Shooting in Manual Mode: 16 Lessons Learned in my 3rd Year

Wow! It’s been 3 years since I sat in my living room listening to Megan Cieloha explaining to me how to shoot in manual mode. I am by far the worst student and I’m sure I frustrated her to death. Thankfully, she was a dear friend and kept teaching and challenging me. Here I am 3 years later. We both giggle when we talk about where we were in our photography 3 years ago. Megan, in case you didn’t know, is now the Director at CMUniversity.

Last year, I created a list of things I had learned in my 2nd year of shooting in manual mode. I thought it would be fun to continue this tradition each year.

1. Find the light first, then the subject. Sarah Wilkerson, who is an amazing teacher, has stressed that in two of the workshops I have taken of hers. I still struggle with this but it is now turning into a little motto when I’m out shooting.

2. Kelvin for white balance is way easier than using a gray card. I always struggled with white balance and often relied on auto white balance but no more. Being able to set my own white balance and learning the correct numbers for different situations has really helped my straight out of the camera image.

3. I miss doing my Project 365. In 2010, I completed my first 365. I can’t begin to tell you how shooting everyday improved my photography. I tried to do one in 2011 but failed. I am definitely considering doing another one here soon.

4. Macro photography is way harder than I thought. I love my 105mm 2.8 macro lens. Seriously, love it. However, shooting macro shots and making still life images interesting is quite a challenge.

5. How to achieve Rembrandt’s light. I took Mastering Natural Light Indoors and was amazed at how many different things there are to learn about lighting.

6. Nailing skin tones is a continued challenge. I am really going to focus on skin tones this coming year. Hopefully next year, I can say I learned to nail them :) If you are interested in learning more with me check out Flawless: The Secrets to Skin by Sarah Wilkerson.

7. It is incredibly easy to become frustrated with my work. I feel that the more I learn the more frustrated I become. I know in my head what I need to do to achieve some stellar images, unfortunately, I struggle with applying all those skills to my daily shooting. But that is a whole other post in its self.

8. Taking snapshots is okay. This kind of goes with #7. I am giving myself permission to not expect every image to be portfolio worthy. It is important to capture snapshots of our lives for my kids to remember.

9. The interval timer is amazing! I have always been a huge advocate of being in photos. Using the interval timer is just another great resource that allows me to hop in front of the camera so my kids know that I was there too…and was cool at one time!

10. Photoshop is next on my list. For my birthday this year, I asked for Photoshop. Having the sweet husband that I do he got it for me. I’m actually taking a workshop on it in about 2 weeks. I can’t wait to learn about PS. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Lightroom and will definitely use it a lot.

11. I need to get better about daily editing. When I was doing my 365 I edited my images every single day. It was fantastic. However, I have let life get in the way and I have stopped doing this. I need to get back into the groove of editing what I take that day because I am WAY behind!!!

12. Still no desire to go into business. I still love being a hobbyist and just shooting for myself. I like to take photos for friends every now and then but the idea of opening up shop is not on my agenda.

13. Black and white conversions are hard. I knew this a while ago but I was reminded of this earlier this year. I am really working on nailing my conversion. A good conversion is a lot more complicated then a quick click of a button.

14. Really want to play with film. I love the idea of playing with a film camera. There are a lot of things to take into account and I want to challenge myself to learn. My dad is letting me borrow his old film camera so I have no excuses.

15. I am obsessed with buying photography books and e-books. Honestly, if someone recommends a new book you can bet it is in my cart and ordered. It is a sickness really. The terrible thing is I often buy them and struggle to find the time to read them. The last two I bought that I can’t wait for my life to settle down so I can read them are People Pictures:30 Exercises for Creating Authentic Photographs and The Luminous Portrait: Capture the Beauty of Natural Light for Glowing, Flattering Photographs.

16. Addicted to taking workshops. I am currently taking my 7th workshop through Clickin’ Moms and have signed up for my 8th one already. I will never be able to learn everything about photography but I will definitely take advantage of all the resources out there.

What have you learned this past year about shooting in manual mode?

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  • August 31, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    Love your blog!
    Being fairly new to learning seriously about photography, I am just venturing into Manual, and am frustrated.. :) Im still learning how to control camera shake, and how to put aperture and SS together to make the picture sharp! I’ve always just used Aperture mode… but wanted to give manual a try.. I was afraid to make the jump for some reason….Thanks for the encouragement that it CAN be done!
    am also looking into doing a 365 project again, but doing the 365 Grateful Project! check it out! so cool… using your photography to find things to remind us that we have so much to be grateful for!
    Blessings, and happy shooting!!

