Mastering Manual Settings

a beginners simplified guide….

Image of a sony a7iii

Either you’re new to photography or you have decided to take your skills to the next level, that level being manual settings. Most people stick to “auto” on the camera dial but the “M” on the dial is what gives you absolute control of the photo you create. Scary and exciting at the same time, let’s master these settings so you are not scared anymore. However, before we begin i may warn you that there is no right or wrong way to use your camera, if you create photos you love that’s all that matters. My job is to provide you with a skill set so you have another tool in your bag in case you need it for your artistic vision. So let’s get to it…

  1. Exposure
  2. Aperture
  3. Shutter Speed
  4. ISO


What’s exposure?

When you first take a photo it falls into one of three categories, under exposed, over exposed or properly exposed. The goal of this exposure game is to get a properly exposed image.

How do i get a properly exposed image?

You can get a properly exposed image by adjusting your aperture, shutter speed or ISO. A properly exposed image captures details in the shadows and the highlights. In addition, most cameras are equipped with an electronic histogram that will help you get proper exposure if you learn to read it correctly.

What’s Aperture?

Aperture operates in increments of F-Stops, when you see it on your camera it looks like this “F 1.8”. The lower the F-Stop, the more light let into your lens. In addition, this is also impacts your depth of field, a common photography term referring to the depth of an image. An image with a shallow depth of field would be around “F 1.8”. An image with a deep depth of field will be around “F 11” or higher. Furthermore, the higher your F-Stop the less light let into your lens.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter Speed operates in fractions of a second, this controls the way your sensor captures an image. A slow shutter speed is around 1/15th of a second or slower, a fast shutter speed is around 1/250th of a second or faster. If you wanted to capture the motion of a glass falling off the table a slow shutter speed would do the job. If you wanted to freeze water droplets in mid-air a fast shutter speed is what you need. In addition, the slower the shutter speed the more light let into your image, the faster your shutter speed the less light let in.

What is ISO?

ISO controls how sensitive your sensor is to light. When you adjust your ISO you’re adjusting the sensors sensitivity to light. Adjusting your ISO to 100 would lower the cameras sensitivity to light, ideal on a bright sunny day or with studio lights. Raising your ISO would increase the sensors sensitivity to light. However, going past 6400 on your ISO can produce unwanted grain in your image so be cautious of that.

Notice the difference in the left corner of the image. The image at 80 ISO has finer grain appearing sharper. The image at 12,800 ISO has more noise, resulting in an image not as sharp.


The goal is to get proper exposure, you can only get proper exposure by adjusting your aperture, shutter speed or ISO. However, tricky lighting situations may prohibit you from getting proper exposure, for these situations you would do something called exposure stacking, more on this in the future.

Russ’s Review: Small-rig Cage

Not everyone needs a cage for their camera but those who do video work will appreciate the attachments you can add to your camera. Those who primarily record themselves will benefit by getting a cage for their a6400 or any a6xxx because the mic jack get’s in the way of the screen, you can counter this by purchasing a hot shoe mount to attach.

Furthermore, you can attach lights and 4k monitors if you’d like; the possibilities are endless until you run out of screws that is. My favorite attachment next to the hot shoe mount is attaching my light from aperture! i suggest looking into the cage if you are a videographer. Let me know how you like it!

If you decide to purchase any of these items head over to the My Gear tab and use my link if you’d like. Thank you.

Russ’s Review: 85mm 1.8 Sony

The 85mm 1.8 Sony is one of the highest quality lenses you could get for little investment. With that being said, let’s find out if it’s right for you.

1/125th ISO: 400 f/1.8

Lens Price

This lens is one of my first additions to my very small collection, also the best quality lens for the price in my opinion and of many others. I originally purchased this lens for around 600$ new, this was before i was comfortable buying used gear. Furthermore, i have seen this lens go for as low as 400$ on Reddit’s photomarket and on offer up, (be sure to inspect and ask for detailed photos). At this price i think this would be a good addition to any photographers toolkit.

Lens Use

The price is right but, is this lens right for you?

Personally this lens was worth every penny to me. However, i primarily do portrait work. This lens allows me to get close to my subject without breathing down their neck, this is a huge benefit by the way. As you can see from my portfolio most of my portraits are up close and personal with people and sometimes its easier to get a longer focal length than actually getting closer to someone you just met.

