‘M’ is for Manual Photography Week 1 – Your Camera

Camera-overview1 copy

Camera Overview

Welcome to Week 1 of ‘M’ is for Manual!

I hope you stick with me for this 4 week foray into the wonderful world of Manual photography! This is like getting out of camera jail..

On automatic settings we are limited in many ways, the camera chooses the point of focus, the exposure, the F-stop, the depth of field and whether or not we need to use flash.

In manual photography you get to decide what look you want and the creative choice is yours.

So I am going to start this post with the basic functions on digital SLR cameras. Unfortunately we can’t skip over this or we will never be masters or mistresses or our camera.

Digital SLR Cameras are highly sophisticated and have a million options, buttons, menus that I never use such as aperture priority or shutter speed priority.

Each camera’s functions and where you will find them on your camera may be slightly different. I am going to give you the example on my camera and this maybe the only time you need to check your manual if you can’t find them. Sorry gang.

Most Canon cameras will have the buttons in a similar place to mine even if they are different models, Nikon will have their own set of button placements as will other makes of cameras.

Camera Overview  – See the above image for location of the following.

Note: Wherever there is a button or selector on your camera it is like having a shortcut on your keyboard. It takes you straight to that function and on most good digital SLR cameras the important buttons are stand-alones as opposed to dialing through menus.

1. Lens – Most Digital SLR cameras have removable lenses and you will find a button to the left or the right of the lens on the camera body that you need to hold down whilst you twist the lens to the left or right (depending on your camera)

2. Mode Settings – This dial allows you to switch through different settings – Select M for manual

3. Shutter Release – thats the little baby that captures the photos we love when we hit it.

4. Wheel to change ISO, shutter speed, white balance

5. ISO selector – This allows us to select a different ISO (which will be explained next week) by holding it down and moving wheel left or right.

6. Mini LCD display shows your current F-Stop, shutter Speed, ISO and how many images remain if you continue to shoot the same style of photo

7. Focal length indicator – This will be discussed thoroughly in the coming weeks but it shows you on a zoom lens which focal length you are currently using.

8. Focus Ring – Allows you to choose the point of focus in your composition

9. Zoom Ring- On a zoom lens this allows you to change focal length (which means either zoom in or zoom out)

Back of camera

Overview back of camera

Overview Back of the Camera

On the back of the camera you have other options but I am going to go through the important ones.

1. Viewfinder (See above – whoops forgot to write it’s name.. big bit of glass to look through at the top)

2. On and off switch. On my camera if I switch it to On there are certain functions I can’t access. So I use it pushed all the way to the top to the third option – the bent line.

3. Menu Function – Hitting this is like entering Aladdin’s cave. Loads of options and menus from picture style, to selection of Raw or jpeg files and in my camera’s case using video.

4. Zoom in and out.. These will allow us to see fine detail in an image when it is displayed on the back of the screen.

5. Wheel to file through images and select F-Stops.

6. Button in the centre of the wheel is like using the enter key on your keyboard. When using a menu and you need to say yes generally this button is the yes button!

Menu button

Menu Button

Menu Button

If you hit the buttons down the side of your camera you will notice menus or options pop up. On my camera when I hit menu I have the option to enter 9 other menus. To access them I use the wheel on the top of the camera and the selector moves left to right along the top icons of cameras, wrenches and stars.

Once I have the menu I want selected, I use the wheel on the back of the camera to file down or up and then hit the enter button (the round button in the middle of the wheel) to enter. To select further options I use the back wheel and then the enter button.

Your menu button and options may vary, it is important to find them, know them so when you are out on the field if you are stuck you know how to change a menu.

NOTE: I leave the instructions to my camera in my camera bag for emergencies.

Picture STyle

Picture Style

Picture Style

As I mentioned above, the buttons on the side are shortcuts. These same options can be accessed by the menu but so much easier to hit the buttons on the side of the LCD screen to go straight to them. If you select the Picture Style button you will go straight to the Picture Style menu where using the wheel on the back of the camera you can change your picture style. Picture Style refers to the contrast, saturation, monochrome that you want to work in. I select standard as I want to do all of that in the digital darkroom afterwards.

