Ep 20: Get off Auto Master manual mode in 30 minutes


If you’re not yet a pro, it can be confusing to know which of your camera functions you should be choosing: aperture priority? Shutter priority? Program mode? Any of those other little icons on the dial? In this episode, Gina breaks down her approach to taking pics like a pro. It’s a simple framework that will help you got off auto and onto the manual mode of your camera – with confidence. Note from Valerie: “Gina explains this is a such a straightforward way that she demystifies which buttons and icons matter – and which don’t. You’ll be shooting on manual in 30 minutes.” And this week’s theme for #ginachallenge is to shoot anything in manual mode.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show notes

How to confidently take control of your cameras manual mode to create the look you want.

Why shoot in manual mode

The camera has no way of knowing what your intention is or allows for any creative input. Auto modes are designed to give the best average, not necessarily the best outcome.

What all the buttons mean


A/Green square = Auto
P = Program
A = Aperture Priority (AV in Canons)
S = Shutter Priority (TV in Canons)
M = Manual Mode

Goodness knows why the different manufacturers couldn’t just standardise the symbols and abbreviations!

A or green square = Auto (self explanatory)

But you end with an image based on the predetermined formula developed by “Hans”.

P = Program Mode

Useless setting. It’s should stand for “Pretend”. Like you’re “pretending to be a photographer”.

A or AV = Aperture Priority Mode

Like riding a bike with the training wheels still on. Popular mode. Used by many enthusiasts and many pro photographers. You set the aperture (the f-stop) and also the ISO. The camera will then set a shutter speed so image is correctly exposed. It’s easy to use and makes you feel like you have creative control.

S or TV = Shutter Priority Mode

Possibly the most useless of camera modes. It’s like the egg tray in a fridge – what’s it there for?

M = Manual Mode

Here, you are in the drivers seat and control everything.

Aperture/ISO and shutter speed simplified (Gina Style)

Controls how much of your image is going to be blurry or sharp
Select your f stop or aperture based on how you want your shot to look.

How do you want your shot to look?

  • Shooting single portrait person or animal: you usually want a blurry background
  • Ansel Adams-esque landscape: you want sharp from foreground to background.
  • Food: you just want nutella on bread sharp rest out of focus
  • Products: you need everything to be sharp
  • Group of people: you want them all to be sharp.

Imagine that the numbers or f-stop represent how many parts of the photo are going to be sharp.

A low number like 2.8 or 4 is going to have fewer items in focus than a higher f stop of 11, 16 or 22. Genius!

So if you want to shoot a portrait and only want the eyes sharp: then you’d select a lower aperture.

Group of people/more people in the shot: more depth of field/ higher f stop (play around with this as lenses vary)

Landscape: sharp f8- f22

Lifestyle landscape: like a pic of a bike, you want the bike sharp but rest out of focus so select an f stop of 2-4

Shutter Speed (How long the shutter remains open)


Fast shutter speed freezes action (like sport, kids running around, people dancing)

Slow shutter speed is great for things like landscapes with running water, the slow shutter speed will gives a silky appearance to the water.

A slow shutter speed makes fast moving objects look like streaks.

Think of your shutter speed as a car’s speedometer in km or miles per hour. The higher the number the faster the speed.

So if something is going really fast and you want to freeze the motion use a high shutter speed over 1/250th sec.

If something is going really fast and you want to show motion use a slow shutter speed (under 1/30th sec)

ISO How sensitive to light your file (your image) will be

The higher the ISO number the more light sensitive your file.

Think of the ISO value as numbers of light bulbs.
Like this:
100 = 100 light bulbs
800= 800 light bulbs

But note that the higher the ISO the grainier or more noise in the image so be conservative.

Daytime, it’s bright: so light/less light needed, thus use a lower ISO
Nighttime, it’s darker and more light is needed, thus use a higher ISO

So you pick your ISO based on how much light is available to you

Cheat sheet:
Daylight: ISO 100-400
Night: ISO 400-1600
Extreme low light situations: ISO 1600 and higher

Now let’s bring it all together!

Step 1. Select ISO based on how much light is available

Step 2. Select Aperture based on how you want your image to look

Step 3. Select shutter speed based on whether you want to freeze motion or show movement.

Step 4: Use your camera’s meter to help you get a correct reading and adjust your shutter speed until you have the correct setting.


Canon in camera meter showing 1 stop over exposed (Nikon cameras have + settings to the left and minus to the right)

Meter Correct

Canon in camera meter showing correct exposure

Step 5: Take the shot!

Congratulations – you’re now shooting in manual mode.

2 Responses
  1. Sharon Ouliaris

    Gina the language you use and your descriptions simplifies the process of using manual mode and makes it easy to recall and not so scary. Thanks.

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About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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