  • August 31, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    I learned how to shoot in manual mode just a few months ago, and started attending a photo club….I have learned SO much and seen a HUGE improvement in my photography already! When you did your 365 project, did you shoot certain things every day, or just made sure you took a photo everyday? I think that’s the next thing I’m going to do :)

  • August 31, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    I have learned that it is HARD!! Having no time so far this year to really study on it has been frustrating. My goal is by Christmas to buy a Clickin’ Moms membership and start scheduling time to learn. Saying that, I rarely let myself shoot in auto mode. I guess and experiment and sometimes I miss the shot because I guessed wrong with the settings but I refuse to shoot in auto mode on my SLR. I feel that if I do that than I might as well be using my P&S!

  • August 31, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    Oh yes- I can totally relate on so many levels. For a long time I thought I wanted a biz- then as certain things happened- I completely lost my desire for it. The biz side of it all- that’s the part I really got turned off by. The insurances, licences, taxes- completely takes the joy out of creating a beautiful image. Where I am- I would have to have a license with the State, County & my Town just to hand out a business card legally. So not worth it for me. So I’m happy to do it for friends on the side & just stay on the hobby track & not lose my passion for it.

  • Danielle
    August 31, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    I love these posts! I’m a couple of months into my second year shooting in manual and I find myself nodding along to a lot of the things that you wrote :) I’m doing my first 52 project this year and I have been loving it so much. I’m actually considering doing a 365 next year…it still sort of scares me! But I shoot everyday already, so I might as well give it a go. And I think I might be a little hooked on CM workshops, too. I’m taking my fourth one right now and I’m already trying to plan out my schedule for the next six months ;)

  • August 31, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    I really want to go back and do a before and after photo of my years shooting manual. Love yours, you are such an awesome photographer. Of course I will be ordering those books, I’ve been needing new things to read. I just started a new 365 at the beginning of August, a shot of Adalyn every day for a year. It was on my bucket list before we have another baby. AND I didn’t want to start at the beginning of the year because I feel like there’s too much pressure. I had missed doing the 365 too, that’s why I started again. :)

  • August 31, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    We’ve been shooting in manual about the same amount of time (I got my first DSLR in November 2009 and started shooting in manual right away). I can relate a lot to what you are saying here, especially the going into business part. I have no desire to either, although I am asked that all the time. One of my favorite things to do now is black and white conversions! Also, you may find that PSE is enough for you. It has been for me, although I have never tried lightroom.

  • August 31, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    Love it! Another 365? You are brave… but I do think that my photography grows a lot more quickly when I’m shooting daily and feel accountable to posting on my blog too. Can’t wait to see where we are in another 3 years :)

  • August 31, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    I’m right there with you on number 6 and 7. I’m just starting my third year of shooting in manual and am in the middle of my second 365. This year I’ve learned that I need to get out of my head and start shooting with my heart again, which is so hard because there is so much information in my head!!! I’ve also learned that finding inspiration from historical photographers and creating my own twist on that style is fun! Lastly, one of my goals this year is to do one or two planned shoots just to see what I can create.

  • Johane
    August 31, 2012 at 12:35 PM


    I started to shoot 100% manual last January after 18 months of Aperture mode. Still trying to have very sharp photos at f2. I can see my progress over the last 2 years and I believe that by 2015 I’ll be so good!!! ha ha ha The downside is that my boys don’t want to be in the photos anymore (9 and 11) so is the husband; I take pictures of the garden and plants (they don’t mind!!!).

    Camera mom from Montreal Qc

  • Rachel
    August 31, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    Great encouragement! :) Thank you for sharing. I love it because the more you grow and learn, the more precious wisdom you pass on down the line :)! A 365 is tempting and scary at the same time. I think I need to focus more on getting my pictures off my hard drive first :). So inspiring seeing your photography journey continue to flourish.

  • Trisha
    August 31, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    Great end of year review. I like how you show your progression bc I think it’s really easy for beginners to think, good photographers were always THIS good! It’s also a good reminder to look back at where you started & congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come.

  • August 31, 2012 at 8:31 PM

    I love following your journey! I’m just a year+ in manual and hoping to continue growing. I sometimes get defeated by how much there is to learn and where I am in the process. But, if I really break down all I have learned I can feel encouraged! Just so you know, I attribute a great deal of any knowledge I have to coming here to read!

