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How to Learn to Use Your DSLR Camera in Manual Mode

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A collection of photography “how to” links that will make learning to use your DSLR camera in manual mode less intimidating.

Camera Manual Mode GraphicI bought my first DSLR camera almost a year ago.  It cost a pretty penny, and yet I did not take full advantage of all that it had to offer until a couple of months ago.  A lot of people will say that using a DSLR in “auto” mode is essentially like paying for a very expensive point and shoot camera.  While I definitely saw the benefit of switching from my $100 Kodak digital camera and my smart phone, I was fooling myself by thinking that I was becoming a “food photographer.”

manual mode camera shotIt finally took me getting a new “fancier” camera lens for Christmas to push me into the land of manual mode.  If I was going to own a $225 lens, I was darn well determined to get the most out of it! <– How in the world a $600 camera body and lens kit didn’t push me to that, sure beats me 😉

manual mode camera shot 2When the beginning of January rolled around, I had a camera body, a new camera lens, and a new tripod.  The question then became, “how in the world do I use this thing in any mode other than “auto” mode?”  I started by taking an entire morning and afternoon to work on it.  I learned a ton within just that one day.  And while I am still not an expert photographer, I feel my knowledge and ability are both growing the more and more that I practice.  Baby steps, right?

That first day of manual mode was certainly not easy.  At times, it was frustrating.  I also had my fair share of “huh?” moments.  But along the way, I found some terrific resources that truly helped me to better understand the camera that I was working with.  I know that some greatly benefit from reading their camera’s manual, and while I do not discourage this, I did not particularly find it to be overly helpful.  Instead, I turned to my second home: the internet and other bloggers.

manual mode camera shot 3I know that many of you are in the same boat as I was.  You have a DSLR, you have been stuck in “auto” mode for a while now, and yet you want to branch out and give manual mode a try.  I feel fortunate to have found so many great online photography resources, and I want to share them with you!  I hope the links below will start you on the journey towards using your DSLR camera in manual mode.  I am by no means an expert photographer, but I now feel confident enough in my photography knowledge to no longer be intimidated.  I swear, learning the language is half the battle!

How to Learn to Use Your DSLR Camera in Manual Mode

First, START HERE.  This is the first post that I read that made me feel like I could learn to use my camera in manual mode.  The basics of manual mode are explained in a way that is far from intimidating.  If you find that you are still a bit uneasy after the first post, here is a second one that I like.  If you are a manual reader, now would also be the time to read your camera’s manual.  You may also find it helpful to read the manual of the specific lens you will be using.  My preference is to do a quick Google search of the lens.

Once you have read these initial posts, I recommend reading several others that are each dedicated to the more specific aspects of manual photography: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  Feel free to “bookmark” these on your computer and/or take notes.  Sometimes writing things down helps to make sense of something new or foreign to us!

aperture (also called “f-stop”)

Food Photography Basics: Aperture and Depth of Field <– This is also a great explanation of depth of field
Photography 101 {aperture} <– This contains several helpful diagrams and sample pictures
Aperture- The Basics
Understanding Aperture: A Beginner’s Guide <– This also presents a great explanation on lens aperture.  It will help you make sense of what a 50mm f1.8 (or any other, for that matter) lens can do.

shutter speed

Photography 101 {shutter speed} <– The sample pictures in this are great!
Understanding Shutter Speed: A Beginner’s Guide


Photography 101 {iso}
Understanding ISO: A Beginner’s Guide <– This provides a great explanation of when to use low or high ISO
ISO- Noise <– I love how this series of pictures depicts how your ISO level will affect the amount of “noise” in your photos

Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are the triangle (if you will) of manual mode photography.  Once I began playing around with my camera, I also found this post on Changing Your Focal Point helpful.  This process may vary depending on the brand of camera that you use, but a glance in your manual or a quick YouTube video should do the trick to help you!  I also found that searching for YouTube videos on “how to change the…” on my specific camera body was helpful.  For example, I searched for “how to change the ISO on a Nikon D3200.”  You, of course, will want to search for whichever specific camera body you are using.

Finally, for those wanting to learn a bit more about how DSLR camera’s work, here is a great simplistic description.

I hope you find these links helpful.  I promise that manual mode photography does not have to be intimidating.  Dedicate a morning or an afternoon to just you, your camera, and your computer, and you will be well on your way!  Please also remember, though, that simply knowing the language will not make you an amazing photographer right away.  I think my pictures are proof of that.  There are so many things that I would like to improve upon, including lighting, choosing the proper ISO, and the clarity of my photos.  I know that practice makes progress (not perfection), and that is something that you must also keep in mind.  Finally, once you start in manual mode, STAY in manual mode.  It is tempting to switch back to “auto” when you get frustrated, but sticking with manual mode is the only way you will make progress.

Happy clicking!

Okay, food photographers… I want to hear what resources you have found that have helped along your photography journey!  Please share the links in the comments.

