How to Master Manual Mode

I’ve talked about this before. You’ve got a new camera. It’s sitting there in your hands and you’re super excited but paralyzed. It’s sitting in your hands. What do you do now? Oh yeah! Take a picture. So you snap a shot of your child as they reach up with their peanut butter sticky hands to grasp your new camera. You shoot anyway and back away quick. Because you took the shot inside your house, the pop-up flash went off nearly blinding your child.

Great! You took your first shot! How does it look? Maybe decent, maybe horrible. Either way, you decide to take another. The flash pops up and you stare at the result. Pretty good you think.

I agree. No matter what, when you invest in an expensive camera you will notice a difference. But it could be so much better. I would argue if you’re going to spend that money, then get it back by learning a couple of technical skills first.

Master Manual Mode


I hate the technical. It makes my head swim. So I tend to glaze over and tell myself I’ll figure it out later. But simplify the technical into easy to manage practice techniques and I get it a lot better. I know some of you are just like me. 

It’s overwhelming. Just begin by looking down at that camera and try to figure out what all the buttons, menus, dials and toggles do. Overwhelming. So then go to your user manual and try to read it to learn what they do. Overwhelming. Then try online to see if there are quick tutorials that will help you master your camera. Overwhelming. And by the way, quickly isn’t gonna happen. It takes time and practice. But when you focus on one thing at a time, it does happen more quickly.

There is so much to learn. And there always will be because there’s always a new piece of gear, technique, or way of processing. There are so many websites, tutorials, and workshops that, yes it’s overwhelming to start.

Let me simplify it though: Start with learning how to use manual mode on your camera. It isn’t that technical and once you know how to use it on your camera, it will be second nature. Like riding a bike. You won’t even have to look at your camera to adjust your settings. You just know.

Manual Mode

Why shoot in manual mode? Let’s start with the pop-up flash. Want that to keep happening? No? Then shoot in manual.

But! There is an option to turn it off while shooting in Auto. Great! Go for it! But, there are other reasons to shoot in manual mode. You have more control over exposure, more control over how sharp your image is, and more creative control to fit your style. Your photos will look better as you practice more in manual mode.

Exposure Triangle

To begin with you have to learn the exposure triangle. There are three components to the exposure triangle: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Each variable controls the amount of light your photo will have. In Auto mode your camera makes all the light decisions for you. Yet, you are more capable of making those decisions than the camera. Here are three examples using the variables in the exposure triangle:

In auto mode, you will have a hard time exposing for your subject, especially without the pop-up flash. Here, my pop-up flash fired and shot at ISO 220 in auto mode. When I moved to manual I adjusted my ISO to 1000 and got a better exposure without the pop-up flash.


In auto mode you won’t have the creative control of deciding how large you want your plane of focus. Here it will still depend on how close your subject is to the background and how close your subject is to you, but your camera will most likely (especially in bright situations) choose a smaller aperture, leaving you with a larger depth of field. The settings for aperture here in auto were 4.0 but the shutter speed dropped to 1/60th which is also a problem as you can see in the next example and in the blur effect of the bunny in this photo. The settings for manual were at an aperture of 1.8 to create a blurred background while my shutter speed was much higher at 1/400th of a second (no blurry subject).

Depth of Field

It’s possible you’ll also get more blur especially in darkened situations because your camera will slow down the shutter speed to bring in more light. In auto, my camera slowed the shutter to 1/100th which is too slow for a moving child, creating motion blur. In manual I increased the shutter speed to 1/250th of a second which is the slowest I would go for a moving child but I was still able to capture her with minimal motion blur.


Other creative decisions like starbursts, backlighting, silhouettes, and purposeful slow speed blur are all made only in manual mode.

My free course – Kiss Auto Goodbye

I know you’re sifting through tons of articles and youtube videos on how to use your camera. It frustrates you because putting all the pieces together is tough. So, I created an entire course on moving easily to manual mode. And the best part is it’s free!

This little course is all about light because getting out of auto mode means understanding how your camera reads light, and how you control the light with your camera. Because right now, in auto mode, your camera is controlling the light, not you. So let’s take back control!

I start with explaining the exposure triangle, and the parts of your camera you need to know. Then, I move on to each part of the exposure triangle and how you can practice each part. You’ll learn each variable individually before you move on to using all three variables together in manual mode. This 5 lesson course simplifies the whole process, allows you to move at your own speed with lots of practice and assignments. Besides the lessons, you’ll get a reference outline and worksheets to help you learn.

So say yes to properly exposed photos and creativity at the same time and get started! Sign up with your email to get immediate access!