How to Set a DSLR Camera Manually

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Updated November 18, 2022

If you are new to digital photography, you may wonder how to manually set up a DSLR camera. Many of the best digital cameras are DSLR models, and these cameras feature both automatic and manual modes. So why learn how to set up the best DSLR cameras and what tips should you keep in mind? Keep reading to find out.


  • Setting up a DSLR camera manually, instead of going with auto modes, is a great way to familiarize yourself with the various parameters and adjustment metrics.
  • When shooting in manual mode vs automatic, you have full control over a range of settings, such as ISO, aperture, shutter button, and more.
  • For instance, the shutter speed determines how much light is allowed into the lens and image sensor. A slow shutter speed or slower shutter speed lets more light in.

Why Set Up a DSLR Camera Manually?

This allows for fine-tuning controls and settings adjustments if you are comparing the manual vs digital mode on a camera. With the manual mode, you can change anything and everything, which is great when learning how to use a DSLR as a webcam. This gives you full control over, for instance, DSLR portrait settings, among other setting types.

Insider Tip

This is only a start, as you will also have access to white balance, color range, image format, and more.

If you have advanced past beginner techniques and you are looking to learn how to use a manual lens on a digital camera, for instance, then making manual adjustments is your next step.

Guide for Manual Settings on a DSLR Camera

There is no “right” manual setting for your DSLR camera, as it depends on what you are doing with the camera and what type of shot or video you are lining up. In other words, it pays to learn about some of the more important settings and what they do.

Shutter Speed

You have your pick of shutter speeds here when you enter the manual adjustment mode. Again, there is no correct shutter speed, as it depends entirely on the shot you are looking for. Shutter speed refers to how long the lens shutter is open and closed as you take shots. Low shutter speeds let more light in, but at the expense of blur and motion shake. Higher shutter speeds reduce the amount of light but offer increased stability as you take shots.


Aperture is another important metric you have full control over with a manual mode. Aperture or f-number refers to the depth of field. A wide aperture indicates a shallow depth of field, and a narrow aperture indicates a more robust depth of field.


The ISO number is another metric you have full control over and indicates how sensitive the lens and image sensor are to light. A low ISO number translates to reduced light sensitivity, producing darker photos with less grain. A high ISO number produces brighter photos with more grain.

STAT: Manual mode is the camera’s mode in which you make all the decisions regarding the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance, and the camera follows your lead. (source)

Manual DSLR FAQs

How to read the settings?

This depends on the setting you are looking for and the specifics of your camera. The aperture setting, for instance, is represented as an f-number, while a faster shutter speed is measured in fractions.

What are the drawbacks of manual mode?

This is not for absolute beginners, as concepts such as shallow depth, aperture priority, and mode dial only come to advanced users. Once you get the hang of exposure compensation to allow natural light in, for instance, you should end up with better shots.

Should I always shoot in manual mode?

No, as there is a reason automatic modes were invented. When capturing a quick shot, go automatic instead of choosing a manual camera setting. When you want to capture a professional-grade shot and full control over the ISO setting, shutter button, and more, go for the manual setting.
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