Updated: Jan 13, 2021
So, you got to know the AUTO and PRIORITY modes, time to tackle MANUAL! It might seem intimidating at first, but with the tools I give you, and lots of practice, you'll master this mode! Basically I will talk about APERTURE, SHUTTER SPEED, and ISO (ISO stands for International Standards Organization, this organization sets the standards for camera sensor/film sensitivity).
Changing the aperture values (F-STOP) affects the amount of light hitting the sensor, it also increases (ie: F11) or decreases (F1.8) your DOF. The higher the number, less light comes through. The lower the number, the more light comes through. If you are shooting landscapes or if it's a bright sunny day, I recommend using a higher value. If portraits are more your thing, or you are shooting in a dark environment, use a lower value.
Changing shutter speed values affects how long the light hits your sensor. Shutter speeds can freeze or show movement, which can help with composition. By adjusting this value, you can freeze the movement of flowing water with a high shutter speed (ie: 1/1000 of a second) or show the movement of a jogger by adding some motion blur with a low value (ie: 1/20 of a second).
Changing the ISO will do two main things for you. Firstly it will increase or decrease the sensitivity of the pixels on the sensor. The lower the number, the pixels will be less sensitive and need more light to register an image. The higher the number, the more sensitive the pixels, and less light is required for a capture. ISO sounds great, right? Time to go out and shoot in the dark, right? Well, not really, there is a catch: NOISE/GRAIN. Noise (or grain) is a type of texture in photographs, that can look like big pixels, that is the result of increasing ISO sensitivity, the higher the ISO, the more noise you'll get. For sharper images, photographers will usually use the lowest ISO value possible, although some photographers use noise as a compositional tool (ie: to make black and white photographs appear more 'gritty').
There you go, the holy trinity of photography (aperture, speed, ISO)! These have been photographic tools since the beginning of the art, and I doubt that it will change. I suggest you play around with these values and try to get a desired shot. Before you shoot, think: do you want to freeze the people or show them move? How about blurring the background or seeing until the horizon? Maybe you want to capture a gritty street scene at night, or a nice sharp sunlit image? There are exposure values for all that and in between, be creative!
I have included a popular cheat sheet that's been circulating around the internet, I suggest saving it to your computer, tablet, or phone
OK! That about does it for basics, we covered MODES, and now EXPOSURE... get out there, shoot, and keep practicing! It's the best way to get good.
If you want to learn more or learn about something that wasn't covered here, why not sign up for one of my classes!