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Shooting in Manual Mode – AKA How to Take Great Pictures

This post was first published in January 2012. With the new Shooting in Manual blog series I thought it would be great to share again!

I'll just go ahead and admit it:  shooting in manual used to freak me out.  Me?  Shoot manual?  That's crazy talk!  Hey, I'm not a technical person...what can I say?

Instead I would have epic battles with my pop up flash and get super mad when my pictures of the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disney turned out blurry.  Then I bought my first DSLR and was determined to learn to shoot in manual.  Well, I sorta kinda had to since I wanted to be a wedding photographer. In that situation, you can't have your camera running all willy nilly.  As it turned out, taking my camera off automatic and going into manual mode wasn't near as tragic as I used to think.  It's actually really easy once you understand the basics.

Still not feeling it?  Here's 8 reasons to learn to shoot in manual (or as I like to call it... how to take great pictures!)

8 reasons to shoot in manual mode! via Bella Pop


1.  Play with lights (say ooh and ahh)
Create gorgeous surreal photos of color and light with everyday lights, like these Christmas lights hung in a cluster on a window.  Shooting in manual let's you paint with light, blur lights out of focus (aka bokeh) behind your subject and opens up a world of creative fun.

2.  Motion blur
Love motion blur!  Especially with lights like this midway photo from the State Fair of Texas.  When shooting in automatic mode, you might get some motion blur by accident - when you turn off the flash and the camera needs more light.  But what if you want to do it on purpose?  By using a tripod and shooting in manual you can capture awesome motion blur.  If you have a steady hand you can also get blur hand holding the camera, like the following two photos.

3.  Panning
Panning is a form of motion blur, in which the subject is in focus but the background around the subject is in motion and blurred. This picture was taken in the middle of the Hoh Rainforest outside Forks, Washington.  This is a sorta crazy way of panning since it is a spinning self portrait.  Yep, I was holding the camera out and spinning in circles.

3.  Create stunning silhouettes.
If you let your camera have all the fun, you'll never capture silhouettes since automatic settings always assume you need more light and will adjust accordingly (hello, pop up flash or blurry photos!)  But learn to shoot in manual and you can capture beautiful silhouettes like this one...

4.  Sunflare
Someone once told me to never ever ever point my camera at the sun.  But what's the fun in that?  Well granted you don't want to take pictures of just the sun in the sky (wait a min, I might be guilty of that too heh) but combine the sun with your subject, adjust the settings and tada, sunflare!  By shooting in manual mode you can capture sunflare on purpose, like this image of the tree sculpture at the Modern in Fort Worth.  Oh, do I love sunflare.  But yeah, try not to stare at the sun while composing the shot. Trust me.

5.  Say goodbye to harsh on-camera flash (when you don't really need it)
Oh on-camera flash, love it or hate it.  Sometimes it's the only way to get the shot.  More often though, it just pops up all over the place because your camera thinks it needs the extra light.  Shooting in manual puts you in control, giving you other choices to not use flash.

If you're shooting inside with some window light in automatic, you'll probably get a picture like this:

See the harsh light and shadow from the on-camera flash?  My skin is extra shiny and you can see all kinds of imperfections.  The colors are also more muted, my eyes are just about the same color blue.  Talk about deer in headlights look!

But guess what?  You can take the exact same picture (same location, camera and lens) in manual mode and get softer, more flattering natural light.  Notice the color in my eyes... you can see varying shades of color.  Ditching the flash by shooting in manual mode is a surefire way to start taking better pictures.

6.  Pick your focus point
One of the best parts about shooting in manual mode is the ability to choose what you want to be in focus.  In automatic your camera usually picks whatever it wants.  But shoot in manual and you can focus on something in the background or the subject on the left or right of the photo, oh the possibilities.

7.  Bring out your subject with blurred, creamy backgrounds
When you pick a wide open aperture... the more blurred the background will become, like this purple flower above.  This is one of my favorite reasons for shooting in manual mode.  In the following photo, Brandon and I are both standing about 10 feet from a brightly colored graffiti wall.  By blurring the background you get a wash of colors that compliment your subject.  :)

8.  Capture dreamy, sun-kissed photos by shooting with backlight
The opposite of creating a silhouette, dreamy sun-kissed photos can be captured with the sun or other bright light behind your subject.  If you're shooting in automatic the camera will think there is too much light and make the image more dark.  But if you focus on just the right spot and set your exposure in manual, you can get this wonderful hazy light filled image.

I'm a super visual learner so I hope these examples helped you too!  Do you have an awesome camera but haven't learned to really use it?  Why not boss your camera around and call the shots?  You'll love the pictures you get when shooting in manual!

Sat. Feb 4, 2012 - 9:19 pm

Melissa - Manual is the way to go. Great post

Sun. Feb 5, 2012 - 12:12 am

Brandy - thank you Melissa! yes Manual is the bomb diggity! :)

Thu. Feb 9, 2012 - 9:22 pm

Abby - Makes me want to start playing with my camera! Yay!

Thu. Feb 9, 2012 - 10:21 pm

Brandy - do it Abby! so much photo fun. even better try a class sometime! xoxo B

Tue. Feb 14, 2012 - 12:15 pm

Roxana @ comfy space - amazing photos and tips <3

xoxo, Roxana

Tue. Feb 14, 2012 - 12:18 pm

Vivian - Hi Bella!! Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving such a cute comment!! :D
I’m glad you liked the scarf because it was my first attempt of knitting! :D

Those tips that you suggest are very nice!!! I will definitely try them!!!
Thanks for sharing!!!


P.S. your blog is soooooooooooo nice!!!

Tue. Feb 14, 2012 - 8:17 pm

Brandy - the scarf is awesome! I started knitting in the summer but sorta kinda forgot how. lol will try to knit again soon! awww thanks! and you’re welcome, have fun shooting! xoxo b

Tue. Feb 14, 2012 - 8:17 pm

Brandy - thank you Roxana! xoxo

Mon. Apr 16, 2012 - 3:18 am

Alisha - Excellent post and photos! Some great ideas there. I would have loved to have seen the camera settings for each photo – I’m still learning and need these little tricks!

Fri. Apr 27, 2012 - 2:43 am

Sandra - I love these examples they are most helpful! I love those two shots of you and Brandon against a blurred graffiti wall. That blurred and colourful background enhances the final composition!

Thu. May 17, 2012 - 9:32 pm

Brandy - Thanks Sandra! I got crazy excited when I spotted that wall… I just *knew* I wanted to blur the background into lots of color! :)

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