How to Shoot in Manual Mode Cheat Sheet for Beginners

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The “Manual Photography Cheat Sheet-Reloaded” by The London School of Photography is a clean-cut, visual way of showing you how to step-up your photography game from automatic to manual shooting. Not only does shooting in Manual Mode enable you to produce sharp well-composed imagery – but you’ll also gain a stronger understanding of the inner workings of your camera and just how all those curious settings work in synch with each other.

How to Shoot in Manual Mode Cheat Sheet for Beginners

By shooting in Manual Mode you have full control of your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture, among an array of other settings that can further fine-tune your images. Manually controlling the aperture, for example, can help you achieve those beautiful portraits with blurred bokeh backgrounds. It’s also highly useful for changing shutter speeds, enabling you to achieve amazing shots of those fast-moving subjects like cars or cyclists in crystal clear motion without sacrificing quality.

You may often find yourself in a tricky lighting situation where everything appears far too dark, too light, or very grainy. Unfortunately, automatic mode can’t always hack these extreme conditions and often activates your camera’s flash at the smallest hint of darkness (making some photos appear positively awful). This is where learning to shoot in Manual Mode can be a lifesaver.

ISO

One of the most talked about settings on a camera is the ISO; a numerical value on your camera that controls light sensitivity. Your camera’s ISO allows you to adjust its light-sensitivity and allows it to pick up more light. Or on the flip side, to reduce your exposure on those bright sunny days for a well-balanced result.

I highly encourage experimenting with different lighting conditions to find your ideal ISO. But be wary of making your ISO too high in dark conditions as this will increase the amount of noise in your final images.

Aperture

Another common term you may have come across is aperture. This is essentially an opening in the lens that affects your exposure. It is also responsible for controlling the depth of field.

Generally, the lower the number (or f-stop), the larger the opening of the lens will be which will result in less depth of field – ideal for those blurry backgrounds. On the other hand, the higher your aperture the sharper the background will be – making it great for capturing all the tiny details in your scene (great for landscapes).

Shutter Speed

How to Shoot in Manual Mode Cheat Sheet for Beginners

Shutter speed is another key player that determines your image’s final outcome. It is essentially the exposure time of the camera’s inner shutter that stays open to allow light to enter and hit the sensor.

Generally, if you’re after blurred shots that illustrate an object’s motion (for example a racing car or cyclist) then a slow shutter speed will keep the shutter open for longer, allowing for a longer exposure time. A faster shutter speed, however, is perfect for a pristine action shot with no motion blurs.

White Balance

Another setting on your camera which also directly affects your images is your White Balance (WB). The process of setting your White Balance involves removing unrealistic color casts and ultimately using a setting that produces more naturally toned images.

It is especially useful in removing harsh yellow tones or redness on the skin. Alternatively, White Balance can be used in unconventional ways to refine your photographic style. For example, for edgier photos, the Tungsten White Balance preset can be used in an overcast setting to produce blue hues and enhance contrasts. With this in mind, it’s highly beneficial to experiment with the various White Balance modes to achieve your desired results.

Things to note for shooting in Manual Mode

Keep in mind that when you’re ready to shoot in Manual Mode your settings will not adjust to your shooting conditions. You have to adjust them, manually. By keeping this in mind you’ll ensure your exposures are consistent throughout a shoot. The process of changing your settings may sound tedious at first, but it will actually ensure your images are consistent.

This is what shooting in an automatic mode lacks, as it calculates how much light is being measured through your camera’s light meter. As good as this might sound to you, you’ll probably find that as you adjust your shooting position, the subject moves, or the lighting condition changes to overcast – you’ll eventually have a set of very inconsistently exposed images.

Other shooting modes

camera modes - How to Shoot in Manual Mode Cheat Sheet for Beginners

As much as I love to shoot manual, don’t forget about the other letters on your mode dial that are sparking your curiosity. In fact, I even recommend shooting in these semi-automatic modes as practice to help you understand exposure compensation.

  • Program mode (P) is a great transition mode when stepping out of the auto-shooting world. It governs similar shooting to auto but allows you to adjust the exposure by controlling compensation through a dial. If any of your photos appear dark, then using this simple feature can increase the brightness.
  • Aperture priority is another great transitional mode to shoot in that allows you control over aperture as well as the ISO. It gives you control over your depth of field as well as the exposure compensation to control brightness.

If you think you’ve mastered these settings then you’re ready to go manual!

Finally

In addition to camera settings, we highly recommend the following tips that will further enhance your experience of migrating to manual shooting; such as the use of a tripod, golden hours, and the top photographic golden rules to keep in mind for capturing stunning imagery time and time again.

