4 Reasons Why Every Photographer Must Shoot In Manual Mode


Nicole Hill


I remember the first day I picked up a DSLR. So excited to finally have a camera that could make the backgrounds blurry, I quickly began taking photos of everything around the house – and to my sheer horror – nothing turned out the way I wanted. My photos were either so underexposed they were black, or they were so white and blurry they looked like a ghost scene from a horror movie. Feeling extremely confused, I started relying on the camera’s auto modes so I could get a correct exposure.

I remember feeling very unsatisfied with the way my images looked. I would think “Ok, I have this great camera, so why is the quality this bad?” I hadn’t yet discovered that the outcome of my images was based on decisions that my camera was making for me. I wasn’t happy with the quality of my images, and I just didn’t know what to do to make them look the way I wanted. I was a newbie – so excited but so confused. Nervous, I decided to try out manual mode. I knew it was time to endure the growing pains in order to get my photography up to the standard I wanted. I took the leap, it completely blew my mind, and I never looked back. 

Learning how to use a DSLR can feel so overwhelming, especially with all of the technobabble surrounding it on the internet. I remember researching how to use my camera and getting lost in a sea of words that, at the time, made absolutely no sense to me.

ISO? Shutter speed? Aperture? What. The. Heck is an f-stop? What did I get myself into?

Maybe you’re in the same boat I was. You know you need to make the leap towards learning how to shoot in manual mode, but you’ve been putting it off because getting all of the settings figured out feels intimidating and confusing. I totally understand, I’ve been there. It’s a lot of information to take in at once, and all of the technical talk is enough to make you want to run away and cry. 

But – I’m telling you this because I want you to grow as a photographer – it’s time to make the switch. It’s time to level up your skills and become the badass photographer you always knew you could be. Every person who is serious about building a career in photography needs to be shooting manual, and there’s no better time to start than now. Here’s why.


Learning to shoot in manual mode is immediately going to put you ahead of the pack as a photographer, and an artist. It is one of the quickest ways to build an understanding of how your camera works and how it’s settings work together in unison. You’ll have a greater understanding of how to manage light, balance your exposure, and intuitively adjust your camera’s settings to adapt to changing lighting conditions.

If you don’t feel confident with manual settings right now, that’s OK. It take’s time and commitment to truly grasp. But if you’re ready to become a better photographer and take full advantage of the amazing features your camera has to offer, then it’s time to get started right away.  


Without shooting in manual mode, aside from the framing, you are surrendering all creative control to the camera. ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and white balance are all being controlled by the tiny machine in your hands. The camera will analyze the scene and adjust its settings to what it wants, not what YOU want. It’s making a guess at what you are envisioning in your mind. This limits all creative choices to chance. Doesn’t it make way more sense for you to adjust the settings yourself so you can get exactly what you’re hoping for? 


When shooting in manual mode, you have complete control over all camera settings. These settings remain the same until you decide to change them, creating uniform consistency when shooting. 

When shooting in auto, the camera is automatically measuring the light in a scene and making an educated guess for the exposure. Even just barely moving your camera’s point of view can cause your cameras auto metering to completely change the settings and adjust the exposure. This creates inconsistency throughout your images; one might be dark, one might be light, one might be blurry – even if you never moved and the lighting never changed. (no thanks!) 


Your cameras auto metering goes a little crazy when faced with harsh lighting situations. It doesn’t know what to do, which makes shooting in harsh lighting a complete nightmare when it really doesn’t have to be. With manual mode, you can choose how to balance the exposure in these situations to create the perfect exposure every time. 


So, did I convince you yet? Or did I scare you? I know, I know…setting your camera to manual mode is a big step, and I’m not telling you all of this to make the process harder for you. I’m telling you this because learning this skillset is the primary key to becoming a better photographer.

Not understanding the basic camera functions severely limits the capacity for improving your skills. So take the time to start focusing on shooting in manual mode. By taking the time to slow down and think about your settings during a shoot, you are allowing yourself to remain in the moment, focused on what you’re capturing. In the beginning, it might take you 43 shots before you get the exposure right, and that’s OK! Don’t give up or get discouraged. We’ve all been there! The more you experiment, the quicker you’ll evolve and before you know it, it will all be second nature.

Are you currently struggling with your confidence when it comes to shooting in manual mode? If you’re just getting started or simply want a quick refresher, then make sure to grab my FREE Manual Mode Cheat Sheet below.

It’s a quick, non-technical visual guide to get you started with understanding manual mode. Download it and put it in your camera bag so you’re never left wondering, “wait, which way do I turn this dial again?”

Wishing you a successful and inspiring creative process, and if you have any questions about shooting in manual mode, let me know in the comments below! I’m so proud of you for making the move towards becoming a better photographer. Remember, you’ve got this! I’m rooting for you every step of the way. 


  1. Paolina says:

    Thank you so much for this blog post and resource! This is exactly how I feel when it comes to trying to shoot in manual. I will definitely be using your guide to see if it feels a little less overwhelming! Thank you!!

  2. Jenny says:

    Thank you for taking the time to make a manual cheat sheet! As an aspiring photographer/beginner level, your cheat sheets and blogs have helped so much!
    PS: Keep the cheat sheets coming, they’re so helpful! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

meet the photographer


I've spent the last decade of my life traveling the world as a fashion photographer and I created Horizon Found to give you everything I wish I had when I was starting my career. Here you'll find community, inspiration, and education - to help guide you down the path towards building the photography business of your dreams. My dream is to use this platform to help build a supportive environment in the photography industry.


keep reading

The Photographer's Path is currently closed.
Get on the waitlist to get early access and special bonuses not offered anywhere else!

The Photographer's Path is currently closed. Get on the waitlist to get early access and special bonuses not offered anywhere else!