Getting to grips with my camera’s MANUAL mode

Last updated on November 16th, 2023 at 04:48 pm

I am just starting out on my journey to learn photography. The first thing most blogs, tutorials, classes, and online forums tell you is to turn your camera into MANUAL mode. I have never even used any other button other than AUTO so this completely freaks me out.

I am currently reading Mamarazzi, which came highly recommended by a few beginner photographers that said it really helped them, in taking better pictures of their kids.

This week, I am testing a few MANUAL modes out, trying to get the hang of ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture. In Mamarazzi, I like the fact that she puts what ISO, SS, Aperture she had her camera set to, under each picture. Although this still doesn’t get me any closer to understanding when one is high or low, how that really affects the pictures.

This is what I found:

ISO – 100-400 Lower sensitivity to light, produces cleaner, smoother pictures, 800+ Higher sensitivity to light, more grainy (noise) shots.

Shutter Speed – Slower speeds- use in dark situations, or moving object effects, Higher speeds 1/125+ product sharper images, can freeze motion.

Aperture – measured in f-stops. Smaller number the less in focus, use for bokeh or blurred backgrounds, f 8+ Larger number more in focus.

I read this and think, yes, that all makes sense, then I attempt to apply this information to my MANUAL mode on my camera. I was practising on Missy Moo if I use a low ISO according to this it will produce cleaner, smoother pictures. Then I thought well my living room isn’t lit up very well even at the window, I will do a middle shutter speed. At last I changed my aperture to f4.5  because I wanted the background to be blurred but this is the lowest my camera goes. I took a few snapshots, nothing that I wanted to happen, happened. Instead I got a dark, sharp picture of Missy Moo, no blurred background. I attempted to move the aspects around, like the ISO higher to put in more light but with no luck I quickly ran back to AUTO mode. Grrrr. Failed attempt one! Maybe when I read the above, I am not truly comprehending what it is saying.

I can’t move forward and practice my photography if I can’t first understand MANUAL mode! Or maybe I should take a class, instead of trying to teach myself because these days my brain just doesn’t work like it used to.

In the meantime, at least I can learn the art of angles, heights, and locations. I am becoming more aware of where I stand before I snap. I try to choose well lit areas such as the front window or the back sliding glass door areas. You can now find me standing on top of  chairs, kneeling in the mud at the park or lying on my back underneath my daughter’s bouncer to get a different perspective. These things are fun and easy to practice.

My subjects, Buba and Missy Moo, are not very happy about Mommy’s new found journey of photography. I have always been snap-happy with my iphone or pocket camera but when I pulled out the DSLR and started pointing it at them, at first they didn’t know what to think. Now, they down right hate it. I have decided to get a little friend to help practice instead, his name is Henry the Giraffe. Henry is the best test subject I have ever known. He stays when I place him where I what him, looks the way I want him to look, he doesn’t close his eyes, or have a runny nose at the wrong moments, he doesn’t cry, through tantrums, or run off. Henry and I will be working closely together until I get a better handle on this MANUAL mode.

Meet Henry:

IMG_4436  IMG_4444  IMG_4434  IMG_4445

I was trying to take pictures of Henry in my living room, where my children usually play. See how dark they are above and my living room isn’t that dark, it has a chandelier with five bulbs. I tried various combinations on MANUAL mode. I didn’t want to create a fake setting, like a really bright part of our kitchen with spot lights and a white wall in the background, even though that would make the best pictures, that’s not where my children play and where most of my pictures are taken. For a product review, definitely, but not for natural photos. I am trying to figure out what my camera should be set to, so I can take the best snapshots of them playing in their normal environment. So far, my pictures still come out too dark but at least I have the various angles down.

IMG_4316  IMG_4312  IMG_4314

I did try another round, in the chair, in the living room, but this time pulled it closer to the window. You can see just with a little extra natural light the pictures are a little better. 





I took Buba and Missy to the park last week, the only afternoon it wasn’t raining. It was still freezing though so we didn’t last long but I wanted to test out some outdoor shots. I thought, it’s overcast isn’t that suppose to be the best time to take outdoor pictures? Yes, but yet my pictures still are not what I was hoping for. Practice makes perfect, and I clearly have A LOT of practice ahead of me.

Do you have any tips for me? Do you notice something I am doing wrong or have a better way of explaining ISO, SS, Aperture, please comment below. Would love any and all advice on my journey to learn photography.


