How to shoot in manual mode and get it right every time

How to shoot in manual mode: switch the dial to M

Do you find you tend to stay within the auto modes of your digital camera? When your automatic settings deliver great results, it can difficult to think why you should venture beyond.

But using your manual settings can offer enormous creative potential. Shooting in manual mode takes more experience, but the control it gives you over shutter speed, aperture and overall exposure at the same time means you can not only experiment, but gain new confidence in how to use a camera.

Below we show you step by step how to shoot in manual mode on your camera. We’ve used a Nikon DSLR for this exercise, but the principles remain largely the same whichever digital camera you have

How to shoot in manual mode


How to shoot in manual mode: switch the dial to M

Switch to M
On most DSLRs you can do this on the main mode dial, but on professional models like the Nikon D800 we’ve used here there’s a mode button that you use in conjunction with the command dial.

How to shoot in manual mode: change shutter speed

Change shutter speed
You do this with the rear command dial. As the shutter speed changes, you’ll see the bars on the exposure indicator moving to show that the exposure is changing (for more, check out the Common mistakes at every shutter speed – and the best settings to use).

How to shoot in manual mode: tweak aperture

Tweak aperture
Use the front sub-command dial if your camera has one, or on other models hold down the EV compensation button and turn the rear command dial.

How to shoot in manual mode: use the indicator

Use the indicator
As you change the shutter speed and/or aperture, you’ll see bars on either side of the exposure indicator’s zero point showing under- or overexposure.

How to shoot in manual mode: zero the setting

Zero the setting
When the bars are ‘zeroed’, the exposure is indicated by the camera’s meter, but it’s up to you how you interpret the reading. You can use your own skill and judgement.

How to shoot in manual mode: compensate on the fly

Compensate on the fly
If your subject is very light or dark, adjust the shutter speed or aperture so the exposure indicator bars move to the left or right of centre (for more on how to do this, check out our free exposure compensation cheat sheet).


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  • RobS

    Better yet: Set the aperture and exposure to times appropriate for the picture. Use auto ISO to obtain the the correct exposure. Check the ISO before shooting to make certain you haven’t maxed out at either end – adjust settings to bring the ISo into an acceptable range. Have the camera set up for three exposuers, and shoot