with Courtney Slazinik
How to figure out the perfect settings for any situation
Manual Mode
How to figure out the perfect settings for any situation

I often get emails from people saying they are going to be shooting a certain event at a certain location and they are curious as to what settings they should use.

Unfortunately, photography isn’t a simple at someone telling you what the exact settings should be for a wedding on a beach or a birth in a hospital.

Your settings, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, are all dependent on the amount of light you have available and the look you are going for.

That is why two photographers can stand right next to each other and have completely different settings for the same scene.

This is also true for locations. Maybe you go to a location at one time of day in the spring and go back to that location later in the day in the fall. You settings will be COMPLETELY different. Even if you are recreating the exact same image the light will be different.

Figuring out your settings is so dependent on the light you have available.

Read more: Complete Guide to Understanding the Exposure Triangle

Want to know the secret on how to figure out the perfect setting in manual mode? The secret is probably NOT what you think it is. Read - The PERFECT Camera Settings for Any Light Situation

People can give you tips like don’t let your shutter speed go below 1/125 but that isn’t even a 100% fact because maybe you are photographing a sporting event, well then your shutter speed needs to be much faster like 1/500.

What about asking a photographer what aperture you should use? Well that depends on several things. How much of the image do you want in focus? How many people are in the photo? Do you want them all in focus? Are they all on the same plane?

How about ISO? Yes, you should keep that as low as possible but saying it should be at 100 outside isn’t always true. Maybe you are in the shade or are shooting on an overcast day. You may need to raise your ISO.

Want to know the secret for figuring out the perfect settings for any situation?

Practice. Practice. Practice.

I know this isn’t the simple solution you may be looking for but just like any art form there isn’t a simple solution.

If you put your camera on manual mode and practice daily you will get more comfortable and be able to quickly figure out which settings you want to use in any given situation in a matter of seconds.

Read more: Practice, Practice, Practice and Finding the Time for Photography

  • Erin
    June 27, 2016 at 4:54 PM

    I’m only new to taking my camera off auto and using manual. In the past I’ve received lots of compliments on my auto photos but at present I feel my newly manual photos are all blah. I purchased some cheat sheets which gave me confidence but…it’s not working too well. As you say outside and overcast days, which here in our winter days is precisely what we’re getting at present.
    anyhow yesterday I stumbled on a trick to help me a complete newbie, I switched to auto took picture, noticed what setting it was for iso and shutter and then switched back to manual and took far better pics.
    However I still haven’t worked out the difference as to when I’m best using manual, aperture, shutter and P.

    Thanks for the reassurance that deviating from the cheat sheets is ok.

  • Mary
    June 28, 2016 at 8:03 AM

    I shoot a Nikon D800 and I happen to like the fine grain that comes from a higher ISO setting. Maybe “low as possible” ISO applies to other cameras that have noisier sensors.

  • Fleur Gedamke
    January 24, 2018 at 11:58 AM

    i am struggling to find my style. i am always experimenting with changing my settings to get different looks – but trying to hone in on me. i tend to like muted tones and lower exposed images….I think?

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