Lens Quality

The build quality of this lens is very sturdy, it has a switch on the side so you can alternate between Manual Focus (MF) and Auto Focus (AF). This comes in handy when shooting through windows. Furthermore, this lens is light, it will not break your back hiking a mountain. As for the image quality this lens is very sharp not as sharp as the 55mm 1.8 Zeiss but it is second in my collection. The main selling point of this image is the bokeh it produces, that is thanks to it’s aperture and its focal length.

Do i buy this lens??

This statement entirely depends on you. Speaking honestly, i only pull this lens out when doing portraits. That being said i shoot a lot of portraits haha. However, im not walking down the street with this lens taking photographs or climbing mountains, not saying that you shouldn’t but most don’t. This lens stays at home unless i know i will be shooting portraits. So if you shoot a lot of portraits or think you can use this lens in other ways by all means purchase it. Compared to all the other lenses in this focal range, this one is the best bang for your buck.

Is the 55mm F/1.8 Zeiss worth the cash?

The Sony 55mm 1.8 Zeiss clocks in around a whopping 1000$ new. If you’re lucky and can wait for a great opportunity, you can find it selling for around 600$ – 800$ used on Facebook marketplace or offer up, just be sure to inspect the lens first. I purchased mine for 600 and it was in perfect condition.

What are you paying for?

The reason this lens is so pricey is simple, in a lot of cases you get what you pay for, this is one of those times. While this lens might not be needed for everyone, those working professionally will appreciate the extreme sharpness and build quality of this lens.

A lens around the 50mm focal range is needed in all camera bags, its the most versatile lens a photographer can own. So, if you could only afford one professional lens, it would make sense to go with the 55mm Zeiss; especially if you’re working professionally.

How’s the low light?

The 55mm 1.8 Zeiss holds up nicely in low light as you expect given its stats. Personally this is one of my favorite lenses for low light shooting and street photography. Previously, the 85mm 1.8 from Sony was my most cherished lens and it still holds a place in my heart for portrait work but recently i have had the 55mm stuck to my a7iii.

55mm 1.8 or the 50mm 1.8?

The big question for most of you is will it be worth it choosing the 55mm over the 50mm, the honest answer is no. Most people can not handle this much power, i mean um, sharpness. If you’re focused on videography the smarter choice would be the 50mm. My photographers will have to weigh out the options.

Are you a hobbyist? Do you want to have at least one high quality lens? Do you work professionally for clients? Do you need a competitive edge?

For most, you will not need this lens. I suggest you rent and try this lens out and decide if you actually need it, if you do head over to the My Gear page and purchase it using my link if you’d like, be sure to check offer up and other used local places first though, we’re all about saving money here.

How to take an HDR / Stack Exposures

So you’ve mastered manual settings and you understand how to adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO. However, you’ve encountered a problem when trying to preserve really bright highlights and really dark shadows.

So, what do you do?

Hopefully your answer wasn’t give up, otherwise i won’t make my sweet ad revenue by you learning this useful photography tactic. Anyways, today ill show you how to stack multiple exposures so you can preserve those highlights and shadows. luckily, this is a lot easier than it looks, let’s begin.

First, you will need the following…

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Photoshop or Light room

Next, you will want to find a composition with your camera on the tripod and set your aperture, ISO and shutter speed as close to proper exposure as you can.

Notice it’s overexposed around the window, that’s okay we will fix this by stacking multiple exposures.

Now, keep your camera on the tripod and raise your shutter speed so you underexpose your image but just enough to where you can see detail in the highlights.

Notice how you have more detail around the window by underexposing the rest of the image.

Lastly, you want to overexpose your image by slowing down your shutter speed just enough to where you can see more detail in the shadows.

Notice how you have more detail in the shadows by overexposing your image.

Time for the grand finale, we will be merging these three exposures to capture maximum detail in the bright highlights and dark shadows. We will be merging these in Lightroom but you can also merge them in Photoshop.

Import the three images into Lightroom and then hold CTRL and select each one.

After selecting the three images right click then go to photo merge and click HDR.

Make sure Auto Align is checked then select high on the deghost amount and merge your image!

It’s that easy, you’ve just stacked multiple exposures to create an image that is properly exposed for the shadows and highlights, congrats!

Here is the final product after some fine tuning…

Thank you, if you found this helpful at all be sure to like and contact me in anyway you would like! Next, we will dive into long exposure photography!