How to Shoot in Manual Mode Cheat Sheet for Beginners

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Antonio Leanza owner of the London School of Photography is a photographic artist, coach, and teacher with extensive experience lecturing at LCC for over 10 years and for Ilford Film across the UK. His approach to teaching focuses on helping students to invest in their creative processes and inspire a transformational learning experience. Antonio also believes in helping students achieve their full potential as creative individuals to realise their aspirations in the photographic world.

  • sly

    Ho my God ! The name of the magazine is Digital Photography School, how can you write: “Your camera’s ISO allows you to adjust its light-sensitivity and allows it to pick up more light”
    This is completely untrue, iso does not change the sensitivity of your detector neither the quantity of light gathered. There is no such things in cmos detector. You cannot change detector sensitivity. Iso is just an amplification of the signal made out of the light gathered. It is like the exposure slider in your software except that it does it in body, in a better way, before the signal is digitalized.

    I know you are trying to teach amateurs, and try to simplify as much as possible but there is no justification for such misinformations.

    To go further, Iso does not add noise in your picture, the fact that hight iso picture have lower quality is because there is les light is collected. This is no more complicate to explain.

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  • dave

    Just shoot in aperture priority, shooting in manual as a beginner is just too much to think about when starting out.

  • David Andrews

    Actually, Sly, to increase the ISO, you increase the operating voltage on the CMOS detector, which increases the output charge from the detector pixels for the same collected (light) charge. This will allow a smaller and smaller charge to produce the same output (as the ISO is raised), and this is the very definition of detector sensitivity. When the charge on a pixel is less than the threshold for processing, no output will be produced. As you increase the voltage (ISO) to the detector, more and more of these previously sub-threshold charges will exceed the threshold and be processed; if these charges are the result of electron leakage in the detector or thermal energy, they are not related to the light captured from the camera system and are called noise or background radiation. Increasing the voltage on the detector will cause more of this background radiation to exceed the threshold and be processed as image. This is the noise you see in an image. As you must now admit, increasing the ISO in the camera processing system does in fact increase the sensitivity of the detector and will allow for the collection and processing of more background radiation or noise.

  • David Andrews

    It would be better to learn WHEN to use Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority(both semi-manual modes), full manual, and program modes.
    Program – Control ISO and shift aperture and shutter together (A^Sv or AvS^)
    Shutter – Control ISO and Shutter – allow App to float (Control motion)
    Aperture – Control ISO and Aperture – allow Shutter to float (Control Depth of Field)
    Manual – Control ISO, Shutter and Aperture ( Functions in place of using Exposure Compensation)

  • dave

    You don’t have to convince me. I know when to use them but I also know that Av meets my needs 90% of the time. I’ve met a few newbies lately trying to learn manual and missing shots. I know when I started off, manual was a daunting task. Av is the way to go most of the time with exception.

  • Bill McKenzie

    As someone who has been photographing for 52 years, I’d say manual is over-rated and unnecessary in 95% of situations. Learn to use the histogram and expose to the right with the exposure compensation feature.

  • sly

    I will have to disagree in many points. First of all, does not mean that you must trust me, but characterization of detector is part of my job.

    1. We can argue about the meaning of the word “sensitivity” and it is fine. But the author made it clear : “adjust its light-sensitivity and allows it to pick up more light”, for the author ‘sensitivity’ mean pick up more light which is wrong whatever the etymology of ‘sensitivity’.

    2. What you describe is the behavior of a Avalanche Photo Diode (APD) where a voltage in the pixel is apply to create an avalanche effect, meaning that one photon will excite one electron which will excite more electrons etc…. CMOS detectors does not work that way. One photon is no more than one electron collected in the pixel (with the quantum efficiency in between). All the electrons collected by a pixel are then red via a current which is transformed to a voltage quickly (because électroniciens will tell you that it is better to work on voltage than current). Then, and only then, an amplification is apply to the voltage. But the number of photon collected never change, the capacity of a pixel to collect photon does not change. The applied amplification called also gain will tells you the relation between one electron and the raw unit (called ADU, Analog to Digital Unit). For instance a gain of 0.1 e-/ADU will tell you that one electron will create the number 10 in your raw unit. The threshold you are talking about is only the ability of you memory to sample one electron (the true information) out of the amplified signal. But at base ISO (100 or 200, depend on the detector) and above it is always the case. For a given detector a change of ISO is just a change of this amplification factor.

