A Simple Guide To Manual Mode


I'm so glad you're here!  Are you ready to learn how to take better pictures?!  Awesome, I'm here to give some tips and insight. I have designed a cheat sheet that you will be able to download and use as a reference when taking pictures at the end of this post.  When I first started I referenced my cheat sheet all the time and I truly believe that it helped me. If you didn't know already, I am also a photographer, you can view my portfolio here.  Yep, I run two businesses! Every week I get the opportunity to work with amazing clients for graphic design services and photography. I couldn't be more excited to share with you here today some things that have tremendously helped me on my photography journey.

I'm so glad you're here!  Are you ready to learn how to take better pictures?!  Awesome, I'm here to give some tips and insight. I have designed a cheat sheet that you will be able to download and use as a reference when taking pictures.  Manual mode was the ultimate game changer for me when learning how to take beautiful photographs.  If you're a beginner photographer, this is for you!  If you want ALL my resources, head over to emmarosecompany.com/resources. #photographytips #manualmode #tipsforphotographers

With practice, more practice, and a little more practice I can finally say that I am 100% comfortable shooting in full manual mode, every single time I pick up my camera.  Before now I found myself putting my camera in one of the modes like "Aperture Priority" but learned quickly that while it took one less step out of the equation, it did not give me the power I needed to achieve what I want.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong with those modes, I just personally know that when I shoot manually, I'm able to do more with my images. I'm going to dive into this post with 5 things I do to make shooting in manual mode work for me, and I hope it helps give you the courage to pick up your camera and practice!  I'm going to post a few photos of my first ever pictures in manual mode. At the time I thought they were so good. Like I have an embarrassing flashback to one of these pictures and I sent it to a photographer friend thinking to myself, "oh my goodness this is SO good!" She was so nice in her response but looking back I can only imagine what she was really thinking (insert embarrassed emoji here!)   It's so fun to see the progress I have made in such a short time. The key to taking better pictures is to not give up. When it seems too hard, figure it out. I can't tell you how many blurry pictures I took at the beginning and how frustrated I got. I doubted myself many times wondering if I would ever be able to achieve those images I saw online and admired. I still have so much to learn, but I can say without a doubt that every time I pick up the camera, I feel like my pictures just get better.  It's possible, you just have to practice! This post is showing you manual mode with portrait photography. I will be diving into product photography in another post coming soon!

With practice, you will get better.  Here are my best tips to start!


I've narrowed my "priorities" when shooting down to two variables.  My F-stop and Shutter Speed. ISO is the third variable that I am aware of, but I am not as concerned with it for what I do because it almost always stays between 100-400.  On those clear bright days, it's always at 100. On cloudy days or when I'm shooting indoors I have it around 400. I know where it needs to be right when I arrive to where I'm shooting, I set it, and leave it at that.

For me, I'm a "bokeh" girl.  I love the blurry background.  The blurry background is achieved with your aperture, or "f-stop".  I tend to shoot wide open between 1.4-1.8. It depends on the situation but when I'm taking portraits of 1-2 people it's always around 1.8.  When I shoot groups I close my aperture a bit more to around 2.2-2.8 to make sure everyone is in focus, and sometimes higher depending on the group size.  When shooting, I'm always aware of my f-stop. I'm changing it pretty regularly, especially when I'm doing a big group and switching between 1 person to 5 people, and so on.  This feature of manual mode is so fun to play with so give it a go!

My second variable I focus on is my shutter speed.  Because I work with little kids quite regularly, it's important for me to keep them in focus.  By adjusting my shutter speed accordingly, I ensure that my subject stays in focus. There was a time in the beginning I got so frustrated by how many blurry pictures were coming out when I would shoot.  Once I figured out that my shutter speed was all wrong, I stopped getting blurry shots. They still happen from time to time, but nothing like before when I first started shooting.

So pick your variables and play around.  It's really fun when you start figuring out how your ISO, F-stop, and Shutter all work together to achieve that perfect shot.

We all start somewhere…

I'd love to share my first pictures in manual mode and how at the time I seriously thought these were the bomb.



Since upgrading my camera to a 5D mark iv I'm in love with all the focus points available to use!  I shoot AI SERVIO and absolutely love how it works for what I need to capture. Combining this with back button focusing I rarely miss the special moments.  This post isn't intended to explain all these features in great detail, but rather to tell you what I do that helps me shoot manually. Like you, I had to start somewhere and up until December I've been completely self taught.  I took one class in Wenatchee that gave me some background, but all in all I've had to learn on my own with guess what? Practice! Tip: find your camera manual and read the sections about the features of your camera. I reference my manual all the time for little things.  The more complex your camera gets, so do the features.

I strive to catch the real and raw moments in this life, even if they are tears.


