In 2013, I bought my first DSLR, a Canon t4i. I had no idea how to use it and told myself I would learn as I went.  With the exception of a few test shots, it sat on my dresser for a year collecting dust. It wasn't until a friend, Audrey of, needed a blog photographer on a whim, that I had the opportunity to bring it out to play.

After our first session, which I shot with my camera in automatic, I realized the images didn't pop like the photos I had seen in my some of my favorite style blogs. I knew that If I was going to do this, I had to learn to shoot in Manual. Shooting Manual is similar to driving a stick-shift, all of the settings are adjusted by you.


Mastering your DSLR, means mastering the three things that are responsible for the picture in the first place. If you want creative control over your images, I feel its highly imperative to learn to shoot in manual. Whether you're an aspiring photographer or a business owner who wants to shoot product yourself with a higher quality camera, this post is for you.

After hours and hours on Google and Youtube, understanding ISO, APERTURE and SHUTTER SPEED are the three things that took my photography to new levels! I'm breaking it all down for you here! 



ISO determines how sensitive your camera is to the available light in your environment. Imagine walking into a dark room. How many flashlights would you need to be able to see really clearly? Probably a lot. However, if you were in a very bright room, you probably wouldn't need any extra light at all. This is how ISO works. Bright light = less sensitivity. Low light = higher sensitivity.

The "standard" ISO on a camera ranges from between 100 to 6400. The lower the number, the less flashlights you'll need. The higher the number, the more flashlights you'll need. If it's a sunny day at the beach, not a cloud in sight, we don't need any extra light, so we can set our ISO to 100. If there are a few clouds threatening out light, we can set our ISO to 200. The darker it is, the more we need to amp up our ISO. Bear in mind, that the higher you amp your ISO, the grainer your image will look. The type of camera you have, determines at what ISO your images will start to look grainy. I shoot with a canon 6D and I start to see grain around 3200. With my t4i, I started to see grain around 1600.


You ever see an image of your favorite style blogger, and she's in complete focus, but her background is completely blurry? Aperture controls that blur, which is technically called Depth of Field. If you want to nerd out on the technicalities of this term, feel free. 

Aperture also controls how much light is let into the camera, Aperture is measured in something called an 'f-stop' and ranges from f/1.2 to f/22. The lower the f-stop number, the more light is being let into the camera. The higher the f-stop number, the less light is being let into the camera. As for the blur, the lower the f-stop number, the more blur you get, the higher the f-stop number, the less blur you get. This is definitely the trickiest to understand of the the three, but the effect it gives your images, is worth it in the end. 

Also, keep in mind the type of lens you have determines how much blur you can get. The lenses that come with your camera, are called "kit" lenses, and while you don't get much blur with these, you can totally see the difference if you set your aperture to f/4 vs. f/16. If you want that professional blur, you'll have to upgrade your lens. Lenses with apertures that can go as low as f/2.8 or f/1.2 give major blur, but also cost a lot (I'm talking dolla, dolla bills ya,ll!).

Don't fret, I'll share my lens recommendations for newbies in a separate post. 


Shutter Speed also controls how much light is let into the camera (I know, slightly confusing, but stick with me). However, shutter speed is mostly responsible for showing "motion." Have you seen those images of car lights on the highway, that look like long streams of light? This was accomplished with a slow shutter speed. Those images of NBA players in mid-dunk during a game? Accomplished with a fast shutter speed.

Shutter speed literally refers to how long the shutter (the thingy that you press to take the picture) is open on your camera, which is measured in seconds. The "standard" range for Shutter Speed is 1/1000s (second) to 1 s(second).  The key thing to note is that slow shutter speeds show motion, while fast shutter speeds stop motion. Slow shutter speeds are (1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1 second), while faster shutter speeds are (1/250, 1/600, 1/1000). Additionally, because shutter speed controls how much light is coming into the camera, you'll have to be aware that slower shutter speeds mean the shutter is open longer, letting in more light, while faster shutter speeds let in less light

These three things work as a triangle. What you do to one, affects what happens to the other. The name of the game is balancing the triangle to give you the perfect exposure, or the correct amount of light in a photo. Ever seen a photo and it's so bright you can't see a thing? Or an image that's so dark, you can't see a thing? The photographer failed to reach the correct "exposure." It takes practice, but once you master it, you'll be so impressed with how much better your images will begin to look!

As an extra bonus, I'm sharing 3 images straight from my camera, shot in different light settings and giving you the dibs on my shoot settings. As mentioned before, every thing is a balancing act, and while you may not accomplish always get the perfect exposure in-camera, you can adjust in post processing (i.e. photoshop). Stay tuned next week for lowdown on my editing process with Lightroom and Photoshop CC!

 Shot on a bright day. ISO = 100, Aperture = f/4, Shutter Speed = 1/250
 Shot in a shaded area on a bright day, ISO = 250, Aperture = f/4, ShutterSpeed = 1/160
 Shot on an overcast day in a shaded area, ISO = 1250, Aperture = f/4, Shutter = 1/200