    3. Their is draftily 3 main sources of noise :

    – The first one comes from the dark current, the production of random e- due to temperature, its magnitude in e- does not depend on the amplification (what you called voltage) or marginally. But of course this noise appear in the pixel before amplification and will be amplified. Concretely you never see this noise for exposure shorter than about 1 second. It will be completely negligible compared to the others source of noise. For instance at 15 degree celcius this noise is about 0.2 e- per second so 1 second of exposure time is 0.2 e- of noise (to be compared to the other).

    – The second one comes after amplification (it has many sources), it is called the read out noise. In modern detector this noise, when referred to electrons, is about 4, 2e-, it actually decrease with the ISO !

    – The third one is before amplification and it is due to the nature of light ! It has nothing to do with the detector (a part of course the ability of the detector to ‘pick-up’ photons). You can google shot noise or photon noise to have a clear explanation. What you have to know is that this noise depend on the square root of the number of electrons collected. So if you have let say 64e- (this is very little compare to the capacity of a pixel ~20,000 to 100,000e- typically) the typical noise will be 8 e- which already dominate all the two other sources of noise.

    4. However speaking about noise (in the meaning of physics, which have an other meaning the common language) is not relevant. Noise has to be compared to the signal strength. So people use SNR (signal to noise ratio). The SNR also increase with the square root of the number of e- collected and this related to the “visible noise” that you see on your picture. So yes as soon as there is a bit of light in your picture the SNR is dominated by the ‘photon noise’. The SNR (coming from light statistic) does not change with the amplification it does not change with the ISO. A high ISO picture is “noisy” (low SNR) because their is little photons to deal with. The source of noise you are describing is only seen for long exposure in the dark (no photon) area of a picture, it is very marginal.

    I am not pretending that the author should know about this (it tooks me years) or detail everything, but when the name of the magazine is “Digital Photography School” they should be more careful of what they write.

    At the end it does not very matter because for me photography is 99.9% dominated by the artistic quality and not ‘image quality’. Nobody needs to know all that to take beautiful pictures. But giving this kind of false informations will make the reader think that technology is everything while the limit of what we can achieve is dictated by nature, technology improve to reach this limit. And it is now dam close to it.

    I would finish by saying writing:

    “ISO increase your detector sensitivity” (in the sens “pik up more light”) is like saying:

    “turning up the volume of the radio in your car increase the sensitivity of your antenna !”

    If the radio signal is weak and you can listening a lot of schuuuuuuu (noise) on top of your music (the signal), turning the volume up will not do any good.

    Hope it helps.

    Cheers.

  • Bill Bratney

    Nice ID photo, William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. I do like your comment and will try to use the histogram more often.

  • klepto84

    Hi! I’ve tried to print the cheat sheet from “Download the full cheat sheet infographic all-in-one here.” and either get only the first page 8.5 x 11 or all the pages tiled vertically on one 8.5 x 11 sheet. Am I missing something? This is a great infographic and would be very useful if the screen pages translated to hardcopy. I guess snipping is always an option.

  • Excellent explanation and 100% correct. Too many false statements abound about sensors and ISO. Photons directly equals electrons everything else is amplification of the output voltage.

  • Revanth Gandhi Korlepara

    Great! Article I am a beginner here and it helps me a lot. Thank you Bro:-)

  • bill wasp

    Bill,
    I see the manual mode as an experimental mode that helps me remember the right combos of aperture and shutter priorities, although I will use one to shoot and then modify while in that mode to get the “manual look” I am chasing. Of course, there’s always Photoshop…

  • davgar51

    has anyone else noticed the shutter speed scale is the wrong way round on the linked complete jpeg?
    shorter exposures lead to *less* blur! It is correct on this page.

  • Dale Kirchhofer

    Actually Sly, I think you miss the point of the article. Note the last two words of the title “for Beginners”. All the technical jargon will confuse the beginners.

  • UGH, terribly sorry. I didn’t realize the images were different. I will get an updated one and correct it. Thanks for finding that! Good eyes.

  • It’s one image @klepto84:disqus So however you choose to print it is up to your printer settings. I can’t help with that sorry.

  • I would like to address this as the editor of dPS. Yes I KNOW fully that ISO is way more complicated than that, and as @dalekirchhofer:disqus Has pointed out this is for beginners. Giving them all the science behind it is too much information for them – they are learning too many things all at once and sometimes simplification of certain terms helps them progress. Once they are more intermediate many photographers want to learn more about ISO and other scientific facts about photography. BUT some choose not to and they really don’t need to know that to take good photos. So yes the term if often simplified on purpose. If you are a more advanced amateur or a pro then I would suggest reading some other topics more at that level.

  • Mr. @disqus_taiO0gqF8U:disqus We’ve had this discussion before and you’ve been warned about your comments in the past. Please keep it civil here and if you do not like our articles perhaps find another site to read instead of critiquing here – that doesn’t help anyone. Many 1000s of people get value from our articles and we will continue to do our best to help those people.

