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DSLR Basics: 8 Easy Steps To Learn Manual Mode For Canon DSLR Cameras

DSLR Basics: 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode for Canon DSLR Cameras

Manual Mode in DSLR Camera is considered to be an out-of-this-world setting that many people never ever think of trying it. I have come across many people who own DSLR Camera for many years but never tried. Most popular reason being that it requires them to have technical know-how of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO settings which has a steep learning curve.

If this reasoning rings a bell even for you, let us tackle it right here right now. You will see yourself playing  around with Manual Mode like never before within matter of few minutes.

I have used images of Canon Rebel T3i DSLR camera settings in this article. Most of the Canon DSLRs probably have very similar settings. If you are a Nikon DSLR owner, please read DSLR Basics: 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode for Nikon DSLR Cameras.

If you follow these steps exactly the way I describe, you will never have to switch back to Auto mode.

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Step 1: Pick up your Camera and Start the Timer

This is the most important step. If you are just reading it in your office, or a restaurant, or a coffee shop, then no matter what, you will never learn it. If you do not have access to camera right now, then stop it here. Go back home, pick up your camera and then follow the next steps.

Start the timer now. Let us see how much time you will take to understand the manual mode.

Step 2: Turn the Mode dial to point to M which means Manual Mode

Rotate the mode dial, which is usually at the top right hand side, to point to M . Some of the models may have the mode dial at the top left hand side.

Mode Dial to choose Manual Mode in Canon Rebel T3i DSLR

Select Manual Mode from the Mode Dial as shown in the picture for Canon Rebel T3i DSLR

Step 3: Point the Camera where you find good light

This is very important step. Do not ignore this step. Turn on the camera if you have not done it already and point it towards a subject/object which has sufficient amount of light. Keep the camera on a stable surface to make sure the composition does not change.

[tweetthis]Learn Easy Steps To Learn Manual Mode[/tweetthis]

To use Manual Mode under all lighting conditions read the DSLR Photography Basics: Getting Perfect Exposure Using Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO.

Step 4: Check the Important Camera Settings

Press the disp button which will display current settings in the LCD.

Display button on Canon Rebel T3i DSLR to get Camera settings on the LCD

Press the display button to get Camera settings on the LCD screen. Image shown is for Canon Rebel T3i DSLR .

Note: After a few seconds LCD screen display turns off, press disp button to get it back.

You will see too many settings there. As of now, we are interested only in Aperture (F number) and ISO.

Aperture setting and ISO settings displayed on the LCD screen of the Canon Rebel T3i DSLR

Image on the left shows the Aperture value which is circled in red. Images on the right shows the ISO value which is circled in red.

If you have never before touched the manual mode, then you should see F number to be very small like f/2.8, f/3.5, or f5.6.  If not, press Q (Quick Mode) button then traverse to aperture setting with F number. Turn the top dial towards your left until there is no change in F number.

Quick Mode selection button on Canon Rebel T3i DSLR, to select Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO

Press on Quick mode button and use the right arrow to move to Aperture setting (the F number). Choose the minimum Aperture value for your lens.

If ISO value is 100, which is the least value, then you are good. Otherwise, press Q button then traverse to aperture setting with ISO number. Turn the top dial towards your left until you get the lowest ISO number usually 100.

Quick Mode selection button on Canon Rebel T3i DSLR, to select Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO

‘ Press on Quick mode button and use the right arrow to move to ISO setting. Choose the minimum ISO settings possible.

Step 5: Check the Camera Metering indicator

Check the camera metering indicator which displays a dotted line with -3 and +3 on either side of the line.

Camera Metering mode which shows if an image is overexposed or underexposed.

Camera Metering mode which indicates if there is enough light or too much light. Left image indicates that there is less light (underexposure) and the right image indicates that there is more light (overexposure)

If you half-press the shutter button, you will also notice a blinking indicator either to the -3 side or to the +3 side of the dotted line. It is fine whichever way it is currently pointing to since you will learn in few minutes to deal with it.

Learn about Camera Metering Modes to achieve proper exposure under all conditions.

