with Courtney Slazinik
21 Things I Learned My 2nd Year Shooting on Manual Mode-Lessons Learned

21 lessons learned in manual mode

This month is my 2nd year of shooting on manual mode. I just wanted to share some lessons I’ve learned in my 2nd year of shooting on manual mode.

1. Take a step back. Literally, I tend to get too close to my subjects which leaves them little room to breath in photos as well as increases my chances of limb chopping.

2. Post-processing takes my photos to the next level. One of my big goals this year was to learn an editing program. I thought my SOOC shots were good until I edited them. Wow! What a difference!

3. A great black and white conversion takes time to learn. Another goal of mine. It isn’t just a click of a button to convert a photo to black and white. I am thankful I have created a preset that works on most of my photos.

4. Skin tones are harder to nail than I thought. I never realized how much of a science goes into getting your skin tones correct. I realize I have a long way to go on skin tones.

5. Lightroom is an amazing time saver! Like I mentioned yesterday, in my post about the “Sync Button” there is so much about LR that makes me life easier.

6. Light can make or break your photo. Have you ever noticed that a lot of the photos you are drawn towards have amazing light?

7. This is a way more serious hobby than I could have ever imagined. If you know my personality, I typically do a hobby for about 6 months before moving onto the next one. I have never stuck with something for 2 years straight!

8. I still don’t have a desire to go into business. Although, I don’t want to go into business shooting others, I do LOVE teaching others about photography.

9. Workshops and creativity exercises always get me out of ruts.

10. Examine what is in the frame prior to taking a photo. It is important to make sure that everything in the photo is relevant and is part of your vision. Clear out the clutter whenever possible.

11. Critiquing other’s photos helps me learn how to train my eye. It is amazing what you can learn when you really sit down and figure out what you like and don’t like about a photo. You can’t help but internalize that information and apply it to your own photos.

12. Carrying my camera everywhere I go is more important than making sure I have diapers. Sometimes you have to make a choice about what can fit in your bag.

13. Try to shoot at least 3 different angles. It’s easy to shoot straight on but if you try to vary it up you may be surprised with what you are able to capture.

14. I LOVE my wide angle!! When I bought my D700, I toyed with the idea of selling my wide angle. A friend of mine mentioned that I may want to hold onto it and she was RIGHT! I couldn’t live without it now.

15. It’s better to crank up your ISO and have a little noise than to keep it low and have an underexposed photo. If you think you are going to fix it in post processing later you will realize you have even more grain in a photo that is underexposed.

16. Getting the image right in camera saves a ton of time later.

17. Buying presets isn’t cheating. I have realized it’s okay to use other’s presets once I knew how to break them apart and tweak them to work with my photos. Work smarter not harder, right?

18. Making my own presets is another huge time saver. I love to use my own more than the ones I bought because they fit my photos just perfectly.

19. Setting up an organized system for my photos has saved me. I often need to pull from past photos and knowing exactly where they keeps me from losing my mind. I wish I had had a great system in place last year!

20. There are so many more composition guides than just the rule of thirds. I am still learning to master the golden spiral and golden triangle, but I’m glad to have another way to set up my shots.

21. I will NEVER be able to learn everything about photography.

What are some lessons you’ve learned???

  • August 2, 2011 at 8:32 AM

    Nice informative post. Thanks for the great tips.

  • August 2, 2011 at 8:48 AM

    Love it girl!!! Which wide angle do you have??? I have such a long list of wants, I shouldn’t even be asking, but taking a step back is something I’ve learned this year too. Still really hard for me to do, though.

    • August 2, 2011 at 8:55 AM

      I have the 20mm and it’s fabulous :O) You would totally rock it!

      • November 19, 2012 at 7:17 AM

        I just found this site WOW! Thank you. What the lens you love the best and why?

  • August 2, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    I love this post. I am also on this road and have been shooting Manual only since February and now RAW only probably since April. It does make a huge difference.
    I still have to work better with light, and also get a better camera, mine ISO goes only to 1600 :( I am drooling for a Canon 7D and some wide angle lenses. Maybe sometime this year.
    I do cheat about Presets. Have no clue on how to make one, most of the time I do use Camera Raw on CS5 and Boost from Pionneer Woman (free action). I also have some cute ones that I found at Deviantart. But before learning about presets I want to learn how to make a collage, still need to find a good extremely basic one. It is not easy to learn. Maybe I should get a mentor on that.
    I made my first critique here, thank you so much for your blog and your ideas. I might send you one of my photos so people can help me.
    This is a hard work learning year and here is one place where I get inspired a lot. Thank you
    Ok, I am writing way too much. Sorry.
    Thanks again for this post.

