February 10, 2011

manual is a must

When I got my Rebel several years ago, I immediately had buyer's remorse. I was not even remotely impressed with my photos. The point and shoots that my husband and boys were using were producing much better photos than my Rebel. I had obviously been under the impression that my new fancy pants camera would automatically start spitting out beautiful pictures, but it very quickly became clear that an expensive camera does not a good photographer make.

That's your first profound photography revelation for today.

Not one to give up without a fight, I hit the internet, and I hit it hard. I followed every single photography rabbit trail I came across. I read everything that crossed my path. I stalked the blogs of photographers whose work I admired and I quickly became convinced that I needed to learn to shoot in manual mode if I had any hope of producing the kinds of images I dreamed of creating.

So, I put my camera in manual and immediately went from being unimpressed with my photos to being extremely unimpressed with my photos. I would flip some dials willy nilly, take another shot, change some settings, take another shot, and on and on and on. Occasionally, I would come up with a keeper, but I had no clue how I got it. More importantly, I had no clue how to get it again.

So, here's profound photography revelation number two.


Shooting in manual mode is technically complex and the willy nilly method just doesn't cut it.

Unfortunately, at that time my head was a certified technical free zone. It's true. Just ask any of my junior high or high school math teachers. Or my dad, who thought I should know how a carburetor worked before I was allowed to drive a car.

That side of my brain has been on vacation in the Bahamas pretty much all of my life.

But my free for all button pushing, dial turning days were numbered. That approach just wasn't working for me. There very well may be those who can pick up a camera and make magic happen without a thought, but I wasn't one of them.

There are several different technical aspects to shooting in manual mode, and if I hadn't pushed myself to figure out how it all worked together, my Rebel would be on a shelf right now, gathering dust.

It was not an easy journey for my noggin.

It made my head hurt.


I survived.

I learned. And learned some more. And slowly it started to make sense.

Very slowly.

Next time, I'll get into just what those technical aspects are and how I wrapped my brain around them.

Till then, here are a few suggestions to get you headed down the road to fabulous photos.

*Read every single thing you can get your hands on. Read your camera manual. I know. Snoresville, right? Read it, then go out and practice and then read it again. Every time, a little bit more will make sense.

*Get a good photography book or ten. I have Scott Kelby's Digital Photography series. He has a very user friendly style - good information without a lot of technical detail.

*Take a million pictures. Or more. Get familiar with your camera. Very familiar. When you first start out, you have eleventy seven things to think about before you click that shutter. The more you know what button does what, what dial does what, the more you'll be free to focus on other more creative aspects of photography.

*Lastly, if you are frustrated, don't give up. I'm here to tell you that you can do it. You can learn this. If I can, you can. Promise. You've found your people here. Or at least your peep. I'm living proof that those who are struggling to take better photos really can make sense of it all. Well, maybe not all, but at least a good chunk of it.

So, go forth and take pictures in manual mode, shout from the mountain tops that manual mode is from the devil, come back next week thoroughly frustrated, and we'll take it from there!

p.s. I was needing some Valentine photo ideas, so I took a skip through Flickr. It's a great place to find inspiration....all of these photos were heavily inspired, if not flat out copied, from photos I found there. I wish I had thought of making a heart out of my buttons, or making book pages into a heart shape, but I didn't. It seems the right side of my brain occasionally visits the Bahamas as well. And when that happens, tell me just what is left up there in my head?

Don't answer that.


  1. OK, surely you have written this blog post just for me! I have a Rebel and would love to learn manual, but for one it kind of scares me, and for another, like you said, reading the owner's manuals is dull, dull, dull. I can't wait to see what you share! I'm going to take your challenge and step out of my automatic comfort zone and begin snapping.

  2. oy...i guess i have to wake up "that side" of my brain. i promise to try!

  3. Oh, I can't wait until next week. I've read my manual and a photography book but I just can't get it. You are inspiring to get out of the automatic setting.

  4. Dear Teresa, do you know that you have written words not just for photography but for most every goal we have in life? We like things to come easy but most likely we have to work hard and long to achieve success in anything! You are such a SMART girl : )
    My husband bought me a rebel for christmas and the saleslady suggested The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby so it must really be good. I will have to get it and start reading and put my camera on manual mode, for there are lots of pictures just waiting for me to take.
    Thank you... for Everything!
    Love and blessings to you!

