Manual Photography Tips: How to get yo’ ass off auto!

manual photography tips

A basic guide to using the ‘M’ setting for shooting still life:

So…. Your significant other has bought you a DSLR camera after you’ve dropped a million hints about how you’d LOVE to learn photography (or… you totally bought it yourself! #feminism). But the thing is… You are still using the auto settings because you haven’t had enough time to book yourself into that online course to nail the perfect photo.

Never fear, I am here to explain the techy stuff in a really simple way that doesn’t scare the shit out of you.

There are 4 main factors that will allow you to nail your capture. Let’s talk about them… Give me 5 minutes; promise you’ll leave with a better understanding!

Shutter Speed

The higher the number, the faster your camera is able to make your capture. The range of shutter speeds is from 30” (lowest) up to 1/8000 (fastest) – The numbers reflect the amount of time the shutter is open. Now don’t let that scare you… Just aim for a high shutter speed! The more natural light, the higher the shutter speed will be… So shine that light, baby!

If you are in a low light situation, your shutter speed will drop. The first point of call to resolve this is to naturally enhance the light (EG: open curtains, move your subject closer to a window). If you can’t do that, the next point of call is your ISO, bump it up until your shutter speed can get up to at least 1/100.

Aperture (or F-stop) 

This little baby is one that can really define your photography style. The number conveys the depth of field. Yes, I know that sounds all high-tech, but let me explain… Have you ever seen images where the subject is in focus, and the background is really blurry? That my friends, is called depth of field. The lower your F-stop, the more ‘blur’ you’ll achieve. If you want everything in focus, you’ll need to bump that F-stop up higher.

Tip: If you’re shooting a flat lay with products that are a different height. You will need to pump up your F-stop to ensure all of your products are in focus. I usually go from my standard f/2.8 to an f/5.6 to allow for this.


ISO is a more artificial way of pumping up the light within your photos. The lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light, and the finer the grain. Higher ISO settings are generally used in darker situations to get faster shutter speeds. So, rule of thumb? Always try for a low ISO (I prefer 200-250). But sometimes, you will be put in situations where you can’t control the lighting, and ISO is another way that you can induce light when there is none naturally.

This one is tricky. While a high ISO gives you that extra light, and may look to the naked eye, like it improves the photo. When using a high ISO, your images will become grainy. So be aware of that when you’re playing around.


Yet another way to adjust the light… Are you seeing a theme yet? This baby is the bee’s knees. If it’s a little dull and overcast? Pump up the exposure in +1 increments to draw in that little extra light. Personally, I will always shoot at either +1 or +2 exposure when the lighting is consistent. When the lighting isn’t consistent (Eg: Harsh shadows and really bright highlights often found in the middle of the day)… Always under-expose. You can fix it up easier in post-production. You will notice when you start to manipulate the exposure, this will automatically change the shutter speed too. So just keep in mind all 4 elements when adjusting your settings.

So… what are you waiting for? Go style up your bedside table and show me what you’ve learnt!  #LLPGetYoAssOffAuto

Want to shoot like me? 

  • High shutter speed
  • Low F/
  • Low ISO and
  • +1 or +2 exposure

Author: Leah Ladson 

Instagram: @leahladsonphotography