5 Reasons To Use Your DSLR In Manual Mode

Inside: DSLR manual mode photography is powerful!  Mastering manual mode will open up new worlds of creative possibility for your photography.

DSLR Manual Mode Is Powerful

Switching to DSLR manual mode is the single best thing I’ve done to improve my photography.

You can do so much more in manual mode than auto mode.

Here’s why: many camera functions simply aren’t available to you in auto mode.

Learning DSLR manual mode photography opens up new worlds of creative possibility!

If manual mode feels confusing, download this FREE easy to understand shooting in manual mode cheat sheet for beginners:

shooting in manual mode cheat sheet

DSLR Manual Mode Definition

Here’s a very short explanation of manual mode photography:

When you use your DSLR in manual mode, you take control of each of your camera’s settings: ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed.

ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed each form one leg of the exposure triangle.

Each leg has two functions.

1.  All three settings will make your photo’s exposure brighter or darker depending on whether you raise or lower the setting.

2.  Each setting also has a second function:

  • Your aperture setting allows you to capture photos with a blurry background (or a photo that’s sharp throughout).
  • Your shutter speed allows you to freeze motion (or capture motion blur)

When all three settings are balanced, you’ll have a properly exposed photo – a photo that’s not too bright or too dark.

how to shoot in manual mode

In auto mode, your camera chooses these settings for you. 

Here’s the problem with that:

  • And it doesn’t know which part of the image you want in sharp focus.

It has to make its best guess in auto mode because it doesn’t know all the things you know as the photographer holding the camera.

Once you learn how to shoot in manual mode you can choose each camera setting based on what you’re shooting for the best result.

Need help learning how to shoot in manual mode?  Check out How To Use Your DSLR Camera for more in-depth information.

Consider these 4 things you can’t do in auto mode (and can do in manual!):

1. You Can Choose Your Focal Point With Your DSLR In Manual Mode

This powerful setting isn’t available in auto mode.

When you learn how to change your focal point you get to decide which part of your image you want in focus.

In manual mode, you can toggle your focal point to the point in your image you want in focus.

In the example below, I wanted to capture my son opening his birthday present.  

The squares on the screen represent all the possible camera focus points and the red square is the one focal point I chose.

I wanted him to be the subject of my photo (not his dad in the background or his sister in the foreground), so I toggled my focal point to his eye before I clicked the shutter.

how to shoot in manual mode

I love how it came out!  It’s clear that this moment was all about him.

And I love how this feature of shooting in manual mode gives me complete control over the story I want to tell. 

In auto mode, it’s not possible to choose your focal point.  Your camera has to guess which part of the image is most important.

Here’s how the image came out, thanks to manual mode:

manual mode photography tutorial pdf

2.  You Can Choose Your White Balance

Take a look at these 2 photos, taken moments apart:

manual mode in dslr

The first photo was taken with auto white balance.  It looks blue and doesn’t reflect the warmth of the sunset light.

dslr manual mode cheat sheet

In the second photo, I was able to set my own white balance, which made the photo’s color golden and warm, like the beautiful sunset light where we were shooting.

This wouldn’t be possible in auto mode because you can’t change your white balance in auto mode.

Next to shooting in manual mode, choosing your white balance setting can make the biggest difference in your images.

Check out these white balance examples – auto v custom white balance:

canon manual mode
canon manual mode

If you’d like to learn more about white balance and how to take control of your photo’s color using your camera’s white balance presets, check out this post on correct white balance.

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3. You Can Set Your Exposure Creatively In Manual Mode

What is exposure?

It’s simply the amount of light captured when you take your image; it’s how bright or dark your image is.

A photo with a darker exposure lends itself to an image that’s more “moody.”

A photo with a brighter exposure will look more “light and airy.”

Here’s an example:

These two photos were taken in the same location moments apart in the same light.

I chose a brighter exposure in the first image and a darker exposure in the second one.

shooting in manual mode cheat sheet

Notice how the second image looks more “dark and moody.”

shooting in manual mode cheat sheet

Here’s another example of two photos taken under the same conditions.

In the second photo I used my camera settings to change my exposure from brighter to darker.

how to shoot in manual mode
canon manual mode

Neither is right or wrong – it’s a matter of style and an artistic choice made possible when you take control of your DSLR settings.

4. You Can Take Learn How To Take Silhouette Photos

One of my favorite things about shooting in manual mode is the ability to take a silhouette photo.

In manual mode I can set my exposure for the sky, meaning the sky will be properly exposed and my subject will fall into shadow.

beach silhouette

The beach is a wonderful place to capture silhouettes!  Check out these tips for capturing sunset silhouette beach photos.

Learning Manual Mode Will Help You Master Your Camera

Using your DSLR in manual mode opens up many options that aren’t available to you in auto mode.

But here’s the main reason you need to learn how to shoot in manual mode: it’s the only way to really understand your camera.

Some of the features I’ve listed above can also be used in a semi-manual mode such as aperture priority mode (a mode that allows you to change only the aperture setting while your camera decides on the other settings).

Aperture priority can be amazing, but if you don’t learn manual mode first, your growth and ability to REALLY understand your camera will be stunted.

Once you do understand how your camera works, I think it’s fine to use a semi-auto mode.

But please, don’t shortchange yourself.

Master your camera first.

Learning how to shoot in manual mode is the best way to do that, hands down!

Ready to open up a world of creative possibilities and explore all your camera can do?

Download this free manual mode photography tutorial PDF:

shooting in manual mode cheat sheet

2 thoughts on “5 Reasons To Use Your DSLR In Manual Mode”

  1. Hi Brea, I find your articles, and the book I recently purchased from you interesting and informative. I have had a long break from photography due to looking after my recently deceased wife. I am now getting back to photography more enthusiastically than previously, and your book and articles are assisting in my development as a photographer.
    best wishes, Bill

    Reply
    • Hi, Bill – thanks so much for taking the time to leave that nice comment! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the ebook. I’m so sorry for the loss of your wife. I find that photography can be therapeutic. It’s helped me through many hard days. I’m so happy to be a part of your photography journey!

      Reply

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