Hey, how’s it going? I’m Andy Jones and this is episode 89 of the Photography Side Hustle podcast.

This week’s episode covers the steps needed to shoot in Manual Mode. If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while you probably have this mastered. For those just starting out I think it’s important to master these steps. You might have the business acumen, but if you aren’t comfortable setting up and shooting in manual mode, you will struggle to move forward.


Shooting in Manual Step-by-Step

So I’m going to go through the framework as if you were about to start shooting an outdoor family portrait session.

The previous night you charged all your batteries and you are ready to go.


Set your Camera to Capture RAW files
I know I bleat on about this constantly, but it’s super important. You want to impress this family and give them images they have only dreamed of. Your aim is to turn them into fans that will refer you to their friends.

Shooting JPEGs won’t allow you to produce images that impress, only RAW files can do that. Photographers want the best equipment they can afford, sometimes spending tens of thousands of dollars. So why wouldn’t you want to save your images in the best format?

With RAW files you can save images that if they were shot in JPG would have to be deleted.

Ok, so RAW it is.


Turn your mode dial to ‘M’ for Manual
Shooting in Manual mode can be a bit overwhelming when you are just starting out. But if you go through these steps I promise you it will become a habit that you won’t have to think about.


Check the background
This is the first thing I want you to think about. What is going on behind my subjects?

Check that there are no branches that look like they’re coming out of someone’s head. You don’t want anything distracting, like signs, ugly fences, vehicles, or the family next door. So many good photos are ruined because the photographer didn’t think about the background.

When you are deciding on a photo location think about these things. If there is a large tree you want to pose the family around, take a second or two to look beyond the tree. If there is a sign or a parking lot, change the angle you shoot from. Move left or right until the background is clear of distractions.

This only takes a minute at most, but it’s so important. So get into the habit of checking the background.


Choose a Depth of Field and set your Aperture
If you don’t understand how aperture settings can change the depth of field, you need to listen to Episode 63 – Aperture and Depth of Field from July 10, 2022.

To check which aperture to use you need an app like PhotoPills, I’ll put a link in the show notes.

So you need to decide if the background needs to be in focus or a nice blurry bokeh. If the background is trees and bushes you might want it blurry so that the subjects stand out. But, if you are at a picturesque location you might want the river or mountains to be in focus.

If the background is bushes and you decide on out of focus, you need to be using a wide aperture such as f/2.8 or f/4. Let’s say you are using a 50mm 1.8 lens set at f/2 on a full-frame camera. With the family being 10 feet in front of you, the depth of field would be 17.5 inches, 8 inches in front of the focus point, and 9.5 inches behind the focus point.

Now, 17.5 inches is a good amount, but with a family of four with the kids in front of the tree and the parents looking around the trunk, you need to estimate the distance from the kid nearest you to the parent furthest away. Let’s say that distance is 20 inches, that means the present setting won’t get them all in focus if your focus point is the kid nearest to you. It might be if you focused on the other child that is stepped back slightly. But you don’t have time to get the measuring tape out.

The safest way to go is to change the aperture from f/2 to f/2.8 which will give you a depth of field of 24 inches. That’s enough to get all the family in sharp focus.

When you are in this situation, just make a guess at the DoF needed. Take a shot, then zoom in on the rear LCD and check if everyone is in focus. If the parents at the back look soft and out of focus change the aperture to a higher number. Take another shot and check again. All this takes no more than 30 seconds, and after a while, you will know which aperture is needed straight away.


ISO, Shutter Speed & Balance the Light Meter

To start you want to set the ISO to 100 or lower if available. Now you can set it to AUTO if you like, it makes it easier but it can cause grainy images if you have your shutter speed too high.


Shutter Speed
In this situation where you are shooting a family portrait session, you need to use a shutter speed that is fast enough to freeze the scene. So as the family is stationary for the portraits, a shutter speed of 125 will work. If the kids are running around you would need 800 or higher.

So for this family, we will set it to 125 and now check the light meter.

Balance the Light Meter
To get a correctly exposed photo you need to balance the light meter. You can find the meter in your viewfinder or on the rear screen.

On most brands of cameras, the minus (-) the under-exposed end is on the left or if it is a vertical meter at the bottom. The plus (+) over-exposed end is on the right or top for a vertical meter. Nikon for some reason used to be the opposite way around, I did see a pic of the Z9 and the meter was the same as everyone else.

To balance the meter you need to get the marker in the center. So if the marker is off the scale to the right or top it means the image will be over-exposed. To correct this you need to reduce the amount of light coming in.

We can change either the ISO or Shutter Speed to do this.

The settings are f/2.8, ISO 100, and 125 shutter speed.

We can’t change the ISO because we would need to go down to a lower number to reduce the amount of light coming in. If we go to a higher number more light would come in and we already have too much.

So we need to change the shutter speed to a higher number. Faster shutter speeds let less light in, and we need to reduce the light coming in. All you need to do is turn the dial until the marker is in the center of the meter. One-click on the dial is one marker on the meter.

If the image is under-exposed you will need to turn the ISO up as we set the shutter speed as low as we could.

The one setting you don’t want to change is the aperture because that controls the Depth of Field and the look of the image.


So you set the camera to shoot in RAW.
Next, turn the mode dial to ‘M’ for manual.
Estimate the depth of field needed to get everyone in focus, and set the aperture that will give that depth of field. Use Photopills until you get the hang of it.
Set the ISO to 100 or lower.
Set the shutter speed to balance the light meter.
If you can’t balance the meter with the shutter speed because it’s under-exposed you will need to turn the ISO up.

Every time you move to a different pose you need to consider the depth of field and set the aperture. Then you just balance the light meter and start shooting. The more you do it the faster you’ll be and the better your images will be.

Ok, I think that’s enough for episode 89. If you need help with anything you can contact me through the Facebook group and I’m more than willing to help you. If you want to keep it private use Messenger.

Right, I’ll be back next week with more waffle, talk to you soon, bye.