Step 6: Press the Shutter button

Press the shutter button. I mean it…just do it.

This is an important aspect of learning. Take action, make mistakes, learn from mistakes. If you learn only the right way of doing things, as the time passes, you will be scared to test anything else.

Now let us talk about the picture you took.

You are probably not impressed with what you got. May be it is not what you expected? Let us analyze it then.

Is it very dark? then it is underexposed, because of less light hitting the sensor. It means the meter indicator was towards -3.

If the picture is bright or washed out, then it is overexposed, because of too much light hitting the sensor. It means the meter indicator was pointing towards? you know that.

You might already have solved the problem in your head now. Have you? you know what to do, isn’t it? Do it.

Step 7: Achieving the Proper Exposure

Press the disp button again to get back to the settings on the LCD screen.

If the picture was underexposed or the arrow is pointing towards -3, then turn the main dial towards your left (counter-clockwise direction).

Image showing main dial in Canon Rebel T3i DSLR which is used to change Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO get the perfect exposure.

The main dial which is used to change Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO get the perfect exposure.

As you turn it left, you will notice that the blinking indicator below the dotted line comes closer towards center. Keep turning the dial in counter-clockwise direction until the blinking indicator hits the center (0 marking) of the dotted line.

Camera Metering Indicator which helps to determine the perfect exposure.

Image on the left shows that there is very less light, which means the resulting photograph will be underexposed. Image on the right shows the proper exposure.

If the picture was overexposed or the arrow is pointing towards +, then turn the dial, towards your right (clockwise direction).

[tweetthis]Learn Easy Steps To Learn Manual Mode[/tweetthis]

As you turn it right, you will notice that the blinking indicator below the dotted line comes closer towards center. Keep turning the dial in clockwise direction until the blinking indicator hits the center (0 marking) of the dotted line.

Camera Metering mode helps to determine how much light is necessary to get the perfectly exposed image.

Image on the left shows that there is too much light, which means the resulting photograph will be overexposed. Image on the right shows the proper exposure.

In Steps 6 and 7, you changed the Shutter Speed to achieve the proper exposure. Shutter speed is represented in seconds. Generally it will be in fraction of seconds like 1/30 or 1/60 all the way upto 1/4000 or 1/8000.

In all possibilities, you should get the arrow to point to center unless you have chosen a subject which is way too dark or way too bright.

Step 8: Make your very first Photograph using Manual Mode!

Press the shutter button now. Did you get the picture what you were longing for?!

Congratulations! on your very first photograph using manual mode. You have taken control of your camera, there is no turning back from here.

Stop the timer now. How much time did you take to learn? Was it hard to learn?

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Did you enjoy this article? Do you want to know about some other concept that is haunting you from a long time? Let me know in your comments.


Prathap is a passionate nature photographer and founder of Nature Photography Simplified blog. He aims to simplify every photography concept to help beginners and amateur photographers. His FREE eBook "Bird Photography – 10 Mistakes and Solutions" has been instrumental in helping thousands of bird photographers. Download it right now to jumpstart your bird photography.

This Post Has 120 Comments
  1. Very good tutorial. This is so much easier in the digital era than back in the film days where you had to wait for the results. When is the Nikon version coming?

    1. Thanks a lot Carlski. Well said! DSLRs are making everything so simple that one day people may stop thinking and only start clicking 🙂
      Nikon version will be posted today.

      1. Thank you for your insights, easy to read and understand. I have recently taken on the role of taken on sports pictures at Night. (Soccer) can I use these same steps or would you advise a different approach. Issue is blurred images due to night time and lighted fields. Thanks Dallas

  2. Good start Prathap….. Basics are very clearly explained and its is simple to understand. Information is neatly composed and visuals are well displayed…. awaiting for more topics. Keep going…. Good luck!

  3. Prathap, You’re off to a good start with the tutorials. I’m new to photography and have been taking classes for almost a year. I think the key things you’ve mentioned in both tutorial is to know what you want to photograph and to get out and practice, practice, practice. Your work inspires and fuels me to keep shooting and learn from my mistakes. Best wishes!