Info button

 Info Button

Info Button

The info is a quick grab at what colour space, white balance, colour temperature you are currently working on and how much space is available on your card. We will discuss colour space, white balance and colour temperature in the coming weeks.


Play Button

Play Button

By selecting the play button you will see the last image shot. If you want to look through previous images you have taken you can simple use the back wheel to go through them. You must have an image displayed for this to work.

You will notice on my camera there are also two values above the image, the shutter speed and the F-Stop the image were taken on.

Underneath the play button is the trash button. You must have an image displayed to trash it, so if you want to delete an image display it, select the trash symbol, use the wheel to say yes and press the enter button (located in the centre of the wheel).


 Inside your view finder – Image via BhPhoto

Left to Right – Battery Symbol, Flash Symbol, 400 (indicates shutter speed) 2.8 (indicates F-Stop) Slider indicates exposure ISO 400 (indicates ISO) and 42 (indicates number of images remaining)


Go somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed and try the below exercise. If you look through your viewfinder whilst doing it you will see something similar to the above image. As you change your settings of ISO, Shutter speed, F-Stop you will see the values change including the exposure slider. Exposure will be discussed next week.

Set your camera to M for Manual

Try and set a Picture Style

Change Your ISO

Change your F-Stop

Change your shutter speed

Take your lens on and off (don’t do it in a dusty or windy place) and get to know your camera.

Have a look in your menu function and see what the options are.

Check out the image size and see if you want to reset to a larger size and higher quality

Select Play and then review all the images on your card

Using the focusing ring have a look through the viewfinder and move it around and see what happens. Choose and point and try and focus on it.

Zoom ring – move the zoom ring to the left them to the right whilst looking through the viewfinder and see what happens. You should the composition changing from wide angle to zoomed in.

I hope this has helped you familarize yourself with your camera. Remember it is vital depending on the make and model of your camera to check the manual for these basic options. You must have mastered these before we move onto Exposure, ISO, F-Stops and Shutter Speed next week.

All the very best!

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin




PS: Please share

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Eva Tasso
Eva Tasso
9 years ago

I’m so grateful for this course! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!!

Robyn @ simply fresh dinners

Thanks, Carla. I just got my first digital SLF a few months ago and have been having a blast learning. I know it will be a lifetime journey and I’m looking forward to it. I will definitely be following along for the next 4 weeks!

Robyn @ simply fresh dinners

*SLR, I’m in trouble if I can’t even type it properly! lol

9 years ago

Dear Carla what a great idea these thoughtful photo series of yours.
Your generosity is truly unlimited. And you’re doing it over and over: reaching out with a helping hand whenever it’s mostly needed.

Thank you very much.

Peggy Braswell
9 years ago

this was so helpful. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

La Contessa
9 years ago

OKAY,have to say I am a bit lost, BUT WILL TRY to go sit and play!

9 years ago

This is awesome!! I literally know nothing about my “fancy” camera and am so grateful to learn from a professional! 🙂

Francesca Muir
9 years ago

Fabulous Carla – and so clear and simple – I swear to God those manuals are written by people who don’t posses a camera! Fx

Brad Crewe
Brad Crewe
9 years ago

Thanks so much Carla!
Looking fwd to a good refresher on all of this as it’s been forever since I did a course and I sometimes get lazy shooting on auto if Im in an hurry! Its nice to see this in regular everyday English!! Hope you are well! Brad x

9 years ago

Thanks Carla!

9 years ago

This is such a great intro. I was lucky enough to be given lessons with some friends of ours who are pros, on how to shoot manual. I love it so much – continually amazed at the great images I can shoot! x

9 years ago

Many thanks Carla for taking the time to do this. So helpful and clearly written. Love Benjamin Franklin’s quote too.

9 years ago

Yay! Thank you so much for this post Carla!

Rae Ecklund
Rae Ecklund
9 years ago

Found it.
Thank you.

9 years ago

Great seminar here Carla, merci! I really don’t like my digital camera, we just don’t understand each other but ho-hum I will try. I preferrd my old school Nikon! Xcat

Anya Jensen
9 years ago

Thank you Carla – and have a great weekend,