“What do you shoot with?”

“How do you get that soft focus?”

“How do you achieve such bright photos?”

At least once a week these questions arrive in my inbox or as a comment. Hopefully this post will help answer some of those questions.


I’ll start by explaining why you should shoot manual to get better control over light and thereby better images.


When shooting manual, there are three main parameters that change the outcome of an image and one indicator that tells you what your image will turn out like based on those three parameters. That indicator is called the light meter. The misconception about the light meter is that you always need to have the indicator pointing to zero, as everything left of the zero means your photo will be underexposed (too dark) and everything right of the zero means your photo will be overexposed (too light). But that zero, doesn’t mean that you’ll achieve correct and perfect lighting. It is only a reference point. If zero was always correct, the other given values like -2 or +2 wouldn’t even exist! The indicator is the pink colored rectangle, we’ll need the light meter later.



Aperture • Shutter Speed • ISO

Aperture refers to the size of the opening of your lens. Your lens will either have a fixed aperture or a variable aperture. Cheaper zoom lenses often come with variable aperture, which means you cannot use the largest aperture unless you’ve zoomed out completely. The aperture is always written on the lens.

When you click the shutter, the blades will close to the given aperture value and thereby let a certain amount of light inside the camera. Now comes the somewhat confusing part: the SMALLER the number, the LARGER the aperture, so MORE light can travel into your lens. A photo taken at 1.4 compared to a photo taken at 6.3, assuming the other parameters stay the same will be much lighter.


Here’s what this looks like in real life on Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.4 lens on my old Canon 400D body.


Also, the SMALLER the aperture number/the LARGER the aperture itself, the LESS depth of field you can achieve. Depth of field is a specific range that is in focus on an image. Compare these two photos starring three lovely Essie models – one photo was shot at 1.4, the other at aperture 6.3. That explains the “soft focus” some of you have been wondering about. Large aperture, no Photoshop.


And the final thing, vignetting. A vignette is that darker marginal part of the image, clearly visible at 1.4. The larger the aperture number, the less obvious the vignetting. No need to worry about it though, as it is easily removable in post processing.



Aperture • Shutter Speed • ISO

Shutter speed indicates of the time the shutter is open. As mentioned before, when you click the shutter, the lens blades will close down to the given aperture value, and they will stay like that for the amount of time that you determine by changing the shutter speed. An entry-level DSLR will be able to shoot from 1/4000 s to 30 s (or even more if you are doing night time long exposures and use the Bulb function to get an even longer exposure). The SMALLER the number, the FASTER the camera takes a photo. You should never use anything slower than 1/X, while X is the current zoom of your lens (f.e. 50mm) to avoid blurry photos. I personally never use anything slower than 1/100 when using my 50mm lens.

In the photos below you can see that while the indicator was pointing to zero, the resulting image I would use for my blog would be the somewhere around the right image,  the overexposed one.



Aperture • Shutter Speed • ISO

The ISO sensitivity is the level of sensitivity of the sensor in your camera to available light you are shooting in. The lower the number, the less sensitive the sensor and vice versa. But, the higher the ISO number, the grainier/noisier the photos. Usually, ISO numbers range from 100 to 3200 on entry-level cameras. Noise starts to show at around ISO 800+ and it also results in some loss of detail. You should always try and use lower ISO levels, unless your aperture and shutter speed don’t allow you to, like in situations where very little light is available. Here’s how changing the ISO value alone changes the outcome of the image.


The important thing is to experiment. Don’t get frustrated if things don’t work out immediately, with time you will get better at understanding your camera. Hopefully, this long post about the basics of manual photography was helpful to you. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. :)

Personally, I am currently using my Canon 5D Mark III. This camera is fenomenal. It has replaced my Canon 400D, but it doesn’t mean I couldn’t shoot the same images I shoot today with the 400D. The reason I invested in the 5D Mark III is because I photograph weddings and I need my camera to be able to perform perfectly and reliably in all possible light situations. For photographing still standing lipsticks and nail polishes, any entry-level DSLR will do, like Canon’s current 600D or the 700D and Nikon’s D3100 or D5100. If you’re interested in make up and plan on doing a lot of selfies, choose a camera with a flip screen.

