There are few experiences as exhilarating and rewarding as capturing the world’s beauty through the lens while travelling, and there’s no better way of doing this than in manual mode. Though most cameras’ automatic settings can get the job done, mastering the manual mode takes your travel photography to the next level. It allows you complete control over your images and the ability to express your creative vision more authentically.

Understanding the Big Three: ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed

The three pillars of manual settings are Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. They dictate the amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor. Balancing these settings is crucial to create an optimal exposure and achieve stunning photographs.


ISO determines your camera’s sensitivity to light. Lower ISO values (e.g., 100 or 200) mean less sensitivity and are best for bright situations while higher ones (e.g., 800 or 1600) increase sensitivity, better for low-light scenarios. However, high ISO settings may result in a grainy effect or ‘noise’ in your photographs.


Aperture controls the size of the lens opening, which affects both the amount of light entering the camera and the depth of field. The aperture is represented as ‘f’ followed by a number. A larger number (e.g., f/16) signifies a smaller opening, which provides a deeper focus field—perfect for landscape scenes. Conversely, a smaller number (e.g., f/1.8) means a larger opening with a shallow focus field ideal for portrait shots where you want the subject to stand out against a soft, blurred background.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed controls how long your camera’s shutter is open for, affecting the amount of light hitting the sensor and the portrayal of motion. Slower speeds (e.g., 1/30 sec) allow more light in and can create a beautiful blur of movement – wonderful for flowing water or bustling streets. Faster speeds (e.g., 1/2000 sec) allow less light in and freeze action, great for capturing quick-moving subjects like wildlife or sports.

Using the Right Equipment

Mastering manual settings isn’t all. You need to make sure you have the right equipment for your travel photography journey…

Using the Right Equipment

While a thorough understanding of manual settings is crucial, the right equipment is equally vital. A versatile, high-quality DSLR or mirrorless camera is a great starting point, providing you with wide-ranging opportunities to adjust your images’ lighting, focus, and appearance. Interchangeable lenses offer even more versatility, with wide-angle lenses for comprehensive landscape shots and telephoto lenses for close-ups.

Beyond your camera and lenses, consider the essential accessories. These can include a sturdy tripod to stabilize your shots – invaluable when shooting in low light conditions, long exposures, or when dabbling in wildlife photography – and a high-capacity memory card to ensure you never run out of space for your ever-growing collection of stunning travel images.

Practicing Discernment

Despite the temptation to capture everything you see while traveling, it’s important to be discerning with your shots. Think about your composition, angles, and the story you want to tell through your photo. Ideally, each shot should make an impact and be a testament to the beauty and culture of the places you visit. Remember, quality over quantity always holds true in travel photography.

Respecting Local Cultures

As travel photographers, it’s crucial that we respect local laws, regulations, and customs. Always ask for permission before photographing people or private property and ensure you are aware of cultural sensitivities—your respect for the local people and their culture can dramatically enhance your photographic experience while ensuring you leave a positive impression.


Mastering manual settings in travel photography might seem daunting at first, but with practice and understanding, you’ll soon witness the difference it makes in your shots. Pair this newfound knowledge with the right equipment, discerning practice, and respect for local cultures and you’ll be sure to create memorable, high-quality images that truly encapsulate your travel experiences. Don’t forget to practice, experiment, and, most of all, enjoy the photographic journey!

What are your top tips for mastering manual settings in travel photography? Share your experiences and insights in the comment section below.