7 : Manual Mode


Putting it all together

Manual Mode: two little words that can make a VERY big difference in your photography!

In our previous lessons, we've been learning various pieces of the photography puzzle. This week, we're going to bring those pieces together to begin creating images with consistent, intentional settings. In other words... you'll be fully in control of how your images look from this week on! 

It's important to take a week to have a breather, review what you have learned, and put your new skills to practice. So much of photography, or any hobby, is just doing it. Take time to solidify and enjoy your newfound skills without having any pressure to incorporate a new piece of technical knowledge this week. As always, the best way to learn is by doing... so let's dive in!

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A sample screnario

Manual Mode simply means that you will set all three exposure settings on your camera. Those settings are:

  1. Aperture (aka f/stop)
  2. Shutter speed
  3. ISO

To begin, let's make sure a few important things are controlled. Set up the following situation: a single child on a bright day in full shade. This can take place inside or outside. If you're inside, however, be sure to find a spot near a window (but out of direct sunlight) so your setting is as bright as possible. Now, follow these steps:

1. Set your shutter speed to 1/250, 1/320 or 1/400 to freeze small motions like wiggling.

2. Set your aperture to either 2.8 or 3.5 depending on what your lens allows. This will make a blurry background. (Remember to position the child with lots of open space behind them, not right up against a wall. )

3. Finally, set your ISO to a level which gives the correct, balanced exposure. Turn your ISO dial while looking through the viewfinder until it shows a balanced reading. You are aiming to get the reading to be on the "0". If the reading is towards the -2 it will be too dark. If it is towards the +2 it will be too bright. Your ISO appears as a scale like this (though your camera style may be a little different):


Now take some test shots! How do they look? Make adjustments in any of your settings or the position of your subject or yourself! Keep trying. You can do it!


Already have Manual Mode under your belt?  Super! Use this week to practice in more challenging lighting than full shade. Try shooting in direct sunlight or dusk, which force you to outsmart your camera and push Manual Mode to its limits.

Creative Prompts

  • BEGINNER - Find areas which are in total shade to practice using manual mode for the first time. For best results, there should be no sunlight hitting your subject or the background.
  • CHALLENGE - Shoot in direct overhead sunlight. How can you control your settings to expose for the face of your subject as well as the background or foreground elements?

Share your images!

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