Photographers in Raleigh NC | Cat Wilborne Photography »

Photo Tip Tuesday – Shooting in Manual

One of the lessons I strive to teach in my workshops is shooting in manual.  You won’t believe the difference it will make in your photos and it gives you much more control over your photography.  Plus it takes far less time mastering manual than it does all of those weird little icon settings on your camera.  I like to break it down into 3 easy steps for beginners.

1. Set your ISO (LIGHT).  ISO is the same thing as film speed.  The more light around you the lower the number.  As a general rule of thumb here are my recommended ISO settings:

Outside very sunny:  ISO 200

Outside open shade:  ISO 400

Inside bright:  ISO 800

Inside darker:  ISO 1000 +

I generally recommend a higher ISO setting for beginners regardless of lighting situation because it’s easier for them to nail exposure and get good results.  So many people think that their indoor photography is out of focus when actually it’s just motion blur caused by a shutter speed that’s too low.  When that happens the camera  is recording subtle movements of your body.  Digital cameras on auto settings never bump up ISO over lowering the shutter.  Don’t ask me why. What follows is a predetermined setting that’s not ideal for your lighting situation.  So, I believe controlling ISO is priority number 1.

2.  Set your aperture (FOCUS).  A good rule of thumb is # of people = # on camera.  For portraits of 1 person I usually set it as low as you can go.  Typically if you’re using a kit lens* that will be around 4.  This is why a high ISO is critical because an aperture setting of f4 doesn’t really allow that much light in so you’ll want to have your higher ISO compensate for the difference.

 3. Set and adjust your shutter speed (MOTION).  When learning how to shoot in manual, I find it easier to keep 2 things constant and adjust only one setting until you get the hang of the setting.  In this case it’s shutter speed.  Using the handy dandy light meter that appears in the bottom of your viewfinder or the back of your viewing screen, use the tickers as a guide to make a correct exposure.  For every tick dial the shutter button in the appropriate direction until the light meter “zeroes out” in the middle.  Depending on what you shoot the orientation of the meter can vary, but the + sign means brighter and the – sign means darker.

Here are some examples below to help:


As you can see in this photo, the ticker is pretty far over towards the plus sign meaning that the image is a little over exposed or too bright.  To adjust this I dial my shutter speed up so that the ticker moves closer towards the middle of the graph.



See the difference?  Just by adjusting one thing you can quickly use your light meter to help guide you to the right exposure.  The other great thing about shooting in manual is that you are in control of those adjustments and can judge what you like best.  You might prefer the slightly overexposed image.  Shooting in manual also teaches you how your camera views situations allowing you for more control in the end.

In closing the biggest thing to remember is keep 2 things constant and adjust 1 to achieve the best exposure.  If your shutter speed falls below 1/30th of a second then bump up your ISO.  These are just tips to get you started shooting in manual and on your way to mastering your camera.  Practice, practice, practice is what truly gets you used to your camera.  I’ve also compiled a list of great on-line tutorials on my Pinterest board which you can follow here.

Also, if you are interested in taking one of my one on one workshops you can read all the details here.

Back to Top Share it on Facebook Pin it on Pinterest Email to a Friend
N e w s l e t t e r