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7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: Practice Your Way to Perfection


To be completely honest, this is the most unglamorous part of teaching people to shoot in manual mode.  No one wants to hear that they are going to have to practice over and over to get this down.  We want everything now.  We want to read about it one day and be perfect at it the next.

But the truth is that you are going to need to practice this over and over for a while before you get it down perfectly.  And then, you are going to have to practice some more before you can do it quickly during a session.  And you will have to practice even more until your fingers move the buttons almost without thought.

That is the honest, unglamorous truth!

That being said, there are a couple of things I can do to help you in your practice.  Here we go.

Camera Settings: Where to Start?

Sometimes the most overwhelming thing about shooting in manual mode is knowing where to start with all your settings. When I begin choosing my settings, I typically think of the two most important camera settings for the photo that I want to take.  That will vary depending on the look I want in the photo and the subject.  Here are some examples of photos you might want to take and how to choose the settings.

The Outdoor Portrait

When I take portraits outdoors of my older children, the most important settings are my aperture and ISO.  I want my aperture to be wide-open so I get a nicely blurred background.  I want the ISO as low as possible to avoid as much noise as possible.  I adjust my shutter speed to wherever it needs to be to get a nicely exposed photo.

For the above portrait of my daughter I chose an aperture of f 1.8 and an ISO of 100.  I moved my shutter speed to 1/320 to get the right exposure.  (I shot this with my 50mm f/1.4)

Even if you are photographing in the exact same light, you might choose totally different settings if you are photographing small children.  In that case I would choose my aperture and shutter speed (keeping it no lower than 1/250.)  I would then chose my set my ISO to get a nice exposure.  If you have set your ISO to 100 and you still have too much light coming in, then bump up your shutter speed until it is right.

The Landscape Shot

In a landscape shot the most important settings are going to be your aperture and ISO.  You’ll want to choose an aperture that will allow you to have the full scene between you and forever in focus.  Smaller apertures (or higher numbered f-stops) are going to allow you to have the most depth of field.  I would also want my ISO as low as possible to allow for the least amount of noise.

For the photo above, I set my aperture at f/9 and my ISO at 500.  My shutter speed was 1/500th of a second.  It was taken right as the sun had just set on a very windy evening while I was hand-holding the camera.  Looking back, I probably could have closed down my aperture a bit more and lowered my ISO a little and still have gotten the shot.

The Indoor Portrait

The biggest difference between an indoor portrait and an outdoor portrait is the amount of light you will have.  For an indoor portrait, my most important settings are going to be my aperture and my shutter speed.  I set my aperture as low as I am comfortable going. (I have practiced a lot and regularly shoot at f/1.4--but you may not want to start that wide open your first time.) I set my shutter speed to a reasonable number to get a sharp photo and then raise my ISO as high as I need to go.

When raising my ISO, I know I will have some grain in my photos.  A well exposed photo will show less grain than an underexposed photo that you have to brighten in post-processing afterward.

In the photo above, I set my aperture to f/2.8 and my shutter speed at 1/125 and then raised my ISO to 2000--a common occurrence when photographing indoors.

One Last Thought

While you are practicing, don't compare your photos or skills to others.  This is practice.  Don't worry about creating perfect photos.  Focus on learning this skill.  I promise it will make you a better photographer.  If you are able, challenge yourself to take at least one photo on manual mode everyday for a month.  Use different lighting situations and subject scenarios for this challenge.  You will start to feel confident in your ability to shoot in manual mode very quickly!

Don't Miss the Next Posts in This Series!

I hope this series has helped you Master Shooting in Manual Mode.  If you’ve missed any of the posts in the series, you can go back and read/review them at any time by following these links!

1. 7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: Why Shoot in Manual Mode

2. 7 Days To Mastering Manual Mode: Letting Light In!

3. 7 Days to Mastering Manual MOde: What is Aperture?

4. 7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: What is Shutter Speed?

5. 7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: Understanding ISO?

6. 7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: Putting it All Together

7. 7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: Practicing Your Way to Perfection


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