How To Make the Jump To Manual Mode

At first, manual mode can seem a little intimidating. Finding the right exposure just doesn’t seem as simple as finding the right f-number, does it? That’s probably why most photographers start with Aperture Priority mode before jumping to full manual.

But, shooting in manual will put you in complete control of the image making process. And luckily, there’s an easy way to make the jump to manual mode, while still treating it somewhat like aperture priority mode. Here’s how:

1. Set your camera to manual, and your metering mode to evaluative.

2. Press the shutter button half-way to get a meter reading, and adjust your shutter speed accordingly. When you press the shutter button halfway in manual mode, the camera will meter the scene and still guess an automatic exposure, but it just won’t change the shutter speed for you (you’re in manual, remember?). On your camera’s LCD, you should see some indicator of where the camera thinks a good exposure is, in relation to whatever shutter speed you currently have chosen.

For example, let’s say you currently have the shutter speed set to 1/320, and press the shutter halfway to get the camera’s opinion. Then, you notice on the back of your camera, a little line starts blinking under the -2:

That white line circled in red starts blinking, indicating that the camera thinks the right shutter speed is much slower (more than 2 stops) than the current speed of 1/320. As you adjust the shutter speed and get closer to the camera’s idea of a good exposure, that blinking line will get closer to zero. Once it’s at zero, then you know you’re at the camera’s recommended shutter speed. At this point, snap a test photo.

3. Review the photo’s histogram, and adjust the shutter speed if necessary to get a better exposure (don’t forget to use the RGB histogram!).

How is this different than just shooting in Aperture Priority mode?

Good question. This method is really meant to just get your foot in the door, and help you pay a little more attention to shutter speeds. As you get more familiar with seeing actual shutter speeds (and not just dealing with exposure compensation numbers like +2/3), then you’ll start to take note of what exposures work for certain lighting conditions.

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steveb2About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.


  1. During the year I’ve progressed from shooting in aperture mode to full manual, using the process you described above. Works like a charm!

  2. Nic Ruddiman says:

    Steve,Hi. as always,every one of your emails always has a little gem in it.Many thanks i always look forward to your emails.

  3. I so enjoy and look forward to reading your tips! I have learned so much from you. I thank you and my camera thanks you!!!!!!

  4. What benefits does manual offer. ?
    I have never used it. What’s wrong with TV or AV. I can still bracket or dial in a bit of exposure comp to get the result I want.

    I reckon manual is just something the pro’s use for bragging rights or to boost their ego’s

  5. This article seems to imply that full manual mode is inherently better than aperture priority. That’s not the case. If you have a situation where the light is changing quickly (and that can happen often in landscape photography), then AV can help you get consistent exposure. If I need more or less exposure compensation (usually I need more), then I just move the adjustment meter accordingly. I use AV as a tool to get the job done, not because I don’t understand full manual mode.

  6. Hi Steve: I think it important to understand the manual mode of the camera. That being said, I think it is more important to understand the relationship between ISO, shutter and aperture (exposure triangle). If you understand the exposure triangle you can shoot in any mode and understand what you will achieve. Knowing the exposure triangle will allow you to determine what you are going for. Last summer I demonstrated this on my FB page by taking photo of a pine cone in broad daylight and still having the background almost black. I’m not opposed to shooting in manual and I know there are times when you want to but I don’t understand why most people would not stick with Aperture Value (AV) unless there are exceptional circumstances.

    A little off the subject is the use of the metering modes. Simple but overlooked by most photographers. In my opinion this is just as important as the exposure triangle. The use of light by manipulating the metering mode makes a world of difference when attempting to change the mood or subject focus in your shot.

    Have a great day!
    Jan Maklak

  7. Paul / Rick : I didn’t mean to imply that any mode is better than another, so I apologize for the confusion. I definitely don’t think anything is wrong with aperture priority mode. If that mode works for you, that’s great! Personally, I prefer to be in complete control of what the camera is doing, so I like manual, but it’s just a personal preference :)

  8. carl valle says:

    I’m sorry, but that is not manual mode. Manual mode means you visualize the frame and put the zones where you want them. adjusting the aperture is a seperate process and you place the dof and coc where you want that. then you apply the minimum shutter speed you need, and the minimum iso value you need to get your zone 5 to expose correctly. Since it doesn’t ever seem to work out, you make compromises starting with the least obnoxious, usually ISO with modern cameras, or you wait for the light to change. then without looking at the metering you make your perfectly previsualized exposure, and you don’t chimp the screen after either. that is fully manual and it’s also the main reason nobody shoots a nikon F with kodachrome 25 today… not everything thats better is ‘bad’….

  9. Thank you, very good explanation about Manual Mode. Finally I can see a light at the end of the tunnel… :)


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