    1. Well said Sylvia. Practice makes man perfect. It is definitely a challenge to keep yourself inspired unless you are truly passionate about what you photograph.
      Thanks a lot for your kind words. I wish you an enduring photographic experience and success.

  4. Great stuff. Would it be possible for you to add a print option so we might take the articles with us out into the field.

  5. Thank you so much…I am so appreciative for your
    DSLR Basics: 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode for Canon DSLR Cameras.


      1. Sir i have cannon1200d but i don’t know,how i use this,because i am new in this,proficnal can i get you fb id or number of you it will be,your most kindness and thanks for your 8 steps

  6. Thank you for the articles which are very easy to follow. A very big thank you for a fantastic download of your E/Book.
    Photographs that you use are truly amazing.

    1. Thanks a lot for your appreciation and encouragement Roy. I am glad to know that they are easy to follow. I hope you enjoy the upcoming articles too.

  7. Excellent article-I am impressed Prathap-read from A to Z what you wrote-easy to understand and follow. Thanks for contributing this guide for all those who are passionate to learn the photography skills. Muzaffar A. Khan

    1. Thank you so much for kind words Muzaffar A. Khan. Thank you for taking time to read through my articles and letting me know about my work. I really appreciate it.

  8. Hi,

    What should my shutter speed in order for my shutter to click? When I had the shutter speed at 1/25 (or something similar), the shutter wouldn’t click. When I had it at 4”, it took a long time for the picture to take and it was very blurry. FYI: I was shooting at a Starbucks at 8 at night.

    1. Hi Val, Thank you for giving the complete details of your issue. At night (which is low light condition), the auto focus does not work properly in most of the cameras. When auto focus hunts for the subject in the dark, it does not allow shutter to click.
      One solution would be to manually focus it and take the photo. Otherwise, choose the auto focus point (manually) that points to the highly lit subject in the scene like Starbucks board or something similar. The issue however would be to set the exposure properly so that you would let the brightness and the darker objects to be exposed well. Please check the exposure (9-part) series to better understand about exposure and also about exposure compensation.
      If you want to use the slower shutter speeds, you have to use the tripod. I hope this helps.

  9. This is such a well written and illustrated tutorial. I want to say it is the best that I have read or seen demonstrated. Just by reading and observing I have already gained the confidence to start using the manual mode. Thanks for your excellent tutorial. I shall be referencing this until I become an expert in this mode.

  10. I did read or note on manual mode.Its real simpal the way u explain. Thanks.I would like tohave free e- book onDSLR concept made easy.eagarlly waiting. Once again big thanks.

  11. Thank you for the wonderful note & simple explanation on the manual mode on DSLRs.

    I’m a photographic enthusiast and own a Canon 1200 D. I tried all the possible ways to understand the function of the button with the ‘*’ mark.
    I know that during the view mode, this will work as a ‘Zoom Out’ function. The button adjacent to this work as a focus point selector in shooting mode & as ‘Zoon in’ during view mode

    What is the button with ‘*’ will do while shooting mode..?
    At the end, will back button focus work with cannon 1200D..?
    Could you please share the necessary settings for this..?

    1. My pleasure! Rajest. * button in Canon DSLRs are used for locking the Exposure. Suppose, you are shooting a panorama in a semi-automatic mode, then you might want to lock the exposure between the shots. This helps you to keep the exposure constant across the multiple shots.
      I would recommend you to check out this youtube video for back button focusing technique.

  12. This is very well written and simple to follow. As other have said I am getting confidence to use manual mode just by reading it. I will definitely follow this blog until I master the skill. Thank you

  13. Hello. Thanks for the easy tutorial. It helped me to use M mode for the first time. I have a question. When I will take night landscape picture, should I still keep ISO @ 100 ? or should I put it in auto mode?

    1. My pleasure! Deb. While you are shooting landscape at night, you should always use a Tripod and aim for ISO 100 or lower ISO values to avoid any noticeable noise. Do not use Auto ISO mode.

