Move your settings around until you get the exposure where you feel comfortable. When you feel like you’ve got the hang of it do the following:


Move inside and try to get your settings in a darker scenario.

1. Go inside a room with window light.

2. Set your ISO to 640 (higher ISO number means brighter image, so in darker lighting situations, you’ll want to start at a higher ISO).

3. Set your aperture to 2.8 (if your aperture doesn’t go that low on the lens you own, choose the lowest setting it allows).

4. Set your shutter speed to 1/250 (likely to appear as “250” on your camera).

5. Take a photo of your subject.

Too dark? Lower your shutter speed to 1/100. Still too dark? Change your ISO to a higher number.
Too bright? Change your ISO to 400 to let less light in. Still too bright? Increase your shutter speed.

Now move around the room to get closer and further form the windows. Test light, and move your settings around. Pay attention to how the light changes when the numbers go either higher or lower. Make a note (write it down or open a note in your phone) each time you change the settings to make the image darker or brighter. Train your brain to remember if the numbers go up or down to make the image lighter or darker.

Here’s a little key to remember:

Remember that exposure triangle at the top of this post? ISO is at the top of the triangle, and it’s the only setting in which the image gets darker with a lower number. Shutter and Aperture (also called f-stop) are the same in that the image gets darker with a higher number. Print out that diagram and keep it in your camera bag! The number one thing I hear from photographers just starting out, is that they just aren’t comfortable figuring out their settings yet. All this to say, expect that you won’t have it down all at once. Practice, practice, practice, and keep taking photos! The more you do this, the more comfortable you will be and the quicker you will be able to get your settings!

Last tip: If you’re just starting out with manual settings, but you see an amazing moment in front of you, don’t fiddle with the lighting. Switch to auto and get the moment! Play with your manual settings when you have time and low stress.

I’m looking forward to diving more into each setting individually and building on these exercises next week! If you have questions for now, post them below! I’d love to answer them and help out in the meantime!

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Want to book a one-on-one coaching session behind the camera? Email me at to get in touch about details! I’d love to walk you through it all in person!



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