  • August 2, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    I always love reading your informative posts about photography. You break things down so well and I find myself nodding my head in agreement;0. I have learned a ton over the past 3 years since I started taking pictures more intentionally. I think the funnest thing to learn in photography is just to become more creative. Creative angles when shooting, creative editing, creative backdrops and props…just letting creativity really blossom as an artist is such a treat! Thanks for the tips!

  • August 2, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    Thanks for posting these! I’ve learned that I’m totally capable of shooting in manual. I made it my goal to learn and I don’t think I’ll ever go back. I’ve also learned that I do a lot of limb chopping and I have a long way to go with my editing :)

  • August 2, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    I LOVE THIS! I love your blog, and I love that you want to teach people about photography. Keep teaching, I am learning!

  • August 2, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    This is a great post! I am also glad that you love teaching people about photography! That’s what keeps me coming back. And referring your site to others. :)

  • August 2, 2011 at 10:53 AM

    Thanks so much for all these tips, they are wonderful! I’m glad you got me into manual mode and now the learning is endless, but fun!

  • August 2, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    I absolutely loved this post, Courtney! Great lessons!

  • August 2, 2011 at 2:39 PM

    so true. all of these. 6 months into my photography endeavors and #1 is shouting at me.

  • August 2, 2011 at 3:56 PM

    I started in manual last Autumn and I could never go back to auto or ap priority – colours and saturation are so much better than letting the camera figure it out. A prime wide lens is on my wish list.

  • Ellie's place in the world
    August 2, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    This is a great post, very informative. I have only recently started to take photographs and started a blog and I am really enjoying it. I want to learn manual – it’s not easy! But your site is one that I like to come back to. Than ks.

  • August 2, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    Courtney this was a great post! I loved watching your photography grow this year. That last shot is beautiful!!! I too love a good wide angle lens! :-D

  • August 2, 2011 at 9:48 PM

    What a great post! I NEED to learn more about skin tones! That is hard! Your picture progression is awesome!

  • August 3, 2011 at 1:47 AM

    Great post Courtney! I loved reading these tips! Now, what on earth is a golden spiral and golden triangle???

  • Jennifer
    August 3, 2011 at 5:40 AM

    After reading through your blog for the last two weeks, and today- traveling through the last year of your blog entries while I really should be working, I just had to stop and say… I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!! It is so wonderful! I have a daughter that will be two in November and she is my whole world. I hope to take as many beautiful photos as you do of yours one day! I’m working on a graphic design degree right now though… just starting actually… so I will have to wait to splurge on my dream DSLR camera. But until then I am learning so much!

    Thank you for everything you do, people like you inspire people like me!!!

  • August 3, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    This is great, Courtney! I’m excited to learn more about photography from your blog….once my thesis is done! Thanks for sharing all of these great lessons :) And your comment about carrying your camera over diapers cracked me up :)

  • Hannah
    August 4, 2011 at 1:16 AM

    This post inspire me. I am still on auto mode but feel really ready (and scared) to take the leap into manual world. What you’ve learned and your progression of photos makes eant to try so that i can really see a difference in a year or two. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • August 4, 2011 at 3:13 AM

    Love this article! It’s an encouragment to me in the first 3 months of manual shooting. I was tuck in Aperature priority for over a year because I was afraid. I love shooting in manual now! :) I feel much of this is a tribute to your sharing what you have learned! Thanks so much for helping us!

  • August 4, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    Great post!! I feel like we are long lost photography sisters. ;)

  • August 6, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    Awesome posts — love all the tips and funnies (wallet, check! keys, check! camera, check! diapers — oops, no room! lol!) I have to agree with most of your points whole-heartedly! And seeing the progression from 2009 to now — amazing!

  • August 8, 2011 at 1:51 AM

    This was amazing. I loved and hung on every word.

  • August 8, 2011 at 2:12 AM

    Love this post! :) I am slowly learning to “step back”. I am such a close-up taker photographer! :)
    I love Lightroom too, glad to find that you are a lightroom user too! :)

  • August 9, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    Courtney, I love this post!!! It made me think and wanna write my lessons learned too!!! Thank you for sharing it!

    • August 9, 2011 at 11:01 AM

      I would LOVE to read yours if you write your own lessons learned :O)

  • Christi
    April 7, 2012 at 8:49 PM

    I always enjoy your posts. Thanks so much for taking the time to share. It was one of your posts that nudged me to try manual last summer and I have been hooked on it ever since. You have such a gift for explaining things and teaching. Tip number 12 is great! There are many times I leave the diapers in the car so I can carry my camera with me. :)

    • Courtney
      April 11, 2012 at 11:39 PM

      Thanks :O) So glad you took the leap to try manual mode :O) Yay!! Thanks for your sweet words…I guess my parents paying for my college to get a teaching degree wasn’t wasted after all :O)

  • April 20, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    I always used photoshop to edit my pictures, but I have to agree with:
    5. Lightroom is an amazing time saver! Like I mentioned yesterday, in my post about the “Sync Button” there is so much about LR that makes me life easier.
    Since I have been taking photos all the time, Lightroom is amazing. There are always some shots that I still go to Photoshop to have the last touchs, but normally I don;t need .

