3 essential things every beginner photographer needs to learn

Anne JohnstonPhotography tips and inspiration1 Comment

3 essential things every beginner photographer needs to learn to shoot on manual

Do you have a camera and you know that you want to learn to shoot on manual so that you can take amazing photos, but you just don’t know where to start?

Over 5 years ago I picked up my first DSLR and embarked upon my journey to shooting on manual. I remember reading books that I struggled to make sense of, seeing a whole heap of numbers and jargon that were like another language and thinking that it would never make any sense to me.

But then that magical moment happened where I picked up a photography magazine, read the settings that were printed underneath the photos and I knew exactly what they meant and most importantly why those settings had been used to achieve those photos.

Yes there’s a lot of numbers and terminology to get your head around but some of it can wait till later. I’m going to cut to the chase and share with you the 3 essential things you need to learn to get you shooting on manual and taking awesome photos right now.

You might find these blogs helpful too:

1. Learn how to control light and focus with aperture

The first area you need to focus (no apologies for the pun!) your learning on is aperture, which has two functions.

Aperture controls how much light is coming into the camera. Your lenses have aperture blades in them that open up to allow light through onto your camera’s sensor. All lenses have different aperture ranges which are measured in f stops. When you shoot in manual mode you tell the camera which f number to use and the blades will open up wider to let more light in or close down to let less light in.

Aperture also controls the depth of field which is how much area of your image is in focus. Yes, this is the thing that gives you the blurry backgrounds that every beginner photographer wants!

By learning what aperture is and how to control it this will truly allow you to get creative with your photos.


With manual mode you can use the aperture to draw your attention to one part of your image and throw the rest out of focus, giving you a nice blurry background

2. Learn how to control movement with shutter speeds

The second thing that you need to get your head around right now is shutter speed.

Shutter speeds can be fast and shutter speeds can be slow. There are times where you’ll have moving objects in your image and you’ll want to use a shutter speed that is fast enough to freeze the movement still. There are other times you may want to use a longer shutter speed if you want to show movement.

So with shutter speed it’s about making that decision: do you want to freeze the subject, or do you want to see movement in your photos?

A long exposure helps to show movement in a photo

You can use a shutter speed of several seconds (also known as a long exposure) on manual mode to show the movement of water

[convertkit form=5104621]

3. Learn when and how to make your camera more sensitive to light with ISO

The third thing that you need to learn more about is ISO, which can make your camera’s sensor more sensitive to light and give your images a brighter boost when there’s not enough natural light around.

If you’re outside and the sun is blazing and you have lots of beautiful sunshine around you can use a low ISO because you have lots of light available. Your camera doesn’t need a boost.

There are other times though when you need to use a higher ISO. If you want to take photos of the sky at night you’ll need to use a high ISO to bring in as much light as possible.

Using a high ISO to photograph the Aurora

You can use a high ISO at night to photograph the Northern Lights

Learning to shoot on manual

Aperture, shutter speed and ISO are the 3 functions on your camera that you need to control when you shoot on your camera’s manual mode. In future blogs I’ll be digging a bit deeper into each of them. So forget about all the other jargon and terminology and numbers! Just you concentrate on these three things right now.

Or find out more about my 1-2-1 photography tuition and let’s fast-track your journey.

Over to you

Have you experimented with shooting on manual? Are you getting the results you want or are you struggling to make sense of it? Jump into the comments below and let me know. I always reply.

I would love to help you take back control of your camera and learn to take amazing photos. Sign up for my free photography course, which comes to you via weekly emails and you’ll be well on your way.