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How to Take Photos in Manual Mode in 10 Easy Steps

Have you got a fancy camera but find yourself stuck on auto mode? Are you too scared to use full manual mode? Fear not, here is a simple guide to make the jump to manual mode on a DSLR camera!

I had the privilege of taking part in a Canon course with Paul Hames, the best and most unconventional photography course leader I have ever met.

When I got to Joe Blogs HQ, I was welcomed by Haydy and immediately felt at home. I was craving a cup of coffee, and within a minute, I had a latte in hand that would put Starbucks to shame. I want to work there! Not only is their coffee out of this world, but they have a popcorn machine, a blender for smoothies and even a candyfloss maker.

How to Take Photos in Manual Mode in 10 Easy Steps - light

Right, shall we get on with tips to improve the way you take photos?

First and foremost, always remember that the most important things when taking photos are…


The lens

The camera

Step 1: Go Manual!

Switch your camera to manual, and set the lens to autofocus. With auto mode, you are not in control of your camera and the flash (evil, evil thing) tends to pop up and like a Jack in the Box to ruin your photos.

Step 2: Get a decent SD card

Check your SD card. Has it got a number 10 inside a broken circle? Good! It indicates the speed class of the memory card, and 10 will give you good performance. SanDisk SD cards are reliable and can be bought on Amazon.

Step 3: Avoid using the built-in flash. It will not give you good results.

Step 4: Focus on the ISO.

It sets the amount of light needed for a well-exposed photo. With low numbers, you will need a lot of light. If you are outdoors on a bright day, 100 ISO should be perfect. Indoors, you might need to raise the ISO to 1,600 ISO or higher. The higher the number is, the more ‘noise’ (grainy result) on your pictures.

Step 5: The time element, or shutter speed.

Use the jog wheel to adjust it. Shutter speed is the length of time the camera shutter is open to bring light into the camera sensor. If it is fast, it can freeze action completely. If it is slow, it can create a blur.

Step 6: Aperture, or how much light comes in.

On any Canon DSLR, press Av and set using the jog wheel.  With low numbers (shallow depth of field) you get your subject in focus with a blurry background (perfect for portraits). High numbers ‘freeze’ the image and you get more of the picture in focus. f16 ISO100 are  good start for landscape photography to get rid of the distortion you would get by shooting through a smaller hole.

Check this great little infographic by Paul Hames:

Using Manual Mode - An Infographic - Credit Paul Hames

Step 7: RAW or JPEG?

I have always taken my photos in JPEG, but kept hearing about RAW. To put it simply, with RAW, you get all data recorded when taking your photo. When you take photos in JPEG format, a lot of information is compressed and lost. With RAW you will get higher quality images. You will also be able to correct issues you could not solve with JPEG, like exposure, white balance or clarity. Good news: you can shoot in RAW and JPEG at the same time, so keep in your comfort zone still using JPEG knowing you have RAW files there somewhere for when you get the confidence to post process RAW files later on. The only thing to be aware of is that RAW files take a lot of space.

Step 8: Experiment

Try to capture an interesting photograph that tells a story.

For portrait photography, focus on the eyes.

Remember the rule of thirds.

Try something new, like using bulb or panning.

Step 9: Post Production

You can always crop your photo afterwards or make adjustments.

Step 10: Rules are meant to be broken

“There are no rules in photography. Ok, there are basic rules but they’re meant to be broken.” Paul Hames

Try these:

Shoot from the hip, not looking at the viewfinder

Shoot into the sun

Less is more

Fill the frame – means you do not have to crop

Be brave

Take several shots so you can swap faces post production

Slice of life

Happy accident – right place, right time, right light – you can feel it when you take a good photo

F8 – good for street photography

Always shoot in colour and make it black and white afterwards

After a very informative session, we went for a walk to put what we had just learnt into practice.

We practised portrait photography, urban scenes and reflections.

Mel by Lucy

The wonderful Lucy at Supergolden Bakes, took this photo of me. I love it, since being behing the camera is one the the things I enjoy most.

How to Take Photos in Manual Mode in 10 Easy Steps - Portrait

Here is Nayna, at Simply Sensational Food.

