How to Consistently Get Your Exposure Correct When Shooting in Manual Mode

Being able to properly shoot in manual mode seems to be a rite of passage for many photographers, representing professional-level abilities. This helpful and comprehensive video will show you everything you need to know to consistently nail your exposure in manual mode. 

Coming to you from Sean Tucker, this great video talks about how to get the proper exposure using manual mode. If you're wondering why you should be shooting in manual mode, it's because it gives you complete control over the various parameters and thus, complete control over the final look of your images. When your camera is in automatic or a semi-automatic mode, the decisions it makes to achieve a proper exposure may not be in line with the aesthetic direction in which you wanted to take the photo, or often, the camera may be fooled by certain aspects of the environment. So, it pays to become proficient at shooting in manual mode, and generally, once you learn it, you won't want to go back, save for a few specific situations in which a semi-automatic mode can be helpful. Check out the video above for the full rundown, and make a habit of taking your camera out for at least a few minutes every day and practicing what you've learned. 

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I feel lucky that I learned photography during a bridge between film to digital (1999-2003). I still had to learn on film and develop my own BW film (color went to a lab) but a lot of it was scanned into a computer. Had to learn manual exposure when shooting slide film to get it right and when I was shooting all manual you had to know what to meeter on to nail the exposure. Once I got a more pro-level SLR (Nikon 90s) I could lean on Aperture or Shutter priority mode when shooting BW and Color negetive in most situations (although I would switch meter types and use AE-L in certain situations) since it had enough latitude. Once I started shooting digital more there was little lattitude in the sensors (and i was shooting JPEG since I was in news, RAW didn't become a thing for me till a couple of years later) I had to go back to manual exposure to nail it and had to go back to learning to see light levels to the point where I don't think about it as much.

JetCity Ninja's picture

i remember the day i discovered auto focus for the first time and thought it was a miracle. it barely worked, usually having to rack focus anyways after auto "focusing," but it was a revelation nonetheless.

however, i have a problem with the first line: "Being able to properly shoot in manual mode seems to be a rite of passage for many photographers, representing professional-level abilities." that's like saying learning how to drive a manual transmission car represents being a race-car driver.

Galen Lyon's picture

It depends on what one means by "Properly shoot". If you know your camera inside and out, and know what settings are going to get you closest to the finished product you want... Thats pretty solid stuff.
Dig the manual car metaphor :)

Ryan Davis's picture

To be fair, I think pro race car drivers do indeed drive manual shift cars. Just learning manual isn't enough to make you a pro, but the process of learning how the gear works, as well as the "fingerspitzengefühl" for every individual piece of gear (car or camera) helps you control the machine better.

Ariel Martini's picture

Why a tutorial video in black and white? 🤔

Jarrett Rathert's picture

Why not? the information within is the same regardless.

Robert Nurse's picture

That's really how your camera "sees" anyway: shades of gray. Nice touch if that's what they were thinking.

mike messerli's picture

I guess I'm really old. I had to learn by experience in the 60's. Shoot a role, record your settings, develop the film, print it and review it with your mentor. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

Robert Nurse's picture

Yeah, LOL! That's why I switched to digital about 10 years ago. Twenty years before that the wealth of knowledge and access to experience and information on photography wasn't as readily available (to me anyway) as I was learning on my own while in college. After the move to digital, experimentation was made much easier and results where immediate. You could make adjustments on the fly than waiting for the lab. Right now, except for when speed is necessary, my camera stays on manual.

Ed Sanford's picture

We old guys rock. I am the same. Learning on film made converting to digital a piece of cake as far as exposure is concern. Learning to make pictures worth looking at is quite another matter.

Kris Hary's picture

Neither would I but things move so fast nowadays that people are good at more things thus don't have the time (and other don't have time for them). I read stories about mentors either in photography or software development and the only mentor i ever had was the internet :) that human connection is getting weaker I think

stir photos's picture

i never saw this guy before, but the video was brilliant. yeah, asking yourself questions is a good mention. his breakdown is clear, concise, and value added. without humble bragging, even if the topics covered, i feel like i have a grasp of, i still listened all the way through because i still felt like i was absorbing the information, sort of like in a new way... anyways, great share.

Wayne Denny's picture

His videos are fantastic. Weirdly enough, this was one I couldn't really get through, mainly because I have a pretty firm grasp on what he was discussing. But I would highly recommend his other stuff. It has a philosophical touch to the hows & whys of photography, and is really entertaining & informative. Especially when getting you to look at things in a different manner.

Charles Metivier's picture

It's amazing how much technology is required to shoot in "manual mode" built in light meter, histogram, LCD and DOF app on your smartphone.:)

Nick Rains's picture

All four modes (PASM) give you the same exposure, so there's nothing intrinsically 'advanced' about manual mode. The key is understanding how the meter interprets the subject illumination and, most importantly, how different combinations of aperture, shutter, and ISO affect the end result.

