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Get off Auto and Shoot in Manual Mode!

Want to get off auto and shoot in manual mode? Keep reading! The key to beautiful photos with your camera is in this post! Keep reading!

shoot in manual mode

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Canon 6D and Canon 35mm 2.0 Lens

Settings: F/6.3 SS 1/1600 ISO 200


It’s been a long week, but we are finally ready to put everything that we have learned together and shoot in manual mode! When you are shooting in manual mode, you are in charge of ALL THREE of the variables in the exposure triangle. ALL THREE.

YOU adjust your aperture, shutter speed and your ISO in order to create that properly exposed photo.

aperture + shutter speed + ISO = a properly exposed photo

Now, what exactly is exposure?

Exposure is one of those words that is used a lot in photography. I’ve been constantly telling you that your goal is to have your image properly exposed.


If your photo is too light, it is considered overexposed. An overexposed photograph is created when your image sensor is subjected to too much light and results in a photo that is too light and/or a photo with blown highlights.

Blown highlights (also known as clipped highlights) are light areas of a photo that become so light they have no image detail.) For Example:

Taken with Canon 6D and Canon 85mm 1.8 Lens

Settings: f/3.2 SS 1/1250 ISO 6400.

In the photo above, we had just come from inside and I didn’t change my ISO. Resulting in an overexposed photo of the beautiful Mimi of Unlikely Martha. 🙂


If your photo is too dark, it is considered underexposed. An underexposed photograph is created when there is not enough light hitting your image sensor and results in a photo that is too dark and/or a photo with crushed blacks. Crushed blacks are areas of a photo that are completely black, with no details. 

Taken with Canon 6D and Canon 35mm 2.0 Lens

Settings: Aperture f/3.2 Shutter Speed 1/1250 

I like shadows typically, but here, there is no detail on the right side of her face and since it’s a portrait, that’s not really good.

There are several things to keep in mind regarding exposure:

  1. Exposure can be subjective: Personal preference plays a big role in exposure. Some people( like me) prefer darker exposures and some lighter exposures.
  2. Exposure can be situational: exposure for one photo might not be the exposure you choose for another( day vs night for example)
  3. Exposure is based on WHAT you are shooting: when shooting people, you want an exposure that accurately gets their skin tones.( This especially true with African Americans. When I was shooting Mimi, I had to overexpose more than I usually do so that her true skin tone would come through).
  4. Exposure can convey mood: light and bright is usually happy, but a darker exposure can be moody, emotional

So now that we know what we are aiming for with exposure.

How I Decide My Settings to Shoot in Manual Mode 

Now, I have a few general guidelines for shooting in full manual mode.  This is just MY way of doing it. After you get the hang of it, you may decide to start a different way. But for now, here is what I recommend you do when you shoot in full manual mode:

  1. Set your camera to FULL MANUAL MODE( find that M on your camera).
  2. Set your f/stop based on the amount of light you have and/or what you want your depth of field to be.
  3. Look at your ISO: how sensitive do you need your camera to be to light? Are you shooting in the dark? Inside? In the morning? Adjust accordingly.
  4. Now, look at your shutter speed:is it too slow to prevent camera shake or subject movement? If not, leave it. If so, you will need to increase your shutter speed.
  5. Take a shot and look at the exposure on your screen. if it’s too dark, set a slower shutter speed, a higher ISO and or a wider aperture. If it’s too light, set a quicker shutter speed, a lower ISO and/or a more narrow aperture.
  6. Anytime your light changes or you change your position, most likely you will have to change your settings in order to continue  to have a properly exposed image.

How I Shoot In Manual

Here is my process when I shoot a photo. I wanted a portrait of Pookah. Here is my first attempt: the sun was getting ready to set.  I set my aperture to f/3.5, and my ISO at 100. He smiled, I snapped.

Settings: F/3.5 SS: 1/8  ISO 100

This photo was obviously OVEREXPOSED. And added to that, blurred. Why? Look at my SS: 1/8. WAAAY too slow for a handheld shot of an active 6-year-old. And for the time of day, the ISO was way too low. 

Now in my world, the aperture is always my focus, so I left my aperture at f/3.5. and readjusted my ISO to 800. Normally, I would not have gone this high outside, but I was losing light rapidly and I needed my shutter speed high because..he was laughing and moving! 

Settings: f/3.5 SS: 1/500 ISO 800

The more you shoot in manual mode, the quicker and more efficient you will be in setting your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. It will become second nature.

I tend to shoot in full manual mode the majority of the time because I didn’t learn about Aperture Priority Mode until AFTER I learned how to shoot in full manual mode. So I can adjust quickly and it’s second nature to me. After a while, it will be that way for you too. You just have to practice. A LOT.

Conclusion and a Free Download PDF

So that concludes my series on how to shoot in manual mode! Be sure to check out each post in the series if you are just reading this one and download all of the free downloads!

Stay shooting my friends! I hoped this helped!

I have included this shoot in manual spreadsheet for you to download here. Or just click the graphic below!

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Thursday 2nd of August 2018

Best cheat sheet I have seen! So glad Pinterest shared your site with me!

Rakesh s.

Monday 14th of November 2016

Hi .... thanks for the nice tips....gotta question though........what should be the exposure compensation when shooting white skin tone, Indian kinda skin tone,and dark skin tone ( when exposed for their skins) respectively..... ur reply is much appreciated..... thanks in advance