  14. Dear Prathap I would like to know before click photo what are the camera setting to be carry out so the proper set camerra will get good picture. If any such e-book our blog u have it.will u please let me.I would like to purchase it. Thanks.

  15. This was perfect and such easy step by step instructions. I’ve been wanting to take some shots of the Christmas tree lit up and was able to get several good pictures! Thanks for giving us novices a “Reader’s Digest” version of how to use our cameras!!

  16. Thank u for ur explanation mr prathap,
    Am david from Nigeria I love photograph a lot I just buy Canon 7b and I don’t even understand the camera, maybe u can just put me 2ru

    1. My pleasure! David. That’s nice to know. If you keep loving photography as much as you do, in no time you will find ways to learn. Just keep at it. Let me know how I can help.

  17. Sir what an article. I mean,how cleverly and tactfully you presented the information. I never thought I could understand Manual mode that easily. Bro,thanks alot and make some more like this one.

  18. Hi Prathap, this article is very helpful for beginners like me.I want to learn some more basics for nature photography. Can you please provide that.

  19. Hi Prathap,

    I bought a cannon Rebel 6i a week back and started my photography, I tried to take pics in the evening 4:30 PM during a snowy day where light was little dull, I had 6400 ISO, low shutter speed and low Aperture, my images were shaky, dull and not good, swithched to Auto mode, even then the pics were not clear and flash doesn’t open for all the pics, can you help me take a beautiul pic of a snowy day. Thanks

      1. Hi Ajay,
        My suggestion to you is not to take photos during dull light. Understand that photography is all about light. If the light is not good, the photos wouldn’t turn out good
        I suggest you to first understand the workings of Exposure and the three components–Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. Then you’ll understand the solution to the issue you are facing.
        I have written a 9-part series just on this. Go ahead and read them:
        Best Regards,

  20. Hi, I am very new at this. With my Canon 1200d the meter indicator on the screen always shows -3. in the viewfinder it does change. I don’t know if its a setting, I have tried to vary, change settings, iso, shutter speed, aperture etc, but nothing. I have tried cleaning connections of lense, Is it me, or the camera???? I’m thinking it’s something simple, but I dont get it (yet)….
    Thanks in advance,
    I would love to take pictures of birds, but I’m a long way off yet,

    1. Hi Ann, It looks like you are checking it in the low light. Or, you haven’t removed lens cap (though, I suspect that a lot). Just go out in the sunlight and try the experiment again and you’ll see it working if you follow the steps.
      If not, let me know and I will help you.

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      4. Hi Jennifer – great site you have here. I have a grandson that is gluten and dairy intolerant, and I am always looking for new receipes and your site has so many. I too have moved away from past cooking methods and trying to stay as natural as possible. Anyway, my question is, do you have a substitute for the coconut aminos?

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  21. this is the best article I have had so far. it’s really helpful. I have struggled to understand manual mode concept. I never knew I had to understand light metering. Tnx for dis.

  22. Hello Pratap,

    Good article for beginers like me. I have Nikon D3300 with 55-200mm VR2 lens and i am not able to capture sharp images.kindly suggest.

    1. Hi Ravindra, the best way to see if it’s the problem with your hand-holding technique is to try and shoot at faster shutter speeds like 1/500 to 1/000 or above. Another thing is to stop down the Aperture to f/8 and shoot. One of these or both these factors might yield you good results.
      Let me know how it goes.

      1. i take photos from canon dslr 1200D and its been one year i am complaining that it is not a good camera and i was disappointed that i have wasted my money to get this camera and i was thinking that i should have saved little bit more money to get better one but i was wrong, i never have experimented with my camera and your article was sooooo helping that i got hope to take photography further as a career. When i just followed you word by word and holding camera in my hand and have followed the instructions by you, the result after following your article is that finally i got much improved photograph of my panasonic headphones which is way much much better than my years practice n that click is not by chance but after following your instructions. you have just given me solution in 23 minutes. Thank you prathap you have just solved my years problem in a couple of minutes. i am not very good with english and it is hard to explain it in few lines while don’t have bit enough command on language. But once again thank you and now i have hope to learn experiment and explore my camera with the help of tutorials. i am a visual artist(Painter) and have done my masters in vidual arts but i have decided to prepare myself to get admission in film n TV and i am preparing my entry test so i was going through tutorials and i got your best one. Thank you and pray for me to get admission. i am clear that if i get admission i will go in DOP. Thanks

        1. Hi Bushra Javed, thank you so much for such a detailed comment. I truly appreciate it. It’s always a pleasure to understand that my readers are able to get the results.
          I wish you all the best and I hope you get the admission.