  • sly

    Ms @darlenehildebrandt:disqus , @dalekirchhofer:disqus Imagine you go to a web site named “Astronomy School”, aimed to be for amateur. And they explained the movement of the sun in the sky during the day by: “The sun is rotating around earth”, because is simpler for amateurs to understand like that, obviously. How would you feel ?

    As I say in my answer there is no need to speak all the technical detail, like I did, it was an answer to @disqus_pvTQhJHs3r:disqus.

    But also there is no need to put clear false information for simplification purpose, “adjust its light-sensitivity and allows it to pick up more light” is not simplified, this is the opposite of what is happening (that the earth rotating around the sun).

    They are many way to simplify for beginner without introducing clear false statements.
    The analogy with the radio I wrote is a good one I think you can use. Turning on the volume will not increase the sensibility of your antenna, but if the signal is weak you will hear a lot of noise on top of your music whatever the volume.

  • sly

    Ho I didn’t see your last message. I think that the detail arguments I wrote were quite civil. I took quite a lot of my time to write explanations that anybody can read and hope understand. Which part you didn’t find civil ?

    I am sorry @darlenehildebrandt:disqus but justifying wrong statement for the good sake of simplification is a bad journalism behavior. As long as I see it in subject that I know, I’ll interfere. As you say, we had discussed this before and you could also acknowledge your little mistakes and rectify in this article.

    And no doubt that your website is valuable for many people (except for the ones who want’s to know how detectors work :).
    But the fact New York time has a lot of reader does not allow them to give fake statement to them. Even if at the end it is not really important.

    Explanations can be simplify and incomplete but should not say the contrary of reality.
    One can say that sun is rotating around earth without talking about complicate celestial mechanics.

  • Tomas Wahrmann

    Copy the sheet and paste it in WORD. The divide it in pages.

  • Colette

    Thank you!

  • klepto84

    Guess it’s a point as the link is no longer “there”. Great information. Thanks

  • David Gee

    This pedantic rubbish back again. Give us a break Sly. I strongly commend the cheat sheet, especially to photographers starting out using manual mode, the target audience.

  • sly

    I am sorry I do not get it. Really.
    How writing something like:
    “Iso is an amplification of a signal created by the light heating your detector”
    Can be more pedantic than
    “ISO allows you to adjust its light-sensitivity and allows it to pick up more light”

    Is it pedantic just because it is true ? Is that the definition of pedantic ?
    What is it that makes the first sentence so much more complicate than the second ?

  • Great post. I am beginner here, I hope it helps me a lot. Thanks for sharing..

  • I’m not going to argue with you but your definition/explanation will have lost most people from the get go.

    2. What you describe is the behavior of a Avalanche Photo Diode (APD) where a voltage in the pixel is apply to create an avalanche effect, meaning that one photon will excite one electron which will excite more electrons etc….

    You lost most people there.

    This is the end of this discussion. We’re not altering the article. Please do not comment on this topic of ISO again.

  • Agreed and his comment

    “Iso is an amplification of a signal created by the light heating your detector”
    Can be more pedantic than
    “ISO allows you to adjust its light-sensitivity and allows it to pick up more light”

    The above explanation does not help beginners at all in learning how to use it. Does one have to understand the science behind electricity to use it? No. Do you need to know how a car engine works to drive it? No but you need to know what all the controls do. The ISO simplified definition is one that is used widely everywhere not just here. It just needs to be accepted and move on for those who do have a higher level of the understanding of the science behind it.

    When I teach my classes I often lose some people explaining how to measure a portrait lighting ratio – they don’t get the math. But what they can get is how to see and use it in their photography. Begin a good teacher means adapting to help your students understand things which are complex in a way they can use them.

  • Thanks @Samuil!

  • sly

    Dear @darlenehildebrandt:disqus , my explanations was an answer to another post from @disqus_pvTQhJHs3r:disqus who argued with details, mostly false to my knowledge. Please read the threads. I answered to him with details. The point 2, you have sited is directly related to his post. It took me time to write this answer and I did it with civility and accuracy. I never pretended that the article must give so much details, I even wrote the contrary.

    I believe you didn’t read my comment completely, because i stated :
    “I am not pretending that the author should know about this (it tooks me years) or detail everything, but when the name of the magazine is “Digital Photography School” they should be more careful of what they write.”
    And
    “At the end it does not very matter because for me photography is 99.9% dominated by the artistic quality and not ‘image quality’. Nobody needs to know all that to take beautiful pictures.”