How to Take Photos in Manual Mode in 10 Easy Steps - Sara

I love this shot of Sara (well, her hands), who blogs at Hello the Mushroom.

How to Take Photos in Manual Mode in 10 Easy Steps - Playing with Reflections

This photo of Mollie is one of my favourite ones from the day.

How to Take Photos in Manual Mode in 10 Easy Steps - Wild Flowers

A spot of nature in an urban environment.

How to Take Photos in Manual Mode in 10 Easy Steps - Reflection

Some more fun wit reflections.

How to Take Photos in Manual Mode in 10 Easy Steps - autoportrait

Using reflections to create my autoportrait.

I was invited to attend the photography course for free and was not compensated in any way for writing this post. 


  1. Fiona Chick
    13/07/2015 / 9:46 am

    Nice pedicure, Mel!

    I love experimenting with my (posh DSLR) Nikon camera. I never shoot in auto, and love the effects that I produce in different manual modes. Photography is so therapeutic, and although I would never claim to be particularly good, I enjoy it immensely.

    This is some brilliant information you’ve provided here. Thanks so much – I will be able to put a lot of it to good use! xx

    • Mel
      13/07/2015 / 10:13 am

      Thanks for your comment beautiful. By the way, I did my nails myself that day, he he!

  2. 13/07/2015 / 10:12 am

    Bookmarked and pinned! I need this post so much to understand my camera and get the shots I want – not the ones my camera thinks I want!

    • Mel
      13/07/2015 / 10:16 am

      I know exactly what you mean Rosie! I hope this little post helps. x

  3. Alexandra Mercer (Life of Mummy)
    13/07/2015 / 10:34 am

    Your photography has always been outstanding so it’s been great to hear your advice x

    • Mel
      13/07/2015 / 10:37 am

      Thanks Alex! I hope you find the tips useful. xx

  4. The Free From Fairy
    13/07/2015 / 11:01 am

    Brilliant! I so so need to get on a course! It makes me feel a little nervous even reading about all those things…I don’t really understand! Your photos are brilliant (As they always are). I love the one of your feet. Wow!

    • Mel
      21/07/2015 / 1:07 am

      After FBC, we should go on a food styling / photography course. That would be great, don’t you think?

      • The Free From Fairy
        21/07/2015 / 11:44 am

        You don’t need to! I seriously do!!!

        • Mel
          21/07/2015 / 11:43 pm

          I do, I do! I’d really love to do that with you.

  5. 13/07/2015 / 12:20 pm

    If I go back to work I want to work somewhere with a candy floss maker. We had one microwave for the whole office and had to pay for hot water where I was!

    I’ve recently switched to RAW and wouldn’t go back. It’s so much easier to edit pictures – love it!

    I really need to get out and about with my camera. I’m pretty happy shooting food at home but only take quick iPhone pics everywhere else. I’d love to spend a day in Chester or at the zoo shooting the scenery.

    • Mel
      14/07/2015 / 12:32 am

      What? Having to pay for hot water is pushing it a bit, isn’t it?

  6. lucyparissi
    13/07/2015 / 12:59 pm

    What a fab workshop it was! Thanks for the mention and I love the level of info you have included – I need to pin it to remember it all. I did the food photography workshop on Saturday and it was really good. Highly recommended – I will eventually do a write of it on Supergolden Bakes. The photographer (William Reavell) is also teaching a workshop at Food Blogger Connect if you are attending.

    • Mel
      13/07/2015 / 11:36 pm

      I have seen one of your photos today and I am envious! I bet the course was fantastic, but your photos always look professional anyway. I’d love a course with you my lovely! I will be at FBC. Looking forward to meeting up again. x

  7. Julie's Family Kitchen
    13/07/2015 / 1:34 pm

    Mel your photos are always superb, thanks for the top tips. x

    • Mel
      14/07/2015 / 12:31 am

      Thanks sweetie. Yours always make me hungry!

    • Mel
      13/07/2015 / 11:34 pm

      Thanks a lot Paul, I am flattered! I’d love to attend another one of your courses. Fingers crossed for the big prize; I’d really enjoy the nighttime photography course.

