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TKE 06: How to master manual exposure - The Photography Express

TKE 06: How to master manual exposure

Today’s question is about how to master manual exposure. First of all, if you have never used anything other than the Auto mode before, don’t let this scare you away. Instead, I hope you will come back to this post regularly and follow the steps that I’m about to show you. My ultimate goal in this post is to show you a high level overview from how to operate manual mode with your DSLR to how to master this skill from my experience. As always, please enjoy!

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The quick way to learn how to use the MANUAL MODE

This section is for you if you have never shot in anything other than “Auto” mode before. Instead of repeating what I wrote in my previous posts in The Photography Express, let me first encourage you to visit my getting started page. Inside there you will find 10 steps of how to learn your DSLR from zero experience. Listed below are the steps that I truly believe you must master in order to leave the Auto mode with your DSLR.

1) The exposure triangle – Understands the relationship between ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed.

2) ISO – Learn how camera detects light and what you need to do to adjust it.

3) Aperture – Understands the f-stops, effect on lens aperture and the relationship with Depth of Field in your photos.

4) Shutter Speed – Learn why the duration of the shutter curtain opening affects your photography.

5) Understand your camera’s shooting mode – Understands which camera setting fit best in various lighting situation.

6) Practice Practice Practice – This step is ongoing for all photographers.

If you only have 5 minutes a day to learn photography and you want to learn how to use the manual mode, the above list is great to get you started. Now for those of you who is already using manual mode and would like to get better at it, here is my quick to-do list:

How to master manual exposure (The Express Way)

1) Take a picture of your city’s downtown at night – Doing this will let you learn how to master long exposure with your DSLR on a tripod. Do not underestimate the skills involved with shooting still objects (buildings) at night. This will test your tripod and long exposure techniques. I’ve a post on 5 tips on taking great pictures of landscape photography here for your reference.

2) Take a picture of a lighted candle in the dark – Doing this will let you learn how to master the different camera’s shooting mode. In the auto mode a picture like this will either be under or over-exposed. So you cannot rely on your camera’s metering system.

3) Take a Sunset portrait– Ask one of your friend to be your model, let your friend face his/her back towards the sun and adjust your camera’s setting to properly exposure the picture. You may have to use an external flash in this type of shot.

4) Take a picture of your pet indoor – Doing this will let you learn the 3 most important exposure element. Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. Since your pet may be running around and it’s indoor, it’ll test your camera focusing skills as well as the 3 exposure elements above. Sport’s photography indoor works too if you have the time and opportunity to go.

I hope I answered another one of your questions. Please keep sending your photography questions and I’ll see you in the next TKE post!

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About Gary

A passionate photographer with goals to fulfill your photography passion and motivate you to take pictures even when life is busy!


  1. Great way of putting together a blog post about using manual. So important for everyone to use manual to get the results we want!

    • Thank you Debbie yes it’s really important for photographers to know how to use manual mode probably. I’ve seen lots of people who thinks they know manual mode but are missing a few important pieces of information. I don’t mean they are bad at all but just want to provide some answers to many people’s struggles. Thanks for stopping by!

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