    One thing I need to work on:
    15. It’s better to crank up your ISO and have a little noise than to keep it low and have an underexposed photo.

    I still get underexposed photos because I am afraid of cranking up the ISO. I end up with more noise (like you said)

    Thank you for taking the time to teach! You are awesome!

    • April 20, 2012 at 12:25 PM

      One more thing I need to learn: To take my camera EVERYWHERE I go. I don’t have kids yet, so diapers are not an excuse! LOL

  • April 28, 2012 at 5:43 PM

    Oh man I just always keep my D500 religiously at ISO 400…the nice thing is that this camera is known for its awesome low-light pictures so…yep

  • March 3, 2013 at 10:43 PM

    Great post. i finally am in manual. love it. i need to work on post processing and shooting in raw.
    I love that you teach photography. i have learned a lot from your open way. thank you.

    • Courtney
      March 6, 2013 at 5:14 PM

      Thanks so much!! Glad to hear you are tackling manual mode! You’ll love it!! Let me know if you have any questions!

  • Beverly
    March 19, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    Hi Courtney.
    I am thinking of trying to shoot raw, is it as difficult as it seems, you explain everything so clearly and i hope you can do the same with my request.

  • January 16, 2014 at 1:38 AM

    Great post. I’ve recently learnt to ETTR (expose to the right) and I now use my blinkies to check what has blown on my image. I’m finding it has helped the quality of my photos loads.

  • Ana
    January 24, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    Thanks for the tips I am barely in the phase of saving money to buy my first camera and learning tips meanwhile. Which one do you recommend?

    • January 27, 2014 at 5:46 PM

      It depends on you and your budget. Head to your local camera store, asks lots of questions, and get those cameras in your hands to see if you like the fit :)

  • Tom
    January 29, 2014 at 4:32 AM

    Now I know I need you to teach me everything you know so if you will u can call me 562-321 0807. Ca and I really need to grasp concepts ty

  • Naomi
    August 6, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    Hi Courtney,

    Quick question what’s the best camera to purchase as someones first camera? ive used loads of different ones but just really wanted a goos alrounder. Any advice?

    • August 12, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      It really depends on your budget and what you want. If you are going to shoot in manual mode I would go to the store and ask how to change the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. If you like the feel of the camera and where these settings are it may be a good fit for your first camera. My second camera was a Nikon D90 which I wished I had bought initially but it wasn’t in the budget at the time :)

  • Maegan
    September 23, 2014 at 7:10 PM

    Most of these tips are good and things I remember learning my first two years (which was over eight years ago now) but I have to comment and disagree with your high iso statement. Shoot in raw, on manual, always try to stay with a low iso and know how to meter. Shooting in raw opens up endless possibilities on fixing over and under exposed photos without damaging the file.

  • Emma
    September 25, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    I am not exaggerating when I say #15 BLEW MY MIND. I typically keep my ISO as low as possible and compensate with shutter/aperture, then make final adjustments post-process. I was just thinking this morning about how annoying it is when I shoot with low ISO in shade and still wind up with grain…and now I know that’s because I adjusted exposure post-process. THANK YOU for sharing your knowledge!!

    • September 26, 2014 at 2:55 PM

      I’m so glad you found that tip helpful! It really changed how my images looked once I started raising my ISO.

  • October 29, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    Nothing new for me, but I can second what you said! :)
    The manual whitebalance in your camera can also be a very powerful, yet easy to use tool to get wonderful colors.

  • January 17, 2015 at 1:07 PM

    Do you sell your presets or have a place for download? Thanks!

    • January 19, 2015 at 3:01 PM

      I don’t sell my presets or have a place to download them. There are plenty out there and I recommend the ones at Clickin’ Moms.

  • Brittany MacArthur
    March 28, 2015 at 2:34 AM

    Great tips!!! do you shoot mostly in manual or Aperture priority? I have the 35mm 1.8G, 50mm 1.8G and the 18-200mm 3.5G Nikon lens. I will be shooting some fast action photos this weekend, and not sure what would be best? Any help is greatly appreciated.

  • Crystal Moyer
    January 20, 2016 at 9:10 PM

    I’m just starting photography as a hobby and I need all the help I can get. I have been reading a lot of blogs and such. Yours was very helpful.

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