Students in photography working together on project

After you have bought your first DSLR camera and are comfortable with it, you should start to explore some of the more advanced settings. After all, if you keep the camera on auto mode all the time, you will barely scratch the surface of what that camera is capable of.

The fact is that manual mode on a DSLR camera is considered exotic by many people who have owned a DSLR for years. But getting to the next steps in learning your yup I DSLR camera requires getting comfortable with manual mode. So, let’s get to it!

The instructions below were created using a Nikon DSLR camera.

Step 1 – Pick Up Your DSLR and Start the Timer

This is, believe it or not, very important. If you just read this article and don’t actually practice it, you will not learn it. So, go pick up your camera, start the timer, and read on. Let’s see how long it takes you to learn manual mode!

Step 2 – Turn the Setting Dial to M or Manual


Your camera may have the setting dial in a different place, but they all are pretty much the same really.

Step 3 – Point Camera at a Good Light Source

Turn the camera on and point it towards a subject with good lighting. Put the camera on a stable table and be sure the composition of the photo does not change.

Step 3 – Check Vital Camera Settings

Your camera should have an Info button which will show you the current photo settings. For now, we’re interested in aperture or f number, and ISO.

You will probably see a small f number, such as F2.8 or F3.5. That means the maximum aperture of the lens you have on the camera. Make sure your camera is on the smallest possible f number for that lens.

Then, set the ISO value to 100 if it is not already there.

Step 4 – Check Metering Indicator

Check out the metering indicator, which is a dotted line with a +- on both sides. Keep this in mind after the next steps.

Step 5 – Hit the Shutter Button

This is key to learning how to use manual mode. You are going to make some mistakes, and as you make mistakes, you will learn how to take pictures better.

Professional modern DSLR camera - detail of the top LCD with set

Take a look at your photo. There is a good chance it is underexposed or overexposed.

Step 5 – Get the Right Exposure  

Push your Info button and get the settings back on your screen. If your image was underexposed, the arrow on the metering indicator will point towards -. You will want to turn the secondary dial to the left. You should see the blinking metering indicator coming closer to the center. You should keep turning that dial until the blinking indicator hits the center, or the zero marking.

Now if the photo was overexposed, or the arrow is pointing towards +, you will turn the dial the other way. You will see the metering indicator move towards the center; keep doing so until it hits the center, or zero marking.

What you have done here is changed the shutter speed to get the right exposure.

Step 6 – Take Another Picture

You should get a properly exposed image this time. So that is how you use manual mode to get a properly exposed photograph.

Zoom AUTO-MANUAL button. Cameras

If you continue to experiment with manual mode, you will find that you will be able to take much better images than you ever could in automatic. So keep experimenting!