The camera typically focuses when the shutter button is pressed half way down, and then you take the picture when the button is pressed fully.  Back button focusing makes it so the shutter button doesn’t control the focus activation at all, but instead assigns another button on the back of the camera (hence the name) to activate focusing on the camera.  Once I learned how to back button focus it was a game changer for my photography. It is really quite simple, just takes a little getting used to! The photographers I have helped over the past few months started implementing back button focusing and I can already see how much their work is improving.  It's so fun to see improvement because as I've said before...we all start somewhere!



It wasn't until about five months ago that I started using custom white balance with my Expodisc.  When I first took that class to learn about manual mode they used a grey card. Same concept, but in my opinion a little more of a pain to use.  I have come to rely on my Expo disc to create those true to life, beautiful skin tones. I got mine on Amazon for about $50. It is always around my neck during a shoot.  At any time the lighting situation changes, so does my white balance so I have to have my disc ready to use. It has become a tool I can't imaging living without! I watched several Youtube videos on how to properly use my disc.  At first I thought everything was "too warm" but I've learned to embrace the warm which has saved me so much time editing in Lightroom. I still make tweaks to skin tones sometimes, but the disc really does work magic.



Before I knew better I always shot JPEG because I didn't know how much of a difference it made.  WOW. Shooting RAW has been crucial to the outcome of my work. I am a natural photographer, I don't believe in over editing but I would be lying if I said I did not make adjustments to every image I take.  When I work in Lightroom it's my time to put my creative touch on my images. This is what I love. After several months of trial and error I've finally found my groove editing. I worry sometimes that I deliver images way too quickly to my clients because they may come to expect that, but I can't even help it.  I get so excited after every session I cannot get to my computer fast enough. I strive to create true to life images that will withstand the test of time. Shooting RAW has been crucial when you're faced with an image that needs a bit more attention that if shot in JPEG could probably not be resurrected. You can find hundreds of articles on RAW vs JPEG, you will find what works for you.  While RAW takes up a lot more space on my camera and computer, I don't ever see myself going back to JPEG.

I won't lie, when I started this journey I didn't really feel the support from other photographers.  The times I reached out with questions to some photographers I knew, my questions went unanswered. This still makes me sad because as a beginner, I know and understand how overwhelming it can be to learn photography and at the time all I wanted was to feel support on the journey.  I'm so proud of myself for sticking it out though and when the time felt right, I contacted a photographer I prayed would say yes to at least a conversation. This past December I reached out to Nicole Conner, owner of Nicole Conner Photography.  She got back to me right away and said yes to coffee!  On the morning of our scheduled date I remember talking to my Husband about how nervous I was because I admire this woman and her talent so much.  I hoped that she would be able to help me answer some questions I had at the time and actually listen.

The moment I met Nicole my life changed.  I don't want to get all cheesy here, but she said some things to me over our first coffee date that I will never forget.  She gave me the confidence to believe that I have what it takes to succeed as a photographer. What? A photographer I strive to be like just said that I have what it takes?  This was my ah-ha moment. This was when I decided I was going to do something serious with my photography business (and Emma Rose Designs). Nicole empowered me to be better at that moment, and still does.  She made me believe in myself and offered to be my mentor. I could not ask for a better mentor, or friend. I look forward to seeing where our friendship and work relationship takes us because it really has just begun.  I'm honored to be second shooting for Nicole this spring and summer on a few weddings. She is my inspiration and the fact that she believes in me and sees something special in me is pretty exciting.

Since my experience, I've made a vow to help whoever reaches out to me.  I may not know all the answers as I'm still learning myself, but I promise to be a resource for anyone and everyone who wants to pick up a camera.  I believe in community over competition and that we can all help one another on this journey. While I may not dive into every detail when it comes to my business, I will never ignore you.  I will always help when I am able. So I urge you to pick up a camera, start shooting, keep practicing, and don't ever be afraid to ask for help. I will be putting together a workshop (hoping for next spring!) where anyone who wants will get to come spend 4 hours with me starting in my home learning the basics of their camera and then some outside exposure and practice!  It's going to be so much fun, I just have to put together all the details.

Finally, as promised, I've revamped my manual mode cheat sheet that you can access by signing up for my newsletter below!  All my subscribers not only get weekly updates but they also get a lifetime access to my resource library! This is completely free, you just have to be on my list.  You can join that list by filling out the box below! I feel so excited to share my business journey with all my followers because as a designer and photographer I have a lot to share and teach.  The library will slowly get filled with nothing but amazing resources for you as you dive into your business.


Manual Mode Cheat Sheet



    Emma Rose Company, Squarespace Website Designer and Fine Art Photographer, offers website services and photography services, photographers in Seattle, Olympia, and Tacoma, specialize in portrait, engagement and wedding photography in Seattle, Olympia, and Tacoma Washington.


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