Are you ready to shoot in manual mode?  If you have figured out Aperture mode and Shutter Speed mode on your camera then you are probably ready to move up to the big leagues with Manual mode.  Manual mode requires you to know how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO work together to produce a properly exposed photo.  This is called the exposure triangle.  In addition, you must understand how the meter on your DSLR camera works.  Let’s get started with shooting in manual mode with a quick visual refresher on each element of the exposure triangle and metering.  

Elements of Exposure

Aperture infographic with Aperture title

Aperture allows you to control the depth of field in your image. A smaller f-stop value (wider open lens) will produce a shallow depth of field, meaning the image will have more blur in it. A larger f-stop value (closed down lens) will produce a deeper depth of field, meaning more of the image will be in focus. The choice in this setting will depend on if you want to have more blur or more of the image in focus.

Shutter speed infographic with title

Shutter speed allows you to either freeze movement or incorporates blur in your photos. A longer exposure, slower shutter speed, will produce motion blur. A shorter exposure, faster shutter speed, will freeze motion in your image.

ISO infographic with title

ISO is the amount of noise that you will allow into your image for proper exposure. If you need more light into the camera to get the proper exposure you can raise your ISO. Raising the ISO will introduce noise or grain into your image but with the newer DSLR cameras, the noise or grain is not noticeable until you get to an ISO over 6400.

Exposure Triangle infographic with title

The exposure triangle depicts how all three settings (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) are dependent upon each other to get a proper exposure relative to the lighting situation you are in. Here is a great article on the exposure triangle. The way in which you determine if your photo is exposed properly is by using the meter on your camera, which we will discuss next.

Meterting in Manual Mode

Every DSLR camera has a meter on it to help you determine the exposure of your image. The meter can be seen on the back of the camera on the LCD screen or in the viewfinder and will look similar to the image below.

Most DSLR cameras have a meter that looks similar to the one above. The exposure indicator tells you how your image will be exposed. An indicator at zero means that the exposure is perfect (to the camera). If the indicator is to the left of zero it implies the photo is underexposed and if the indicator is to the right of the zero it implies the photo will be overexposed. I think the sweet spot for exposure is anywhere between -1 and 1 (there are 2 stops between each number). The last thing about the meter is that arrows may appear either on the far left or far right. These arrows indicate you are exposing past the meter (and this usually means your photo will not be usable). The arrows will disappear once you change one of your settings to move the exposure indicator towards the center of the meter.

**I feel it is important to note that “proper exposure” is completely dependent on you the artist. Some people like bright and airy and some people like dark and moody, it’s up to you what you like and the look you are going for.

Steps to Shoot in Manual Mode

Now is the time I tell you the steps for shooting in manual mode. In my opinion, there are four steps you need to complete before taking a photo in manual mode. I will say that initially, it seems like a lot, but once you practice it you will become second nature. Here is an infographic of the four-step process.

Step 1: White Balance

The first step in the process is to choose your white balance. There are many options depending on your lighting conditions or you can just choose to use your cameras auto white balance or AWB. To be perfectly honest I almost exclusively shoot AWB because the white balance is so easily fixed in post-processing and the camera does a really good job of determining the proper coloring for the photos. This is a personal preference though as some photographers choose to shoot in only a certain white balance no matter what lighting condition they are in. For a more in-depth discussion of white balance, you can go here: How to Set White Balance

Step 2 & 3: Based on What Type of Photo

To move onto steps 2 and 3 you will need to decide what type of photo you want. Are you more concerned about your depth of field or the motion in your photo? If you are more concerned with the depth of field then you will want to choose your aperture before setting your shutter speed. If you are more concerned with capturing motion effects then you will want to set your shutter speed before setting your aperture.

Step 4: ISO

The final step in the process to shoot in manual mode is to set your ISO. You will do this by using the meter on your camera to determine what ISO you need. This is accomplished by pressing the shutter button halfway down and looking at where the exposure indicator is on your meter. Choose an ISO that gets you to the exposure you would like (most likely around 0 on the meter). If you can’t quite get to 0 you may need to make slight tweaks to either your shutter speed or aperture.

Dive Into Manual Mode

Now that you have all the steps to shoot in manual mode the best thing to do is get out there and do it! Practice makes perfect is not an old saying for no reason. Intentionally pick up your camera and shoot in manual mode as often as you can. Manual mode gives you the freedom to control all the settings and be creative with your shots. You will never get a dark and moody or light and airy photo by staying in the semi-manual modes as they let the camera choose settings that create “proper exposure” not the exposure you intend.

If you are still struggling with DSLR photography or need a refresher you can check out my course. It will take you through all the steps of learning each element of DSLR photography and get you into manual mode fast! Click the button to find out more information.

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