  5. That book/heart photo is certainly a keeper... although the button heart is a close second.

    Thanks for the reminder to get out the manual and actually LEARN something! I also need to exercise both sides of my brain more often... as far as what's left in there??? Cream cheese perhaps? :)


  6. Can I just say I'm you? At least the you when you started out? I have many, many friends who are incredibly talented photographers and it is so frustrating to try and take photos that turn out bad, time after time. And see their photos that are magazine worthy. I know I need a good editing program....they all use lightroom but I can't swing that right now! So I guess I need to jump into manual with both feet kicking and screaming...I'm totally ready to not be frustrated every time I take a picture though...excited for more info from you!

  7. Manual setting can be very scary, indeed, but the more you use it, the more you love it! I know, unreal! I love your shots here, Tess, even though they are imitations, but I bet they're even better than the originals (I like to say originals with a hard "g", it's fun!!)

  8. Great post! Exactly what I needed to hear, I've only this week been sliding my dial to manual, so far I'm hit or miss. I was in one of those frustrating places last week, was ready to sell it all. Now if this dang weather would break..... I can only take so many pictures of donuts. Love the buttons!

  9. Oh, I'm so there. The willy nilly dial turning, button pushing, I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing feeling. Because I don't. I've read Darcy's posts. I've read the manual. Now my husband bought me Understanding Exposure since so many recommended it. The first time I went out there and tried, my shutter speed was super slow and all my pictures were white. I was scared I had hurt the camera. Seriously. None of the colors looked right after that. Then I played around with some other dials (don't ask which ones) and it looks right again.

    I'm looking forward to this. (But I have the flu right now so no going out to practice. Maybe some shots of a thermometer, ibuprofen and medications?

  10. I love this post. In fact, I'm going to share it on my Facebook page. Great hints for the non-technical learners! I was the same when I first picked up my camera. I remember being sooooo mad at my husband for making me learn in manual mode right off the bat, but being sooooo thankful to him later. :)

  11. I have never used the manual setting. Coincidentally, I have never taken pictures as beautiful as yours. :( Who knew? Manual huh... Guess I'm not getting any housework done tonight. :)

  12. Did you just read my mind?! lol
    I need to learn with manual too...Ill be back to hear more!!!
    Thank you!!

    Deborah xo

  13. I totally agree about reading your manual. Although I haven't, quite :/ I wish my Elements had come with a real one, I was all set to read it and all it had was how to install. Looking forward to your insight for the next steps with cameras!

  14. Thanks for these posts that you are doing. I only have a point and shoot right now, but I'm hoping to upgrade sometime this year. In the meantime, I'll just keep trying to improve with what I have. Your posts, though, will help me when I do get ready to purchase a camera.

  15. Great post! I'm loving your photography tips. Any tips for making yellow, indoor lighting more crisp? I LOVED my food photography workshop that I was telling you about. The instructor said it's all about natural light. Well, it's dark when I get home from work!


  16. THANK YOU for these posts! I do believe you are talking to me! My hubbie bought a Nikon from a friend of mine that upgraded & I was so excited to use it. But I agree it's been automatic all the way for me baby. I am going to read my manual right now! Thanks for your insight!

  17. Teresa - this is the hardest thing for me - mucking through the manual and figuring things out. I'm old school. When I went to college for photography in Chicago, I had my trusty 35mm film Pentax. I knew that camera in and out. Our teacher made us sit in a darkroom and know the settings by the feel, the apertures, shutter speeds, it was all so simple. I'd take my film and go to the darkroom and process it. I miss those days even though I know digital is fabulous - it overwhelms my mind and I bake cookies instead of learning my camera. I feel defeated.
    Signed...Pining for my Pentax in Indiana

  18. Funny the camera part of my brain has been in Mexico! LOL....thanks for making us all feel better and for not making me feel like a total idiot about using my camera, the Nikon 3000, I love it and love the pics but have yet to progress beyond shoot and click.

