Getting to Grips with Manual Mode: Shutter Speeds, Light Meters & White Balance

I hope you’ve been enjoying this series of photography tips and tricks. Last time around, we talked about Aperture vs ISO. This time, we’re going to cover Shutter Speeds, Light Meters and White Balance.

There is no easy way to show via photos how to actually change camera settings, and this is unfortunate. However, there are a number of places online, including YouTube that have videos on how to change settings on specific cameras. It can be beneficial to watch these videos while learning, and practice what you are shown. Start off by familiarizing yourself with just one setting, master it, and then add in another and use them in unison. Don’t be afraid to change a few settings at once when you get the hang of it. Next we are going to talk about Shutter Speeds, Light Meters and White Balance.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the amount of time that your lens stays open to take in light after you have clicked the button telling it to take the photo. This can also be adjusted on your camera very easily. Most times you will simply have to turn the dial closest to your shutter button.

Show Shutter Speed Button
The shutter speed button will show on your camera as something similar to “1/20” meaning one twentieth of a second. Changing this will determine how long your shutter stays open, the longer it stays open, the brighter the image will be as it will take in more light. When using a long exposure such as 1-4 seconds, or even anything below one fiftieth of a second you will want to use a tripod to stabilize the camera or the images will be blurry.

Show Shutter Speed Setting

Here you can see the differences in shutter speeds.

Shutter Speed

Light Meter

The light meter on your camera senses your surroundings and detects, per your camera settings, what the exposure of the image will be. As you can see in the image of the camera, it will show up as a number line, and there will be a small notch that will move up and down that line. The goal is to create settings on your camera that make that meter say 0, meaning the best lighting, not over, or under exposed. If the notch is to the left, or off screen with a mark on the left it means that your image is under exposed. Too far to the right or a notch to the right, your image will be over exposed. This will vary by situation, often times the meter is correct, but there are some lighting situations where it is very wrong and you will need to make your own judgments on your settings.

Show Light Meter

White Balance

This one is a simple setting. (We need that after all of the other ones right?) White balance is the way that your camera picks up the surrounding light in your current environment. As you can see from the images, it will be a button on your camera that says “WB” for White Balance, and has options such as Auto, Shade, Cloudy, Daylight, etc. Often times Auto is a good option, but feel free to mix it up and see what it does to your images.

Show White Balance

Here is an example of each setting so you can see what they do. Play around with yours and see how it affects your photos. Practice is what it’s all about! Once you get used to it, you’ll be able to play around and find the best settings for the situation.

White Balance Collage


If you want to read the other articles in this series, check them out.

How to Choose the Best DSLR Camera For Your Needs

Aperture and ISO

Viewfinder, Screen, and Continuous Shooting


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Katie Reed

Katie Reed

Katie Reed is a 38 year old mom blogger from Salt Lake City, UT. She is married to the man of her dreams and together they have four beautiful boys. Dexter is 9, Daniel is 7, Chester is 5 and Wilder is 2. She writes about living with mental health issues while navigating motherhood. Her blog focuses on tips and tricks for moms, information and parenting news, kid-friendly recipes and crafts. She loves to reflect on the humorous side of parenthood and shares the reality of her life, with a "warts and all" attitude.

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