manual mode

Why Understanding Manual Mode is important

Mandy Photography Tips 16 Comments

To be completely honest I very rarely shoot in Manual Mode?

When I talk about Manual Mode I’m talking about the ‘M’ mode on your cameras dial, not anything else like manual focus (that’s another post).

And there’s 3 specific elements in manual mode that you have full control over – Aperture, Shutter and ISO.

Primarily I shoot in Aperture Priority and use Shutter Priority when I want to control the shutter for a long or short exposure like in night photography or action.

So why am I writing about Manual Mode?

Because even if I don’t use it a lot I think it’s important to understand it.

Which doesn’t mean I think you need to shoot in Manual mode, I just think having an understanding of it helps add another piece to the jigsaw puzzle!

Manual mode as it suggests means that it’s up to you and not the camera to decide what the camera’s settings should be.

Daunting isn’t it?

Well not as bad as it seems, if you have an understanding of the 3 elements that make up the exposure triangle, then you know why you would want to change the settings around in the first place.

The 3 settings in question are:


and are called the exposure triangle. If you adjust one then the other two are affected.

But what do they mean?

AV = Aperture value
TV = time value (shutter)
ISO = International Standards Organization, measures sensitivity to light

You may recognise these settings from your camera. Let’s remind ourselves what each one does:

Aperture = how much light gets into the camera through the lens
Shutter = how long the light gets into the camera
ISO = how sensitive the image sensor is to light

So as you can see all 3 deal with capturing light but in different ways. Adjusting them obviously changes the amount or type of light that gets captured, and will determine if the image is exposed correctly or under or over exposed.

So why is this important?

When you use Aperture or Shutter priority modes you choose one of the settings and the other one is chosen by the camera.

The camera may not always be right? – there I said it! ….and…

You are smarter than your camera!

The camera, as clever as it is doesn’t know what it is you want to do with the image. It will just try to give you the ‘correct’ exposure for what it can see.

The camera may guess wrong – so if that happens what do you do?

That’s why it’s important to understand manual mode!


Creativity – Manual mode is the ultimate in creativity for your photography, you have full control…

Panoramas – say you need every shot to have exactly the same exposure like for a panorama, and you don’t want the camera slightly changing it’s mind with each shot!


Manual mode doesn’t have to be a big scary setting on your camera that you know nothing about and never bother with! As with anything with photography – practice is the key, the more you try it out the more you’ll understand.

Play about and give it a try, what can go wrong?

Either you have to delete some images or you switch to a different mode to make sure you have the shot?

There’s no pressure to use manual mode, but I want you understand what it is!

The most important thing is to make images you enjoy making, and love to look at. To me it doesn’t matter which mode you took them in.


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Comments 16

  1. Figuring out Manual Mode was a game changer for me! I flip between Aperture and Manual quite often but really find little to no use for the other modes. Thanks for sharing this post, for many newbies like myself – learning Manual opens up so many possibilities!

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  3. Just saw a friends photo’s and he said he used 5 exposures on each. I nodded my head as though I knew what he was talking about. Then I ‘think’ I realized he used 5 different ‘manual’ mode settings and I ‘assume’ he chose the one that looked the best to him.
    I am always so anxious to get my shot that I don’t bother with the ‘manual’ settings, but if I want to be a more serious photographer, I need to discipline myself and keep a diary of what I try in manual.

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    @Rmaa – hang in there, I’ve been shooting HDR for the last couple of months and I’m going to start talking about it very soon….

    @Hedda H – unless they’re HDR shots? He may have taken 5 different exposures of the shot and merged them together (see my comment above). The more you mess around with manual settings the more you’ll understand them and know when you want to use them. But remember it should be fun!

  5. Great posts Mandy. I just bought a Sony Alpha77 and just ventured into the the AV and TV and it is fun. I like to shoot one image in ‘P’ mode and then the second in manual or (AV/TV). Just realized my camera also has HDR With all these buttons it can be a little bewildering at first but I’m getting there! As you wrote …. it should be fun!

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    @Toni – that’s the beauty of digital cameras and digital film! You can take shots with lots of different settings and not have to worry about running out of film…

  7. Mandy I tried manual mode but can’t seem to get the depth of field shots like I can with the aperture priority, what am I doing wrong??

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    @Valerie – pick the lowest f number available to you eg f2.8, then half press the shutter and somewhere at the bottom of your viewfinder should be a range of little lines with a pointer line underneath. Possibly they’ll have -2 0 +2 across them and the pointer line will be somewhere under one of those. Now pick your shutter speed so you can adjust it, as you move it one way you should see the pointer line moving. Get the pointer line under the 0 by adjusting the shutter speed and that should be the optimum exposure for the shot!

    But, if you’re more comfortable shooting in AV then use that. And then take notice what shutter speed the camera chooses for a shot!
    I use AV the majority of the time and use Manual at night or in low light when the light is more tricky?

    Hope that helps as I’m not sure how you’re choosing AV or TV in Manual mode? Just shout if you need anything else!

  9. Hello, My name is Harold. I am deaf part time photography beginner. I would like to tell you. I am very confused about manual mode with ISO and AV. I looked at my photos on my laptop computer. There is sunny and indoor with flash. I am trying to figure it out about light. I have no problem for night photography. I set on ISO 100 for sunny and ISO 500 for indoor with flash. I want to know if I am right for more light in indoor, but I am not sure. I am practicing and practicing my Canon DSLR camera. I will plan to shoot some photography on Port Jefferson Ferry this Memorial Day Weekend. I am, trying to correct ISO and AV on manual mode.

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    Harold – shooting outside you want as low an iso as possible so iso 100 is great.

    Shooting indoors is more tricky to say because I don’t know what you are shooting, but ….

    I’d try not to use flash unless I want to freeze the action. And I’d open up the aperture to get more light in (small number).

    It is a case of trial and error, but maybe concentrate on one thing at a time and take the pressure off a bit. Maybe set the iso to auto and let the camera choose, then you can concentrate on practising with aperture?

    1. Thank you for information. I will be doing my best for manual mode on my camera. I will practice outside when weather permits. I use ISO 100 for while. Yes, I would like to practice the aperture. I learned a lots of manual mode. I will try to do my best. I will plan to form my photography business soon. Thank you for helping me!!!.

  11. Very interesting. Of great help to a beginner like me.I am enjoying reading your articles and started practicing on my canon 550 d and now my confidence level increasing ! Thank you so much Mandy.

  12. Pingback: Photography Tutorial #1 : Camera Basics, Do’s and Dont’s and APERTURE | Warning: I MAY SNAP ANYTIME

  13. I spent a lot of time watching youtube, and then I saw your blog on the web, I decided to read it and found it more helpful than watching youtube over and over and not getting specifically the info I wanted. You took the time to explain and talk about the basics in simple terms that made me understand. When I had to use Manual mode for my school project I was scared, felt stupid and wonder will I ever make it. My online school does not explained clearly, I feel they talk to the students as if they are pros, and forgetting we are students wanting to learn. If we knew we would not be taking classes in the first place. I appreciate your help and your information on Manual setting was extremely helpful and the time you took to make it available to us. Mandy you rock!! Thank you!!

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