Photography Tips

5 Reasons to Shoot in Manual

August 27, 2021

When you first get a DSLR camera, I know that it’s tempting to set your camera to “auto” and just run with it. After all, these are nice, advanced cameras that aren’t exactly cheap! You’d think they would have the capacity to take incredible photos without you having to mess with them much. But… there […]

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When you first get a DSLR camera, I know that it’s tempting to set your camera to “auto” and just run with it. After all, these are nice, advanced cameras that aren’t exactly cheap! You’d think they would have the capacity to take incredible photos without you having to mess with them much. But… there are a few good reasons to shoot in manual mode, the most prominent being that you just never know what’s going to happen when you shoot in auto.

Mhhmm, that’s right! Just because you *can* take photos in automatic mode doesn’t mean you should—or more importantly, that they’ll turn out the way you want them to. But I also get how overwhelming shooting in manual can be. All the buttons and terminology is enough to make most people stuff their camera away in the back of a closet for a longggg time.

The “bad” news (although, I wouldn’t even really file this under bad): It will take you some time and practice to get used to. The good news is that once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature, and you will drastically be able to tell the difference in your photos!

Plus, know that when you’re shooting in manual, there aren’t any hard or fast rules. There are guidelines and there’s information, but you can and should play with the settings to find what YOU like. It’s really freeing and creative once you know the basics!

5 reasons to shoot in manual mode

By the way, I teach an online workshop that shows you how to get started with shooting in manual: what to know about settings, how to achieve the look you want, how to get great lighting, and more! And I make it as simple as possible so that everyone can learn to shoot in manual ASAP. Sign up for that here! 

Now, let’s get into some specific and important reasons to shoot in manual.

1. You have more control over the light.

I am a lighting FANATIC. Like, I love capturing beautiful dewy morning light in my photos or sunset’s golden hour. But you can’t control and enhance the lighting in your images when shooting in auto. In manual, you get to choose exactly how much light enters the lens. If you want lighter, more ethereal images OR if you want moodier, more shadowy ones, you can achieve either one with a quick adjustment. And there are tons of options to play with in between.

2. You get to choose the focal point.

If you’ve ever taken a photo in automatic that focused on something random and not what you wanted a picture of, you know the frustration of this problem! Especially when you’re taking pictures of fleeting moments, like a baby laughing or a kid playing with a toy, you don’t want the camera to focus on a ball or someone’s hand… You probably want to see their faces! With manual mode, you have total control over what’s in focus (and what isn’t) so that your subjects can shine in every image.

3. You won’t have harsh flash in your images.

Shooting in auto means the camera just picks settings for you. So if you’re in a low lighting situation, it’ll pop up the flash as a way to “fix” the lack of light. The problem is that flash can blow out so many things in a photo (tones, facial features, etc.) and cause funky shadows that we don’t really want. It makes skin look washed out and can even cause the dreaded red-eye (or closed eye) issue. By shooting in manual, you don’t have to worry about the flash and can instead adjust your settings to allow more light into the lens rather than adding more light via a flash!

4. You can achieve bokeh and blurred backgrounds.

The majority of my students and people who reach out to me wanting to learn about photography want to achieve one common thing in their photos: the blurry background. I get it, too! That blurred background makes the focal point pop and gives a professional look to any image. Shooting in manual allows you to achieve that in every photo (and choose how blurred you want the background to be). The aesthetic look of the blurred background is called the “bokeh,” and manual lets you determine the light and effect of the bokeh.

5. You’ll have complete creative control.

Between the lighting, bokeh, exposure, focal points and more, it might seem like there’s a lot to remember when shooting in manual. But, that’s also the beauty of shooting in manual! You can play with the features and settings as much as you want as you get used to it, and you’ll find ways to explore your creativity and find what YOU like in your images. This is such a benefit of shooting in manual—you have total creative control and can experiment with settings until you discover what suits your style best.

I know you’ll get the hang of manual mode in no time with a little guidance and some practice! Enjoy the process and keep playing with your settings and style. You’ll be taking absolutely gorgeous, frame-worthy photos before you know it, and I can’t wait to see them all!


Ready to finally learn how to shoot in manual (without it taking forever)?

I’m now offering my Photo 101 workshop online to teach you how to use your DSLR camera with ease, click this link to join the course and change your life! Lessons are all pre-recorded so you can watch them whenever you are able to. There is also a Private Facebook group for the course and I am in there to answer any questions you may have. You can get started today for $97! See you in the course!

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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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