Shooting in Manual Mode

Shooting in Manual Mode 

In order to get the most out of this tutorial, you should first read and know our tutorial on Exposure: Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO.Reading and understanding that tutorial will help to make much more sense of this tutorial on Manual Mode 

I hear a lot of photographers proudly proclaim, “I shoot only in Manual Mode” Which I suppose is good. You certainly should know how to even though I will confess I use one or another Semi-auto modes (AV/A – TV/S) about 50% of the time. But I do think that an essential part of knowing photography is to know how to shoot in Manual Mode. 

But it surprised me while assisting teaching a Photography class that had the requirement of knowing how to shoot in manual mode. That a good number that said they did, did not really when it came time to. Yes they shot in manual mode but they really didn’t understand what to do and the biggest part they didn’t know was how to meter. In fact a good many didn’t know where their meter even was on their camera. 

And that’s okay, that’s why we’re here. 

There seems to be a mystique about shooting in manual. Those that do and don’t do it properly or those that don’t and are afraid to, think there is something mysterious and mystical to it. Or they believe it is highly scientific and requires a calculator and complex math formulas.

Others believe they need to study for years to know every combination of lighting conditions and the settings for each memorized. (A typical camera has over 13,200 possible combinations of settings to capture roughly 16 different lighting conditions) 

The truth of the matter is, the camera will tell you what to do.  But,the nice thing about manual is, you don’t have to listen to it. That part is a little harder, knowing when to not listen to your camera. But lets get you started and then after you get comfortable shooting in manual, we will give you a more advanced lesson in Metering and when your camera is lying to you. 

So let’s get started. First set your camera to Manual Mode by turning the dial to “M” 

Metering for Manual Mode

Knowing where your meter is in camera and how to use it is the essence of Manual Mode shooting

Looking through your viewfinder of your camera, you will see the meter at the bottom of the screen

On Canon Camera’s it will look something like this, the meter highlighted by the red arrow

 For Nikon it will look similar to this



For other brands consult your manual.
Simply point your camera at your subject ande put the meter  line in the center of the meter (0) by changing your adjustments ( Aperture or nshutter speed), and you will have a good exposure. (There are exceptions covered in advanced metering) Depending on your brand and model, You may have a separate wheel that controls your Aperture and one that controls Shutter Speed, or, you may have one dial and a button to depress to switch between Aperture and Shutter Speed. ISO is usually a separate control or a top LCD screen item. Familiarize yourself with these controls so they become second nature 

 The Hard Part

But here is the hard part, knowing where to start with your settings. This is where our Tutorial on Exposure will come into play. 

Start with your ISO at a low setting. If you are outdoors, start at ISO 100 or 200, indoors start at ISO 400 

Now here is where we need to use our brains and make a conscious decision of what we want to do, what do we want to accomplish in our photo? 

So 1st ask yourself, what is the most important element to what I want to shoot? 

Is it Depth of Field? If so we need to start with setting our Aperture or f stop?

Is it Stopping or showing motion? If so we need to start with our Shutter Speed? 

So you ask your first question and if the answer is: 

I am shooting a person and I want a Shallow Depth of field to isolate my subject. 

 So then you know I probably want to set my aperture to f/2.8 or f/4. Do so. Now adjust your shutter speed till the camera meter is centered. You now have a correct exposure but you have to check one more thing. Is my Shutter speed fast enough to hand-hold? If yes, you are done. If no, then you can raise your ISO till you get a Shutter speed fast enough to hand hold.



I am shooting a motorcycle and I want to stop it’s  motion 

Then you know you need to use a fast shutter speed, maybe 1/500 or more so set your shutter speed first and then adjust your aperture till the meter is centered. Now ask yourself the other question; Do I have enough Depth of Filed for this shot? If yes then you are done. If no, then raise your ISO till you have a sufficient f stop you need.



I am shooting a landscape and I want a Deep Depth of field

Again since we know Aperture affects DOF, we will start there and choose f/11 or f/16. Then you again ask the other question. Do I have sufficient shutter speed to hand hold? No, I don’t. Can you use a tripod? Yes I can. Done, take the shot. If no, you can’t use a tripod, then again you need to raise your ISO enough to get a faster shutter speed that centers your meter

As you can see this is the complicated and difficult part of shooting in manual and why a good knowledge of the Triangle of exposure is so important when moving to shooting in manual.

It may seem that is so much I have to think about and at first it is but you will find it really becomes second nature the more you practice. And you also will find that lighting may not be so very different all the time. If you always shoot the same type of image at the same time of day you will find your settings are very similar all the time.
Practice, Practice, Practice


  1. Kenneth Irvin July 28, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    This is very good. I find it interesting that I do these things you talk about, shutter speed, aperture….but if I had to explain it to someone I don’t think I could. That’s not good is it?
    Off to more reading. I know I’m going to improve after I’m done here.

    • Peter July 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

      Actually, Knowing is all that matters. It’s doing that is important. Like that saying goes, Those that can’t do teach. LOL

  2. RastaRicanStudio July 29, 2012 at 4:39 am #

    Self defacing humor is cool.
    No, really I do it all the time.
    I really enjoy your writing style.
    You take the dry/technical and steep in humor and a bit of wit on the side.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] of course I recommend that people serious to photography learn to shoot in manual mode. It helps them to better understand the Exposure Triangle, the workings of their camera and locks […]

  2. By Advanced Metering on August 14, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    […] the blog post “How to Shoot in Manual” I gave some very basic information about where you meter is in your camera and how to use it. In […]