17 thoughts on “Getting to grips with my camera’s MANUAL mode”

  1. I love the picture of your daughter, that shot is just beautiful!
    Let me tell you, switching to manual mode freaks me out too, big time! I seriously need help. You’re way ahead of me on your photography knowledge, I think I need to go on a real life course! xx

  2. oops sorry pressed post too early. My advice is to understand the ‘priority’ modes first..or at least spend a little time shooting with each of them. So shutter priority or aperture. That way you can understand the way you are shooting in each mode before you try and bring them all together. its a bit like juggling! With regards to your room being dark, ambient light as in bulbs tend to actually give off quite an orangey colour and even though they seem light to us they aren’t to a camera. You might try changing your white balance to tungsten. that will take a bit of the orange ness out of your shot. Also you can bring light into a subject by something as simple as a reflector. anything white can bounce light back into a subject. and yes getting near the window is always going to make your life easier but sometimes its just not possible. You can crank up the ISO and put it into black and white..which always makes a nice look. Hope that helps. Please feel free to catch me and ask. Im happy to help. Also a course would be a great idea too! I run one but im imagining you are south and im up north! :0)

    • Where up north I am near Preston??? Thank you ever so much for your tips. I definitely need to take a course or three hahaha. I was thinking the other day I need to get better bulbs they are low and yellowy anyways and with gold wallpaper most of my pictures are coming out yellowy. Not a word but you get what I mean. I will work on just changing shutter or aperture, great idea!! I was trying to juggle it all and see what comes out. Not an easy task!

  3. You’ve some beautiful shots of your children there, really beautiful. I love that you’re using Henry to practice with – good idea! You are way ahead of me, as I don’t understand any of the stuff you started with there, but am having fun with it and now experimenting with perspectives. Next week’s lesson is ‘light’ which I’m really looking forward to.

    • Oh thank you for the heads up. I was working on taking shots today with lighting and of stationary things like decor in my house, so I like to read your lesson first then post so I can match up with it and learn together. Thanks for including me in the join up and commenting. 😉

  4. Oh my dear Jenny! Henry is such a doll! Definitely the perfect model! I think the outdoor shots of the tots turned out very beautifully! We are lucky to get a few shots with my iPhone! I am the absolute worst when it comes to getting pictures of the kiddos growing up which my family absolutely despises! I have always been interested in photography, but too busy experiencing those Kodak moments to think about capturing them on film. Just remember that you can’t just pick up the camera and be gallery ready from the start. Keep at it and before you know it you will be taking professional grade photos. Photograph anything and everything – from people to buildings to nature to animals, and even more of the kids’ toys! Bear in mind that Noah didn’t build the Ark in a day…

    • Thank you so much for this great comment. So true, I agree I need to take more pictures of other things too. Most the time I am snapping the moments with my iphone as I can always have that handy. I have worked out taking photos of various decor in my house for next week’s post. We shall see if they come out any better. lol 🙂 I love Henry. He definitely works the camera!

    • Thank you. It is I can tell already. I am obsessed walked around my house taking random pictures of ornaments. Craziness but I love it. Let’s hope then someday my pictures are as good as yours.

  5. Thanks for sharing this post with me, it’s really interesting to see how you’re getting on as I’m going through the exact same thing with trying to learn about my new camera! It’s not easy! We will get there though! I love the idea of practising on Henry!

    • It was Henry or giving up as my two NEVER stay still. My pictures are always blurring and out of focus with them. I am really trying to get better. I have so much to learn. Glad I am not alone in my photography journey then. 😉

  6. What a serendipity!

    I just Googled – ‘Why can’t I get to grips with my camera?’ and your blog popped up!

    I started to read and realised I could have written the same piece about the problems I have with taking photo’s! I think I have worked out shutter speed/aperture/ISO by what I have learnt (?!) and everything is not what it should be

    I must bore my Children- I walk around the house taking photo’s, I walk around the garden taking photo’s, I have read books, watched YouTube, I was about to give up, and upon finding your blog I realised that I am not alone!

    Hopefully with practise, it will all click ( no pun intended!) and fall into place…

    Here’s hoping!

    • Hi Natasha, no never give up!! It takes forever and in only a few months I can already see the different in my photos on my blog. I am now starting to practice angles, and using more props in my photos to make it look creative and less empty. I now notice what’s in the background and move things so the picture is free of unwanted clutter. Little thing like that can really help you as well as getting the iso,ss, and aperture right. I shot in AV (aperture mode) a lot to I don’t always have to be thinking in terms of all three modes. Or TV shutter mode is great too. Keep at it, you will be glad you did. Glad you found my blog in the next few weeks I will be blogging about a class I took and what I learned about props and creative photos etc. Keep snapping and thanks for stopping by and I hope you come back soon.


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