Best DSLR settings on Manual Mode - Beginners Guide

Have you tried the Manual Mode on a DSLR? If you are still trying to figure out the best manual mode settings of your DSLR, we have mentioned in this article the best settings to capture awesome photographs using Manual Mode.

Beginner DSLR users often get confused about many aspects while doing photography. This is because unlike a point-and-shoot camera, DSLRs are more sophisticated ones. It is capable of capturing a better photo in different conditions like daylight, low light etc. and offers a lot of features.

While using a DSLR, you might have noticed that there are different modes. These modes are generally available in a dialer and include Auto, Auto (without flash), A, M, S and so on. So, in order to capture an outstanding photo in different conditions, one must be well acquainted with these modes as well. However, most professionals would recommend you to use M or Manual mode. This is because of its wide flexibility and better control to choose the best settings for a given condition.

So, if you are trying to go with the manual settings and unable to get good results, this article will be very helpful. The settings given here can be used as a ready reckoner for your DSLRs manual mode.

What is Manual Mode in DSLR cameras?

Among many other modes in your DSLR, you will be having a Manual Mode in the dialer. This is one of the most important modes that is mostly used by experts and professionals. Here, you will have the liberty to choose the best ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed etc. as per your requirements. This gives more control to the photographer to adjust the frame to better suit the requirements.

Learning Manual mode on DSLR is difficult without knowing a few concepts on photography. Today, we will be guiding you to master the manual mode using a simple cheat sheet. Just remember, while using Manual Mode, your primary objective would be to set your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO wisely.

There are many other settings that need to be adjusted as well. But when it comes to Manual mode, these three are the key ones.

Best Manual Mode Settings on a DSLR

There is no single DSLR setting that can do wonders on all conditions. For instance, capturing on bright sunshine and overcast days would require you to play with your settings differently.

Best Aperture settings on DSLR

Let's start with the Aperture settings while clicking on Manual Mode. An Aperture is simply an opening in the lens of the DSLR through which light enters the camera. The aperture numbers are generally calibrated in f/stops. These are mainly f1.4, f2.0, f2.5, f4, f5.6, f6, f11 and f16. Here, remember that smaller the number, the larger will be the aperture and vice versa. That means, if an aperture is large with smaller f/stops such as f1.4, the lens will open up more and it will result in less depth of field. This, on the other hand, means the background will be blurry as against capturing with higher f/stops. So, f1.4 will be denoted as the larger aperture here and f16 as the smaller aperture.

Now question is, what is the significance of these f/stops in practical usage? If you are confused, simply remember the following difference.

Large Aperture
  • Less in focus
  • More light enters the lens
  • Blurred Backgrounds

Small Aperture
  • More in focus
  • Less light entering the lens
  • Sharp background
Now, the difference is quite obvious and easily distinguishable. So the next time you want to have blurred background in your photo, you know which aperture to set on your DSLR.

With the technical difference being sorted out above, let us now give you a cheat sheet of which aperture is ideal for what conditions. If you are in for Portrait photography, you can go anywhere around f1.4 to f5.6. I prefer to shoot in f1.8 with 50mm prime lens which are also known as the best lens for DSLR. If you are shooting snapshots or group photos, an aperture of f4 to f9 will give you better clarity. On the other hand, for landscape photography, one can go for f11 to f22 for having the complete landscape in focus.

Best Shutter Speed on DSLR

In simple language, it is the time for which the shutter is open or the sensor is exposed to light. Adjusting the shutter speed is very important for setting the brightness of the photo as well as bringing some effect. These effects may be motion blur effect or freezing any object. The shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds such as 1/25, 1/50, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500,1/800,1/2000 and 1/8000. So, if we say 1/250 shutter speed, it generally means the camera shutter will be open for 4 milliseconds.

Here, 1/25 and going forth is known as slow shutter whereas anything around 1/8000 is the faster shutter. So, if you want to go for motion blur effect or need more light to kick into the image sensor then a slow shutter is the answer. But in order to freeze motion or to create a dramatic effect, one must adjust their camera's shutter speed to a fast shutter.

Having said that, you need to remember a few tips while adjusting shutter speed in the manual mode. For instance, if you are shooting still subjects without movement then a shutter speed around 1/80 to 1/200 will be ideal. On the other hand, if the subject is having a moderate movement then a shutter speed of 1/250 to 1/500 must be opted for optimal results. And, in the case of faster moving subjects, the shutter speed must fast enough in the range of 1/500 to 1/2000 to get good results.

The above cheatsheet on shutter speed will be enough to get better results while using the Manual mode in DSLR.

Best ISO Settings on DSLR

Among other things, the ISO is an important parameter to take care of in digital photography. It generally denotes the sensitivity of the image sensor and often determines how much light is available around the subject. ISO is responsible for better exposure and the amount of noise/grain in the photo.

Setting a proper ISO is so important that if confused with its settings, you may get overexposed or underexposed photos. This is why setting the ISO is a real challenge because the lighting conditions are never always the same. Hence, you may need to play with it quite often depending on the lighting condition in and around the subject.


The ISO normally starts with 100 and is set to double every time you change it. The ISO ranges from 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400 and 12800 in most modern DSLRs. The ISO starting at 100 is known to be the least sensitive while the one at 12800 is more sensitive. Here, a less sensitive ISO often results in less noise or grain while more sensitive ISO leads to more noise or grain.

Think of a photography session on a bright sunny day without any significant shade. In such cases, the ideal ISO would always be 100 beyond any doubt. If there is an open shade on an otherwise bright day, you may shift it a little up to ISO 200. On an overcast day, the ISO can be set anywhere between 400 to 800 range depending on the amount of light available on the scene. Same is also applicable when you are shooting indoor near the window.

The real challenge, however, comes when you shoot indoors. In indoors, the manual settings for ISO would be anywhere between ISO 800 to ISO 3200. On the other hand, for low light photography, one can choose the ISO settings from within ISO 3200 - ISO 12800.

Alternatives to Manual Mode on DSLR

The above cheat sheet will be very helpful if you want to choose the manual mode of your DSLR. But, for certain occasions, you may find the manual mode a little annoying too. For instance, if you want to quickly capture a moment you cannot do it instantly without changing its settings. And by the time you set it, the moment might have passed and may not be available to capture.

In such cases, modes like Auto, Auto without flash, Aperture Priority mode, Shutter Priority mode etc. is quite helpful. There is one mode called Program mode which many travelers like to keep it as default. This helps them capture any moment easily without having to change any settings.

So you may ask if there are so may auto and specialized modes then why do we even need to worry about Manual mode? The reason why manual mode is still widely used by professionals and experts is that it gives more control. The default auto mode might not be always the best and often needs post-processing to refine and edit it as per requirement. If we are to sight an example, we might ask why do people still prefer cars with manual gears rather than opting for an automatic transmission. Same is the case here, manual mode gives more control and drives better results on most occasions. It also increases the photography skills which in the long run would be very beneficial.

So, we hope the above guide or cheat sheet would be beneficial to you in capturing stunning photographs in manual mode. Do share your feedback on our recommendation and also comment down any useful tip that you want to add here.


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