  8. 13/07/2015 / 5:12 pm

    It looks like you learnt loads of great things at the course, I had heard a couple of these before but a few were slightly different to what I thought. You got some great shots on your walk too, you all look like you’ve had a fab time. Popping by from Magic Moments.

    • Mel
      13/07/2015 / 11:32 pm

      Maybe I got some of the things mixed up… I am by no means an expert. Don’t take my word for it, Fiona! x

  9. 14/07/2015 / 9:18 am

    Great tips Mel. I use a DSLR but almost always shoot in aperture or shutter speed priority – so that’s semi manual. I have never ventured down the scary fully manual path but I might give it a go since I’ve got these very useful tips to follow now.

    • Mel
      16/07/2015 / 12:01 am

      If you already use semi-manual modes, the jump to manual shouldn’t be too scary. Go on, you can do it! x

  10. 15/07/2015 / 7:25 pm

    Brilliant post, gorgeous photos of the other bloggers and once again you’ve taught me something! Thank you lovely Mel. I have a feeling I will be referring back to this post time and again xxx

    • Mel
      15/07/2015 / 11:21 pm

      I’m glad you liked it Reneé. When I started writing the post, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to explain it all as clearly as I could. xx

  11. 15/07/2015 / 7:54 pm

    Thank you for such a wonderful post! I have a beautiful camera and since I got it at Christmas I haven’t dared set it to manual! I’ve just pinned that great chart and will now give it a go! You explained the different elements really well….thank you! x

    • Mel
      15/07/2015 / 11:06 pm

      Thanks lovely. I’m glad you liked it. I hope it gives you the confidence to set your camera to manual mode. x

  12. 16/07/2015 / 6:21 am

    Amazing. One of my dream course to do. Thanks for sharing the knowledge that you have gained and I have saved the illustration that you added here in my laptop. =) #brillblogposts

  13. 16/07/2015 / 9:40 am

    C’est très intéressant ton cour mais il n’est pas pour moi ! J’en que un simple appareil automatique mais j’envie de me lancer un jour dans la photographie un peu plus sérieuse.

  14. 16/07/2015 / 4:52 pm

    Aah this is a great post Mel! I’m learning to use the big camera — it’s always been my husband’s territory but for my blog, I’ve been taking all my own pics and often, I’m not entirely sure how I’ve achieved the end result!! It’s luck rather than judgement!! #BrillBlogPosts

    Caro | http://www.thetwinklediaries.co.uk

  15. 19/07/2015 / 6:46 pm

    This sounds like an utterly fantastic event Mel, i tend to loiter on auto far more than i should! .. i need to take note!
    Thanks for linking up with #MagicMoments

    • Mel
      20/07/2015 / 1:02 am

      Go on, Jaime, you should try the manual mode on your camera; it’s liberating!

    • Mel
      22/07/2015 / 9:20 pm

      Hi Laura, I’ve just spent ages reading your blog. I’m glad you found your way to my little online space. x

      • 23/07/2015 / 8:43 am

        Thank you so much Mel for reading my blog, I hope you enjoyed some of it. I am really glad I found your little space of the Internet. I’ll be in touch for the photography linkies, I have subscribed to receiving your posts by email. Have a lovely day. Laura

        • Mel
          25/07/2015 / 9:09 am

          Fab! Have a great weekend my lovely!

  16. 23/07/2015 / 12:38 am

    Brilliant tips and I adore the behind the lens shots of you, you look like a supermodel turned photographer! Thanks for linking up x

    • Mel
      23/07/2015 / 12:56 am

      Now that’s a lovely compliment just before I head to bed! Thanks ma belle! x

  17. 27/07/2015 / 9:27 pm

    I have had my DSLR for ages, and still have no clue! This was just the guide I needed. Will be coming back to this post Mel. Great shots!!

    • Mel
      28/07/2015 / 1:56 am

      I’m glad you found it useful sweetie. It’s all about taking awful photos for a bit so you get how it works, he he. Practise, practise, practise (on inanimate objects) and you will get it!

    • Mel
      28/08/2015 / 9:48 pm

      One of the girls at the course had a bridge camera. There was a manual setting on there, too. What camera have you got my lovely?

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