The lens I shoot 99% of my blog related stuff with is Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens.


If you ever feel limited by the kit lens that you most likely bought with your camera (18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6) and are ready to experiment with larger apertures and a fixed length without breaking the bank , I can strongly recommend Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens, as it has a large aperture and costs about €90 which is the least you can pay for a fixed aperture lens.

PS, no models were harmed in the making of this post. ;)

  • Roseybelle

    Super savjeti :) problem su samo one kamere na kojima je to manualno ograniceno pa se vise manje ne moze nista postici :/ prije sam imala canon powershot sx500is i s njim nisam mogla niti izostravati rucno normalno, nego odrediti na koliko metara je objekt pa onda on sam fokusira, bezveze. A i ne moze se kupiti zamjenski objektiv. Svima bi preporucila ove koje si i ti, imam sad taj Canon 600D i obozavam ga, sa normalnom 50mm i f 1.8 lećom tako da već sam po sebi odradi većinu posla :) jedino mi je nekad zeznuto igrati se sa svjetloscu posebno kod snimanja videa, ali ucim se, a post ce mi sigurno pomoći tako da hvala sto si izdvojila vrijeme za ovo :)


      Roseybelle, s ovim postom sam i ciljala na DSLR fotiće, pošto si velika većina cura koja ima beauty blog kad tad odluči uložiti u DSLR fotić. Video je malo drugačiji za snimanje, ali kad jednom otkriješ postavke koje funkcioniraju, riješila si sve probleme :)

  • lovely

    I love this Post!!! It´s very interesting to understand how all works. I have a Canon DSL but I am still a Newbie too it. There is so many things I can learn :)

  • Lendoxia

    sram me uopce rec da sam se tek nedavno nakon skoro pet godina sto imam fotic (nije dslr al svejedno) krenula igrat light meterom i radi OGROMNU razliku u slikama, al eto bolje ikad nego nikad :D super su i ostali savjeti i pogotovo sto ima i primjera


      Lendoxia, važno je početi. Šteta je kad netko uloži nekoliko tisuća kuna u fotić koji onda koristi na ful automatskim postavkama. I te će fotke u većini slučajeva ispasti okej jer su čipovi sada tako napravljeni da fotić u dosta slučajeva zna prepoznati koje bi postavke bile idealne, ali manualno je ipak najbolje, imaš potpunu kontrolu nad fotkom! :) Drago mi je što ti se svidio kratki uvod u fotografiju.

  • Jovana

    Odlican post. Obozavam fotografiju, i zao mi je sto nekada nemam i vise vremena da se posvetim ovom hobiju. Imam Nikon D3100 i volim da eksperimentisem sa manuelnom opcijom, ali me trenutno onaj standardni objektiv 18-55 mm, delimicno ogranicava. Posebno kada fotografisem manje objekte, pa zelim manju dubinu polja, to nikad ne ispadne idealno. Zato planiram da nabavim jos jedan objektiv od f/1.8, al jos uvek skupljam pare za njega. :D

  • Teodora

    Odličan post, informativan i koristan :) Ja se već relativno razumem u te stvari ali mislim da je super koristan i za ljude koji su početnici.

  • Anarniel

    Odličan, odličan post!!! :) Taman planiram kupiti pošten fotić, gledam i istražujem što i kako, i ovo mi je došlo kao naručeno. :)


      Anarniel, drago mi je! Ako ikako mogu pomoći s odabirom, slobodno se javi!

  • Dodjoska

    Hvala ti za ovaj post! Baš ono što mi je trebalo! Tek odnedavno sam počela upoznavati svoj skromni, digitalni, aparat, ali vidim da imam još puuuno učiti!