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{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Kristy @ Southern In Law March 5, 2015, 12:33 am
    This is an awesome collection of resources! I've just sent a link to a bunch of friends who I know will be SO appreciative of all the links! Kristy @ Southern In Law recently posted...Recipe: Mango & Banana Protein MuffinsMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 11:57 am
      Thanks so much, Kristy! I hope they find it helpful :)
  • Kelly @ Hidden Fruits and Veggies March 5, 2015, 6:35 am
    I know basically nothing about our camera, except how to white balance. I'm SO lucky that Josh took photography classes in college. He tries to teach me sometimes, and the results are not pretty (literally). I should read up on some of these links and surprise him with my knew knowledge ;-) Kelly @ Hidden Fruits and Veggies recently posted...Minty Supergreens and Strawberry SmoothieMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 11:58 am
      Do it!!! You are so lucky to have him around. I wish my boyfriend was an awesome photography. I guess I'll just have to stick to him being a taste tester ;)
  • Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine March 5, 2015, 7:06 am
    Really my biggest problem right now is no lighting or space here in college to take photos...thus I'm using all my old stuff I had prepped and saved over the summer!
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 11:59 am
      Wow, that is impressive that you have so much prepped!! You must have been super busy over the Summer!
  • Heather @Fit n Cookies March 5, 2015, 8:03 am
    Let's talk about how rude I am that I NEVER emailed you! Ahh!! However, I am so excited for this post! I am always looking to improve my manual mode shooting. However, I still think DSLRs have an advantage over point and shoot even in auto mode ;) Heather @Fit n Cookies recently posted...Spring ExcitementMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 11:59 am
      Haha, no not rude at all. Just busy!! Trust me, I totally get it :) I hope you find some of these resources helpful!!
  • Katie March 5, 2015, 8:32 am
    I haven't bought a fancy camera for this reason, but my dad has one (and also only uses it in auto mode) eventually I'll "borrow" his and try to learn. Until then I'll just phone it in , haha, get it!? Katie recently posted...WIAW: Princess Half – Disney and Universal FoodMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 12:01 pm
      Haha you are quite punny! ;) But how cool that your dad has one! You can practice on his to see if you would truly get the full benefit of your own DSLR before actually purchasing one for yourself!
  • Susie @ SuzLyfe March 5, 2015, 9:11 am
    Fabulous. I am trying to up my food photog game, and when I put my mind to it, I really AM getting better. I just got a light box, but I'm not 100% happy with it. But we are getting there! Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted...Post Marathon Recovery NonsenseMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 12:12 pm
      That is half the battle... putting your mind and your time into it!! I have thought about getting a light box, but have no idea which ones are "good!"
  • Gina March 5, 2015, 10:48 am
    I think it's so important to learn how to use manual mode! It helps us be more creative with our shots! I hope to experiment some more with it! Thanks for sharing :) Gina recently posted...Europe: My Travel Diary (Part 2)My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 12:15 pm
      YES to both of those things!! You are so welcome. I hope you find them helpful :)
  • Erin @ Her Heartland Soul March 5, 2015, 10:53 am
    I need to dedicate a morning and afternoon to clicking all these links and reading the posts! Thanks so much for compiling this!
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 12:15 pm
      You're welcome! I also happy to help in person sometime :)
  • Rebecca @BeTrulyNourished March 5, 2015, 11:25 am
    Thanks for sharing! I got my DSLR a few years ago. I've used manual (without having the slightest idea on how to use it) I've read photo books.... let it sit and collect dust. Once I started blogging I realized how crappy my photos still were. I'd talked to friends who are legit photographers & gotten lessons from them. But it still wasn't enough for me. I enrolled in 2 different photography classes. One was Photo 101 via Nicole Hill Gerulat (it was an online class) which was so helpful, the 2nd was 30 days to better food photos. The first helped me understand the basics, the 2nd really helped understand how/why to set the scene by creating a story, use of props & lighting. Both were so helpful, but really practicing those skills is imperative :) Rebecca @BeTrulyNourished recently posted...Winter Beet and Kale Salad with Clementine VinaigretteMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 12:26 pm
      I'll have to look into both of those!! Thanks so much for the recommendations :)
  • Lisa Sharp March 5, 2015, 1:08 pm
    Great tips! Reminds me to pull out my DSLR and stop reaching for my iPhone instead ha.
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 1:55 pm
      It it definitely so easy to reach straight for the iPhone, but there is nothing quite like a photo taken with your DSLR!
  • Christine Gallagher March 5, 2015, 4:25 pm
    I am so jealous of your skills, great job Christine Gallagher recently posted...Easter favor bagsMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 5, 2015, 8:17 pm
      Aww thanks Christine! Trust me... it has taken LOTS of hard work!
  • Katie @ Daily Cup of Kate March 6, 2015, 6:47 am
    This is super helpful! I think I just figured out what I will be working on tomorrow :)
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 6, 2015, 2:45 pm
      Thanks, Katie!! I hope you find it helpful and that your trial and error goes well. Just remember that practice makes progress, and try not to get frustrated :)
  • Jordan @ Harleys and Heels March 9, 2015, 12:54 pm
    I, too, have a fancy schmancy camera that I've rarely taken out of manual mode since I purchased it. I spent a lot of time last summer reading, researching, watching YouTube videos, but I would get frustrated. I am excited to look through the links that you have provided and start building a solid foundation. Thanks for sharing! :) Jordan @ Harleys and Heels recently posted...I Did It!! 2015 Beachbody Master TrainerMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 9, 2015, 2:58 pm
      I totally get the frustration part. I hope these resources are helpful to you! :)

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