Back to Blog
header graphic for a photography blog post about why you should use manual mode

Master Manual Mode: Unleash Your Creativity

beginners technique tips Jan 24, 2024

  Embracing manual mode on your camera is a pivotal step in your photographic journey. As a new photographer, you might find automatic modes convenient, but they don't offer the creative control and precision that manual mode does. This guide will help you understand the basics of manual settings and how to use them to bring your artistic vision to life.


Understanding the Exposure Triangle

Manual mode revolves around the 'Exposure Triangle' – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. These three elements work in tandem to control how light enters your camera and how it's recorded.


Aperture: Depth of Field and Light Control

The aperture is a diaphragm in your lens that can be opened or closed to control the amount of light entering the camera.It's measured in f-stops (e.g., f/2.8, f/8). A lower f-number means a wider aperture, allowing more light and creating a shallow depth of field (blurred background). A higher f-number leads to a smaller aperture, less light entering, and a deeper depth of field (more area in focus). Aperture affects not just exposure but also the aesthetic quality of your image, particularly the depth of field.


Shutter Speed: Capturing Motion

Shutter speed is the length of time the camera’s shutter is open to expose light onto the camera sensor.Measured in seconds or fractions of a second (e.g., 1/500, 1/30).Faster shutter speeds (like 1/1000) freeze action, while slower speeds (like 1/2) create motion blur.It's essential for capturing different types of motion – from fast-moving sports to flowing water.


ISO: Sensitivity to Light

ISO determines your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light.Lower ISO values (e.g., 100 or 200) are used in bright conditions and to ensure optimal image quality.Higher ISO values (e.g., 3200) are helpful in low-light situations but can result in “noisier” images.


Balancing the Triangle for Perfect Exposure

The key to using manual mode effectively is to balance these three settings to achieve the correct exposure and the desired artistic effect. For instance, if you increase the aperture size (lower f-number), you might need to compensate with a faster shutter speed to avoid overexposure.


Why you sometimes need Manual Mode?

The automatic modes of modern cameras are really good at producing accurate exposures in almost any condition, but they do sometimes get it wrong.  High contrast scenes, or predominantly light (or dark) scenes can create problems as the automatic settings try to create a balanced exposure. This is when manual mode can really help. Snow scenes can cause underexposed images when using automatic modes, resulting in snow which looks grey rather than white.  By using manual mode, the exposure can be set to create a much more accurate representation of the scene you are capturing.


Practical Tips for Using Manual Mode

Start with Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority Modes: These semi-automatic modes allow you to control one aspect of the exposure while the camera adjusts the others, easing your transition to full manual control.


Use a Light Meter: Most cameras have a built-in light meter that indicates if your settings are resulting in an underexposed (too dark) or overexposed (too bright) image. Learn to use the meter in your camera and use it to aim for correctly exposed photo.


Experiment with Different Scenarios: Try shooting in various lighting conditions and subjects to see how changing settings affect your images.

Review and Adjust: Check your photos as you shoot. If something doesn’t look right, adjust one or more of the settings in the exposure triangle and try again.


Creative Freedom with Manual Mode

Manual mode isn’t just about getting the right exposure; it’s also about unleashing your creativity. You can decide what element of your photo you want in sharp focus or blur out distracting backgrounds. You can capture the raw energy of fast-paced sports or the serene flow of a waterfall. And when the automatic mode on your camera doesn’t quite get the exposure right for you, you’ll be able to correct it and achieve the shot you envisioned.


High contrast scenes such as this can easily fool the automatic modes on your camera.



Mastering manual mode is a rewarding challenge that every photographer should undertake. It not only provides you with comprehensive knowledge of how your camera works but also opens a world of creative possibilities. As you practice, you’ll gain the confidence to manipulate settings to reflect your artistic vision, taking your photography from snapshots to art. Remember, every great photographer was once a beginner – patience and practice are your best tools.


Our weekly Tips and Techniques email is FREE.

Sign up today, unsubscribe anytime.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.

Don't miss out on unlocking your full photography potential. Join the MYP community on a monthly subscription to gain exclusive access to photo critiques, expert tutorials, and a network of like-minded photographers. Transform your skills from amateur to awe-inspiring.

Tell me more