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Manual Mode Made Simple

Lesson 2 of 7

Manual Mode Overview

Khara Plicanic

Manual Mode Made Simple

Khara Plicanic

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Lesson Info

2. Manual Mode Overview
These photography fundamentals will help you shoot in manual mode on your DSLR camera.

Lesson Info

Manual Mode Overview

Let's talk about what it means to actually shoot in manual mode because sometimes people just get so freaked out by the idea of turning their camera dial anywhere except auto, that they sort of shut down and aren't even sure what that means. So manual mode means you get to be the boss, not the camera. That's a total reverse of being in auto mode. And if you are anything like me, I'm a total control freak, so I love manual mode for that very reason. When you are shooting in manual mode, you are basically juggling three things. So there's really only three things we have to learn today. Right, you can handle three things? These three different variables, shutter speed, aperture, and iso, combine to create an exposure. So in manual mode, you get to control these three settings instead of letting the camera control those three settings. And it turns out, the combination that you choose for how these three different variables come together can really dramatically change the look of your pho...

to. Now the good news is, unlike math class, there's no right answer here when it comes to combining these things. It's really just about what gives you what you're looking for. So we'll talk about that more shortly. But let's cover quickly what kind of camera is required? The answer is pretty much any kind as long as it offers manual mode. So that doesn't mean that you have to have a big, fancy-pants DSLR. In fact, I have a little point-and-shoot that I love, and I chose it specifically because it does offer manual mode. And sometimes I don't wanna lug this big guy around and of course, I love shooting images with my phone too, but it's not quite as empowering as being able to truly be in manual mode. So between my DSLR and point-and-shoot, there's a lot of different options. The main thing to consider if you're looking at buying a camera because you wanna be able to shoot in manual mode, convenience is very important. And where the different controls and dials are on the camera makes a difference. For example, there are some point-and-shoots that will actually operate in manual mode, but the controls are buried within file menus and you have to really dig in to be able to change them. And convenience is really important so you would want a camera where it's easy to change the ISO, it's easy to change the shutter speed, and it's easy to change the aperture. And we'll see how all that works coming up. So you might be sitting there wondering, okay, but why manual mode? Because we've got so many different modes on the cameras and some cameras have scenes, like portrait mode, or landscape mode, and night portrait mode, and of course, there's aperture priority, and shutter priority, and all these different shooting modes, so why would we need to go all the way to manual mode? Well, let me show you some examples. This is a scene from Grand Central Station that I shot using about $6,000 worth of professional photography equipment. And what do you thinK? Is it impressive or what? (laughing) Okay, that was rhetorical. Yeah, it looks pretty not great. And the thing is, when I shot this image, I had all that fancy, really expensive equipment set to auto mode. And that was the result. And the thing is, that even when you have a fancy-pants camera and you throw a lot of money into equipment, if you just put it all in auto, you might as well have just bought a cheap disposable camera or something. So that's not lookin' so great. But when I took everything off auto and switched to manual mode, then I got to be the boss, not the camera, and I ended up getting a way better image. So it can be quite dramatic. Here's another image from the desert. This is the Sahara Desert. Kind of a possibly once-in-a-lifetime trip. And I only had my point-and-shoot with me because my husband and I were backpacking and we like to travel really light and I didn't want heavy gear. So I had my point-and-shoot and it was dark, clearly, and I took this frame. Now of course, in auto mode, it is gonna be bad, and then I thought, let's try night portrait mode so we can see what that's gonna look like 'cause it's night, so let's try that. And it looked basically the same as auto mode. I mean, it was pretty indistinguishable. And it just turns out that there's really a limit. Those scenes that you have on some cameras, they can be incredible, but they're for a very specific type of situation and they only go so far. They're basically just a way to communicate to the camera what you're trying to do. And those scenes basically allow you to try to get closer to what you wanna do without having to be in manual mode. So if you're in manual mode, you can do anything, anywhere, anytime, pretty much. But if you are trying to avoid manual mode, you can try these other scenes, but they may or may not get you what you're looking for. So then I finally switched the camera, that little point-and-shoot, I switched it into manual mode, and then I got this image and I was really excited about that. So it's a pretty huge difference. The key is that manual mode really offers consistency and control. And a lot of people will shoot, for example, in aperture priority mode, or shutter priority mode, and of course, there's no right or wrong mode. I mean, it's whatever works for you. Whatever makes you feel the most comfortable, whatever empowers you to get the most consistent results that you're looking for. But for me personally, if I'm shooting in something like one of the priority modes, where you choose, for example, the aperture, and you let the camera juggle everything else, when I shoot weddings, for example, I would just get so frustrated because I would think, like, okay, I have a good exposure, but then one thing in the scene would change, not the lighting but, it could be that someone walks into the frame with a black shirt, or something, and somehow they would skew the exposure slightly, and it wouldn't be consistent. And that was especially noticeable on the dance floor at the reception. So the camera is still constantly metering and then trying to balance the exposure for you, and I just couldn't handle that, as a control freak, because I wanna be able to set my exposure and know it's gonna be the same. And if the scene changes, or the lighting in the scene changes, then I'll change the exposure. But I didn't want the camera just driving, essentially. So that's what's great about manual mode, is it really gives you total control and consistency. Does that make sense? Yes, we like that. So let's talk about it. These are the three variables that you need to wrap your mind around if you're gonna jump into manual mode. It's really actually quite simple so don't let it psych you out. We're gonna start by talking about shutter speed but the idea here is that these three variables come together to form an exposure. And again, like math class, there's not a right or a wrong answer. It's just, did you get what you wanted or not? So we could be photographing the same scene, you and I, and we could both be in manual mode and we could choose very different settings here, and we could both get perfectly beautiful photos. They might look different as far as action might be blurred, or might be frozen in one, or maybe the background is more blurry than in another photo. But the exposure, the balance of lights and darks, would be acceptable for both.

Class Description

For consistency and control over your images, nothing beats shooting in manual mode. Join Khara Plicanic for Manual Mode Made Simple and take control of your images.

Learn how to expertly dial in aperture, shutter speed, and ISO; and learn the tricks of the pros for making this part of your workflow, so that you barely even have to think about it. Learning this is a key step towards opening up your camera's potential and taking better photos.  

In this easy-to-follow class, Khara will walk you through the basics of using your camera in manual mode. You’ll learn about the mistakes most beginners make and get a head-start on shifting your dials and controlling your settings. By the end of this class, you’ll feel more confident holding your camera and be inspired to go out and shoot – in manual mode!   


Julie Lillard

I have been using my DSLR for 2 years and feel like I take pretty good pictures. I have read my manual and understood the basics of ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. What I was having trouble with was understanding how they all worked together. I though Khara did a wonderful job of helping me understand how one works with the other. I also loved that she emphasized that there is no one correct setting, it is based on what you like! Great class and I would definitely recommend it.


Awesome class! I'm a complete beginner and Khara does an amazing job of explaining key concepts in simple terms. She also does a great job in explaining step by step how to go about setting up your shot when using manual mode. I'm feeling a lot more confident today after viewing this course. Khara is a great teacher. Highly recommended!

Karen Tesch

This was really a great class! She has a way of making things so easy to understand. She is charming, and engaging. I would highly recommend this class to anyone. I hope she does other classes because it is really worth your time. I wish I had seen this earlier in my efforts at photography. Thank you so much! You're a great teacher!