  19. More, more, more!!! I need, want to learn and when I start reading manuals..it isn't just snoresville, it's a foreign language. I just want someone to TELL me or SHOW me!!! I especially like the boeka(?) look...fuzzy background....HELP! I've had 2 great cameras and not many good photos :-(
    Hopefully SOMEthing will click...especially reading neat things like this post!!

  20. Very timely advice for me as I just purchased a new fancy shmancy camera too. Thanks so much. I'm one of the fake it till you make it crowd. Here's to makin' it... whenever that will be.

  21. I'm all ears, keep it coming!

  22. No more willy nilly?! Really?!! This is devastating news. :)
    (p.s. I'm having button envy right now.)

  23. Thank goodness!

    There IS hope.
    (Along with my brain being with yours in the Bahamas, I am also very dramatic.)

    I am ready for our next class Miss Teresa.
    I have it on manual-
    I have been practicing lately-
    And for the most part my photos are pretty much awful!

    Woo hoo!

    You have graciously taken on a roster of middle aged crazies with high distraction levels!
    (I am talking about myself.)

    You go girl.
    As a high school English teacher, I admire a teacher's spirit, and you have it.

    I can't wait-

    White Spray Paint

  24. This is such a truthful and awesome post! Thankfully my husband helps fill in the gaps where my brain is unable to grasp the technical mumbo jumbo that comes with photography! It's true that the more you read and study the more you'll be able to use your camera to it's full advantage! Scott Kelby books are the best!

    I love that book/heart photo...so cool!

    Kat :)

  25. Goodness, we may
    have come from the
    same muffin pan ~
    my story is SO similar
    to yours....It's been
    a stretch for my brain,
    but I am actually starting
    to love challenging the
    side of my brain that does
    not GET this stuff naturally.
    Looking forward to hearing
    xx Suzanne

  26. Great post and it's all so much easier AND less expensive now that we have digital cameras. When I was using film cameras, I felt like Every Shot Had To Count. And the acceptable ratio of good photos to bad with a roll of 35 mm film? If I could get three or five excellent shots, it was a Very Good Day.
    Lawz, I do love digital!

  27. So happy that you are allowing all of us to "photo stalk" you. My brain turns to complete mush when I try to read the mannual. I take more photos than most of my friends all ready so I am game to learn from you all the trickS you care to share!

    ~stay warm and "focused" (I couldn't help myself!)

  28. I am going to make another attempt to actually read my manual. My brain is often on vacation when I read tech things. Thanks for the tips.

  29. love this post!! and everything you say is soooo true
    practice, practice makes perfect
    and while i am no where near perfect
    i get happier each day when i shoot
    I love scott kelby too
    he makes it so easy to understand
    once you shoot manual
    you will never go back!!!
    hope you have a wonderful V-day weekend

  30. Great info, Teresa! Esp for us budding photographers that don't even know where to begin. I'll be back for more!!

  31. Hi Teresa,
    I am so stalking your blog...hee hee.
    I have been looking for a great camera book ( I
    think Amazon should give you a referral fee, as
    I am sure they have had a bump in orders ).
    I am just south of you in Colorado and it is nice
    to visit another blogger surrounded by the rocky mountain awesomeness - is that a word ??
    Thanks again,

  32. Loving that you are doing this T. I feel like you are my own personal photography guide. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that a new big momma Cannon may be in my hands sooner rather than later!

  33. Well your pictures are gorgeous so I'll be looking forward to your future posts. I, also, have a Rebel and rarely use the manual mode. I need to commit to learn more about it.

  34. Just found your blog. Love this post. I'm there. My pictures stink. I have a lot of learning to do!

  35. I stumbled on your blog via Tales From The Coopkeeper, and love it!


    My heart sunk a little with this post! :) I appreciate your honesty though. I am "shopping" for a new fancy camera right now and those same thoughts are going through my head---"fancy new camera = fancy new photos, voila!"

    I guess I'm trying to say...thanks for "keepin' it real!"

  36. This was such a fun read! I don't own a fancy camera. Yet. But I do love to stop by here and read your posts and soak them all in! Blog on!

  37. Great posts!! I did finally dig out my camera manual, but I was NOT impressed! All it did was tell you WHAT the buttons were, not how to really use them. arrrghh!!! My photos have improved just from reading tips on blogs; but I know I have to do more. Off to read more tips (love Pioneer woman, by the way.)