  • September 1, 2012 at 12:52 AM

    Watching you grow is such an inspiration.
    Where/who are you taking the photoshop workshop from? I took one and it totally rocked my world and changed me forever.

    • Courtney
      September 9, 2012 at 3:26 PM


      I’m actually taking PS 101 from Clickin’ Moms. It starts tomorrow and I can’t wait to tackle PS :)

  • September 7, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    I am in love with manual mode and couldn’t imagine shooting any other way – When I got my DSLR I forced myself to shoot in manual right out of the starting gate. I did have some photography background so I was familiar with Fstop, Shutter, ISO, etc… but I just had to relearn it all over again! WHat a fun experience it has been. I love taking classes too – I just signed up for a great Lightroom/Photoshop class over at Kim Klassen … I have yet to take a class from Clickin Moms even though I’m over there daily checking out stuff! I need to ask for a class for christmas or my birthday! :)
    One funny thing abou shooting in manual is when I hand the camera over to my husband and he’s like “What do I do now?” – i set it up for him but then I tell him to turn the shutter dial til the little line is in the middle LOL – and he follows instructions good enough to capture some nice shots of me & my daughter… but usually our feet or hands are chopped off LOL! :) I love the man dearly for trying!

    • Courtney
      September 9, 2012 at 3:28 PM

      ha ha I heard you on handing over the camera to your hubby! :O) I’m still trying to teach mine he he

  • September 9, 2012 at 8:40 PM

    I too am glad I did a 365…for starters– I found your wonderful blog!, but the first year I did a 365, I really pushed myself to learn new things– in essence, every day I was “creating a picture” to learn and try new techniques. My second year of 365 has been more relaxed– I’m just out to capture the little every day moments– and I have to say, I think I like it better. Each day doesn’t have to be a finly crafted SLR picture…sometimes it’s a quick iPhone shot!
    And good luck with the film thing– I scored an awesome 1970’s Nikon film camera (with 3 lenses) for $5 at a garage sale a few months ago…went out and bought film….and I think the roll is only half shot. I never feel like carrying around 2 cameras! But I am definitely interested in getting back into film. (It doesn’t hurt that a friend offered up her darkroom setup to me!)

    • September 13, 2012 at 1:57 PM

      Can’t wait to see some of your film images :O)

  • celeste walker
    September 19, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    Love your blog! You are very talented! I have two questions… 1. what photoshop course are you taking? 2. Do you have any suggestions on books that I just have to read?

  • LInda
    August 18, 2013 at 4:50 AM

    Great post! Love this site! What workshop did you take to learn how to achieve the look in your 2010 picture?

    • Courtney Slazinik
      August 21, 2013 at 4:26 PM

      It was a workshop that was offered at Clickin’ Moms about outdoor natural light. That specific class is no longer offered but I believe they offer something similar.

  • Cindi
    July 6, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    Hi Courtney! First off, a big thank you for this blog and your posts! I started learning from you about a year ago when I got my “big girl” camera. I have learned so much! Eventually I would love to do 365- but as of now I’m feeling a bit busy as a full time working mom ( teacher- thankful to have summers “off”) if three kids and a brand new puppy ;). Which leads me to a question for you and other followers. Through word of mouth and I guess my fb posts, I’m getting asked to snap some family and kid portraits. This is super fun for me but I don’t intend in any way to start up a business…however I do have my eyes set on some new equipment and it does take time before during and after a shoot- would it be fair to charge a little- for the sake of my equipment and time? It seems more and more “photographers” are popping up everywhere! I just don’t want to feel as just another newbie- but I want more practice too, to refine my craft. What are your thoughts?

    • July 16, 2014 at 1:55 PM

      That is a tough one. I would say if you are going to be taking money from friends you will want to get a business license because in the eyes of the government you are a business :)

  • Denise
    July 6, 2014 at 5:28 PM

    I’m a novice, so I love reading your blog. My motto right now is “even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then”, but I’m working to be more in control of how my shot turns out. This week I learned not to shoot a pic of animals behind a fence with the flash on. It looks as if they are in jail! : )

  • July 9, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    Which workshops woth Sarah Wilkerson did you take?

    • July 16, 2014 at 1:57 PM

      I took both of the workshops she offers – Shooting 301: Composition and Creativity and Shooting 301: Elements of Design

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