The Newbie Chronicles: Shooting in Manual

A couple weeks ago, one of my close friends came over with a CD. Her mom had paid someone to take family pictures, but apparently, they hadn’t turned out too spectacularly, and she was hoping I could do a little editing. I popped the CD into my computer, started to look through the images and wanted to cry. The pictures were awful. Not only were they awful, but when I opened them in Photoshop the images were the size of a fingernail. There was nothing I could do. I called my friend and asked if she wanted to schedule a session and start over. “I wish” she said, “but those were the last photos of all of us together – before my grandma died.”

Ugh. I felt sick.

There’s nothing wrong with being a new photographer – we all have to start somewhere – but we have to know what’s on the line, and our clients need to know what they’re getting. If you are portfolio building and still learning some technical aspects of your camera, make sure your friends and family know that, and offer free sessions until you have mastered your camera. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to shoot for free until you are perfect, but at least until you can consistently produce good images that look professional. If you aren’t sure if your images look professional enough yet, ask someone who has been in business for a while, or post some images in the forum at Pretty Forum and ask for some constructive feedback!

Nail your focus

This is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of your image. Go rogue and actually READ your camera manual! When I first got my camera, it was set to a multi-point focus, and I was constantly getting images back that had focused on something other than my subject’s eyes. When I read my manual and figured out how to tell the camera to focus on what I wanted it to, I didn’t have any more surprises. You can fix a lot of things with editing – white balance, exposure, etc. – but you can’t make a blurry photo sharp!

When you understand how your camera focuses, and how distance from the lens to the subject plays a role in what is sharp and what isn’t, you can manipulate your images for creative effect. Here is a fun article Anna Gay wrote about getting sharper images.

Shoot in Manual

I learned photography shooting in manual mode on an old Nikon film camera, so I’m not sure why I was so hesitant to shoot digitally in manual. For a long time, I shot in aperture priority mode, but recently I took an online editing workshop from Crave Mentoring, and she challenged all of us to shoot in manual. I did three sessions yesterday and shot them all in manual. It was actually a glorious feeling! I knew I was in complete control of my camera. I practiced on my kids a little bit first, but since I understood the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO, it wasn’t a hard transition! Still, need a little help learning your camera? Check out these 7 free cheat sheets on Pretty Presets here that will help with exposure, where to start in manual mode, and shooting in different types of light.

The Newbie Chronicles: Shooting in Manual

Start well, end with art!

When you produce a great image in-camera, editing is much less time consuming, and you can focus on making a great image breath-taking, by making simple enhancements.

I shot this adorable little girl yesterday, who was probably one of the easiest kids I’ve ever taken pictures of, but by shooting in manual and getting everything right in-camera in the first place, this edit only took two or three minutes! Plus, I already know her mom loves it, because I was confident to show it to her straight from my camera!

If you want to run a business, it’s important that your skills are business-worthy! I’ve never found it hard to find subjects to practice on, so keep at it until you are confident and consistent! 

The Newbie Chronicles: Shooting in Manual


Shannan Painter is a newbie photographer who has spent the last 5 years working with the left side of her brain helping small businesses organize their accounting and taxes. She decided to take the big step and pursue her dream of becoming a professional photographer in 2013 after adding a third boy to her house that was already full of super heroes, trucks, and sports equipment. She and her husband, who is a local TV meteorologist, play pick-up games of basketball in their free time and like to take road trips to Lake Minnetonka with all 3 boys, and their dog Growler.  Visit her on Facebook!


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