Friday, April 18

CoffeeShop Photography Tutorial: Why I Shoot in Manual Mode!

Good Friday to you all!  I wanted to post the world's shortest photography tutorial today since I know many of you will be outside taking shoots of the little ones hunting for eggs and dressed in their adorable Easter outfits.

I am really lazy and often shoot in Aperture mode, where I select the amount of depth of field (how much blur is in front of and behind my subject) and let the camera pick the exposure speed.  But when I am taking posed portraits I shoot in manual mode if possible because I want to get a great SOOC image.

I also prefer to shoot in jpg because I hate messing with giant RAW files, so it is important to get a great exposure in camera.

I took this photo of Imp at the park with my 50mm f/1.8 II lens that I purchased five years ago and is still going strong.  I set the aperture to 2.8 because I wanted a blurred background, and I let the camera pick the rest of the settings.  The exposure was 1/800 sec.

As you can see in the screenshot above Imp's skin and eyes are a bit underexposed, even though I set my camera to expose for his skin.  I also shot this in complete idiot-auto mode and it looked basically the same.  My camera is pretty good, but not that good.

So how do you get properly exposed skin and eyes "in camera"?  The secret is to slightly over-expose your image.  Yes, slightly pushing up the exposure often gives you a perfect skin and eyes that need no editing!  This will also reduce the appearance of many skin imperfections.

In this second screen capture I changed to manual mode and kept the same ISO and aperture and just changed the exposure from 1/800 to 1/400 (I just dialed it up from what the camera meter was suggesting).

As you can hopefully see (these are screenshots so they aren't very clear), in the image above Imp's skin and eyes are nicely exposed and the image is so much better.  I didn't do any editing on either image, these are just screenshots from Lightroom.

In this photo I shoot completely  in manual and just removed a tiny bit of green tint in Photoshop (darn shady green background) and sharpened for the web. His skin is perfectly exposed and his eyes are bright and sharp.

OK, I had to post one more…  Don't you love it when you capture that perfect instantaneous moment when your kids are being themselves and not hating your camera pushed in their face?

Hope this little tutorial encourages you to shoot a few frames in manual mode on Sunday.  These days we don't have to be afraid to waste film, so go ahead and try different exposures and really play around with your camera.  You spent extra money to have manual options, and don't be afraid to learn how to use them!

Do you want to download my favorite CoffeeShop PSE/Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets or Design Elements in one convenient zipped file AND help support this blog? Just click here for my action pack or here for a download of some of my most popular design elements, storyboards, and textures.


  1. I'm lazy, so often when doing photos of people I will stay in Aperture mode, but use the "+/-" exposure button to slightly overexpose like this. I cheat! ;-)

    In the worst case scenario I forget to undo it, most shots are still salvageable, whereas if I forget I'm on manual and don't pay attention when I go for the next shot, I am often WAY off.

  2. Call me naughty, but since I have been practicing in manual mode I have been shooting (Nikon) in Raw+Fine at the same time. If I am successful I dump the raw file and if I am not I have the raw file to lighten the image with.


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