Color Thief's picture

People still going on and on about this while hold a camera with an electronic viewfinder that shows you pretty much what the sensor will record? Did even take this much explaining when it was just a sheet of 4x5 chrome and a Pentax spotmeter.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

... except you need to adjust for light transmission of your lens.

Deleted Account's picture

If you need to adjust for your lens' light transmission, you might want to clean your lens. ;-)

Deleted Account's picture

It was a joke. <sigh>

Alexander Petrenko's picture

0.3 stop is also a joke

Josue Rodriguez's picture

He is a street photographer. I don't think it's that practical to use for this type of photography.

Deleted Account's picture

Umm, I know it's not the purpose of the video, but Sean Tucker's explanation is so in-depth that it needs to be accurate.

My understanding is that the ISO adjustment does not increase or decrease the sensitivity of the sensor. That's a myth that won't stop being perpetuated. The sensitivity of the sensor is a non-variable. It is the output signal from the sensor that is amplified or decreased, thus the tendency to create noise when the signal is over amplified.

A small point, but an important one when explaining the much misunderstood exposure triangle.

Deleted Account's picture

Why is it important? That's kinda like saying you need to understand the workings of an internal combustion engine so you'll know why pushing the accelerator makes you go faster but decreases your gas mileage.

Deleted Account's picture

If you're in pursuit of the highest quality image possible in the digital photography age, it's useful to be aware how each component of the 'exposure triangle' works and interacts with each other. You don't need to know diddlysquat about how the camera works, but you do need enough knowledge to be able to make an informed choice about the exposure decisions you make.

I don't need to know the workings of the internal combustion engine, but I find it useful to know that when I put my foot on the accelerator, the speed increases because more fuel is being burned, making the engine work harder. Without this knowledge I would be unable to make an informed choice about managing my fuel economy?

Deleted Account's picture

How does knowing that ISO controls the amplification of the output signal, rather than the sensor's sensitivity, help in any way?? It seems to me, knowing a higher ISO setting will increase noise and decrease DR, is enough.

Deleted Account's picture

I think you've completely missed my point.

To reiterate: The information Sean Tucker imparts vis-a-vis the sensor sensitivity is wrong. If you're going to make a 24 minute information video specifically about the exposure triangle - get it right. He didn't.


Deleted Account's picture

You're right. I don't understand your point! Exclamation Point! :-)

Dan Marchant's picture

His point was that some people get bent out of shape if unimportant details aren't 100% correct, whereas others just accept that evil pixies put noise in your photos if you increase ISO.

Me and the pixies are off to shoot some photos now.

Deleted Account's picture

I'm Irish; we have Leprechauns who, of course, aren't evil...just greedy! ;-)

Santiago Olay's picture

Well It's important to know if you really care about photography. For example the differences between the "ordinary" and extended ISOs. Otherwise you would not understand why pushing the ISO within certain limits can eventually reduce the noise in some kind of dark conditions.

Deleted Account's picture

It may be interesting but you don't need to understand why a thing happens to know it happens, which IS important, but in the case of the results of ISO settings, even that is only important relative to your intent.
Rather than thinking of image quality as good or bad, it's more helpful to think of it as appropriate to your intent. For some cases, underexposed, overexposed, noisy, blotchy, etc... images are more appropriate.
Of course I could be wrong and often am. ;-)

Santiago Olay's picture

Well some of us are more curious by nature, and like knowing the technical stuff under the carpet. But as you said the importance is how the technicalities translate into your way f expressing your vision into a photograph. It's just two different ways of thinking. One more curious and one more practical. Both are good if they suit you. And always remember that curiosity is the #1 kitten killer...

Deleted Account's picture

;-) Which explains why I don't much care about the technical end of things...I'm more of a dog person!

Dan Marchant's picture

"Well It's important to know if you really care about photography."

No, it's really not because photography is not about technical excellence... it's about the image. Sure, I will push the SS as low as possible to get light and open the aperture as wide as I can, but after that the ISO is going to go to max if I need it to get the shot because the shot is what is important.

Yes in the studio or elsewhere where you have total control you can set the ISO at minimum. but there are many cases where that isn't possible. I shoot a lot of Street and sometime it is at night and at max ISO. No one has ever said "oh that's noisy" because it's the content of the photo that they are paying attention to.

Elan Govan's picture

Interesting how much photography has changed in my lifetime and I am not that old. My first ever self-owned camera was the Canon AT-1. The only information shared in this video I would challenge is that the need to set the shutter speed at 1/1000 of a sec to photograph pedestrians. I have taken images of pro cyclist like Tony Martin, world time trial champion, during The Tour of Britain well below that speed at 1/640, f4, ISO 400 with a Nikon 50mm f1.4.

The trick is not to get deflated when things don't go well. There is always tomorrow for better results.

Mark James's picture

Or, just get mirrorless and turn the dials until you like how it looks.

Santiago Olay's picture

Too pragmatical approach I'm afraid...