Weaning Yourself Off of Auto: How to Practice Shooting in Manual

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Tips for shooting in manual mode

Do you have a nice, fancy camera that takes great pictures, but you don’t actually know how to use anything but the Auto mode? You’re not alone. Many people buy a digital SLR only to be frustrated that can’t take pictures like a pro right out of the box. It can be very confusing: Knowing where to start, what buttons to push, what settings to use. It can be daunting!   I’m going to share 3 tips to wean you off of Auto and practice shooting in Manual.

Spring flowers blooming against the blue sky

Just move it to the “M” The little green Auto setting is easy. It’s what you do when you aren’t sure what else to do. It’s safe. But it isn’t super fabulous. If you are indoors, the flash will pop up (even if it shouldn’t). If you are outdoors, the sensor will guess the settings, and image may tend to look flat. Shooting in Manual, though, can give you rich, beautiful images that seem to pop with dimension. Everything in-between Manual and Auto, like Shutter- and Aperture Priority, are just varying versions of Auto. You select one setting, and the camera selects the other. For the best photography, you need to be in full control. Don’t be scared, just do it.

Find nice, even light. When practicing multiple settings, go to a spot with natural light with a lot of shade. If there are clouds in the sky and the sun comes and goes from behind the clouds, you’ll have to change your settings as it gets lighter and darker. If you are in a spot where the light is constant, you will configure your settings once, and not have to change them again.  I like to open my front door and place my subject just inside where it is out of the direct, harsh light, but the light is even and lovely.

Practice with props. If you are practicing with the settings on your camera, and trying to get a great shot of your kid at the same time, you will both be very frustrated. You need to set aside some practice time and take pictures when you don’t care about the outcome.  Using some props means your subject won’t move, and you’ll have plenty of time to fiddle with your settings.

Photographing a project in good light with the front door open in the shade

I hope these tips are helpful as you begin your journey to breathtaking photography. Years ago, when I first got my  digital SLR, I shot in Auto, and I thought it was pretty great. Then I realized my camera (and I) could do so much more. A friend told me to just turn it to the “M” and don’t look back. Today, I’m that friend telling you! Take that leap, you won’t regret it.  For more technical tips on manual settings, I wrote a little book called Say NO to Auto.  It’s helped thousands understand their manual settings, explained simply.

Photo credit: Kristen Duke

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