    Also in the previous post:
    “I know you are trying to teach amateurs, and try to simplify as much as possible but there is no justification for such misinformations.”

    Also I believe that you are confusing with somebody else regarding the post in previous articles. You never answered to me directly before. Nobody “warned” me before as you say. Can you check that ?

    Now please consider that writing, in the future, something like :

    “Iso is an amplification of a signal created by the light heating your detector”

    Is no more complicate than

    “ISO allows you to adjust its light-sensitivity and allows it to pick up more light”

    But more accurate. Which part is more complicate to understand ?

    I believe you are journalist and trues (even simplify) matters for you.

  • OldPom

    No mention of the great safety net – if your camera will shoot in RAW and you have a reasonable editing programme on your computer. Many small errors at shooting time can be corrected, particularly as regards white balance, colour and brightness. Only downside is larger files but memory cards are avialable in huge capacities, and barely noticeable delay in recording from sensor to memory. Never notice it unless you are looking for rapid sequential bursts. Keep the RAW files as backup after the conversion in computer to jpeg for sharing.

  • thanks @disqus_pvTQhJHs3r:disqus

  • Good points thanks.

  • sly

    @Darlene u almost sited me from my last post “no body need to know all that to take beautiful pictures”

    That what I wrote. So no doubt about that. We can push it appart.

    But what bother me is that your (false) explanation suggest that it all depend of the gear, that more professional gear some how could have better way to get the light. However it is not the case, detector are getting better and and better but their is a limit dicted by nature. Teaching that light management is more important than any gear is more important to any begin if photographer.

    Ps: did you suppress my polite answer to your other post ?

  • Ancly

    “Iso is an amplification of a signal created by the light heating your detector”
    Can be more pedantic than
    “ISO allows you to adjust its light-sensitivity and allows it to pick up more light”

    They are different. Only one is right. Amplifying a signal sounds more plausible to me. You pick up more light by increasing the lens aperture don’t you?

  • sly

    Yes. On a given camera, the only way to pick up more light is to increase the aperture or the shutter speed (when you can). This is the only way to improve your “image quality”, the noise, if needed. But honestly priority is on the art, action, emotion, composition, depth of field …. , before thinking about image quality. It is alway is always better, for instance, to photograph moving people with fast enough shutter speed and loose a bit image quality than the contrary.

  • sly

    Honestly @darlenehildebrandt:disqus, I understand you want to protect your editorialist but you cannot thanks @disqus_pvTQhJHs3r:disqus to give details (“that will have lost most people from the get go”) and give me a “last warning” to do the same thing. Specially when what he wrote is easily questionable.

    Well we all get to passionate in forums in guess.
    Cheers,

  • Michelle

    Great tutorial, just wish I was able to print it out. Not sure if it is a Mac thing…..I even downloaded the app required to download the tutorial and had not luck.

  • You are welcome.

  • Ronnie Herr

    hi, thank you for the tips which i find most helpful. Ii am really battling to get my pictures really sharp and crisp. I have been shooting a lot of birds lately on manual with the ISO at 800. i cannot get the picture to come out very sharp and distinct, look at the photo i have attached. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1891cef5f9b498ece38c0b1b13e509e11c0c6a677d706ea438c2d65f4fe4bff2.jpg

  • Sue

    This might sound silly…..where is the link to download the cheat sheet. I cant seem to find it

  • You are right Bill. I don’t have time to miss the real shot keeping my camera in manual. It’s overrated but in some conditions.

  • Laraine

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  • greg carter

    I am an eager beginner, I read a lot of tutorials and try to digest some of the information and then I try to remember what I have read and apply it in the field……I find cheat sheets a great tool. I can pull them out when I question my memory…..Thank you for keeping it simple. The better I get the more detailed information I will use.

  • SN Sugumar

    Recently I bought NIKON D 5600 and was trying to shoot night sky in Manual Mode. After selecting Shutter speed to say 8″ and adjusting the F ratio and ISO, Closed the LCD Display and using view finder I was shooting. But the Shutter speed had got changed automatically to 1/60 ” and this happened every time as if 1/60″ is the default setting. I then started focusing the object and then go to the LCD and select the desired shutter speed, ISO and F ratio and press the button. Can anyone help me understand why this happened and how to come out of it. Thanks,

  • Kate Anderson

    Is the link to the full cheat sheet missing? I cannot find… TYIA!

  • tchudson

    I see mention made of a download link – can’t seem to find one….

  • Vicki McLean Voyantzis

    My guess is that this is a handheld capture. To zoom in that tight and get a crisp sharp shot- you are going to need a tri-pod

  • Ronnie Herr

    thanks for the reply, the photo was taken on a tri-pod.

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