How to Shoot in Manual Mode on a Digital Camera

You spent the big bucks and set aside your point-and-shoot (a.k.a. do-all-the-thinking-for-you camera) for a fancy camera. You can put it in automatic – the green box – but are you much better off than you were with your point-and-shoot? Well, you probably get sharper images. And the picture actually takes when you push the button – instead of 10 seconds later. But was it worth the extra money?

It will be beyond worth the extra money you spent, if YOU start doing the thinking!

Photographers hate it when someone sees their work and says, “You must have a really nice camera.”

Why would this question bother a photographer? Simple: the camera may have been a tool, but the photographer took the picture.  Who is taking your pictures: the camera or you? Time to move beyond the green box! The letter we’re shooting for is M.  It all starts with taking a deep breath and turning your camera dial away from the green box. You can do it! Deep breaths.

How to Shoot in Manual Mode on your DSLR

First, you need to meter the scene.

You can either use a handheld meter or your in-camera meter. Your meter will tell you if you need more light (because it’s on the left side of center) or less light (because it’s on the right side of center).

Next, change the amount of light.

To change the amount of light reaching your camera’s sensor, you can adjust your shutter speed, your aperture, or your ISO.

To get more light:

  • Open up (use a wide aperture/lower f-stop)
  • Slow down (use a slower shutter speed/lower denominator)
  • Raise your ISO (higher number)

To get less light:

  • Stop down (use a narrow aperture/higher f-stop)
  • Speed up (use a faster shutter speed/higher denominator)
  • Lower your ISO (lower number)

Which should you change first?

That depends on what you want to accomplish. It’s the reason you shoot in manual mode: so YOU can decide what is creatively correct rather than just properly exposed. Review the posts on shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to help you decide.

Using manual mode, you can finally take most of the credit for the photo YOU took – not just thank your fancy-pants camera.