  23. Pratap,
    Correct me if my understanding is incorrect.

    How do I make the aperture value or the shutter speed value appear on the LCD screen?
    Say, I set the aperture and to achieve a good exposure I look at the LCD screen to make sure the metering scale is at zero. This automatically addresses the shutter speed. This means there is no additional step to separately set the shutter speed.
    Thank you,
    Andrew Chow

  24. Hi Prathap!

    I love your tutorial. I have been practicing with it since I read it.
    Its wonderful. I have come across one difficulty though.

    How do I keep the camera stable enough to not let the picture blur? (I am shooting with the camera in my hand, is that okay?) Can any setting help with stability?

    What to do if I cant travel around with my tripod?

    (I have a Canon 600D 18-55mm)

    1. Hi, Thanks. As long as you make sure that you have a shutter speed of 1/250 or above, you should be good. Theoretically, if you have a shutter speed of at least (1/effective focal length of the lens), you should be good. Which means you should have (1/(55 * 1.6)) or 1/100th of a second. You have to follow some hand-holding techniques to be sure to get sharp images with slower shutter speeds.

    2. Hi, Thank you. Just make sure that you have a Shutter Speed that’s at least (1/effective focal length of your lens). In your case, make sure you shoot at shutter speeds of 1/125th of a second or more. The more the better.

  25. Hi, great writeup here. Thanks. I have a small question for you. I am unable to change the light meter in the Manual mode. It is stuck on -3 which is making my pictures very dark. Getting camera prompts like AWB / AEB automatically shoot with different exposures. Thus I could not go beyond Step 7 🙁
    Is there a way I can fix thos?? of course there is… can you please help me? You can write to be at as well.


      Hi, great writeup here. Thanks. I have a small question for you. I am unable to change the light meter in the Manual mode. It is stuck on -3 which is making my pictures very dark. Getting camera prompts like AWB / AEB automatically shoot with different exposures. Thus I could not go beyond Step 7
      Is there a way I can fix this?? of course there is… can you please help me? You can write to be at as well.

      1. Hi Sinha, I can understand. You are probably trying this experiment in a dimly lit condition. If you are already at the maximum Aperture setting and the Shutter Speed is 30 seconds, then the meter is stuck because there’s hardly any light. Otherwise, by changing the shutter speed you should be able to get the meter to 0.
        I would recommend you to try this experiment again in outdoors and let me know if you get it to work.

  26. This is awesome!! I have also wanted to try manual mode but could not understand the settings. I followed each step you stated Pratap and I was able to get awesome photos!! Thanks a lot.

  27. Useful article!thanku sir,I tried dis and the result was awesome,I should say.what all things should take care while taking night photos?

  28. Hello naturephotographysimplified,

    I’m kim lori, and come from Miami. Thanks for your awesome article share. This article is very much helpful for me.Because I’m a youtuber, and I want to buy Canon Rebel T3i DSLR. But still I have question on it should I ask here ?

  29. Hello Prathap,
    I am looking to start a Youtube channel and I am on a budget. I want to start with a less expensive camera to see if I keep up with the channel the way I intend to. What do you recommend? I will be filming a fashion clothing, “ballin’ on a budge” type series, so detailed images is crucial as well as some of the video’s need to have voice over’s and video’s within the main video. Please help!

    Thank you.

  30. Photography has been my passion for a long time and I’ve had my Canon DSLR for quite a few years but as embarrassing as it sounds never really experimented with the Manual settings for long enough to learn. just came across your blog, very simple and full of practical advise, looking forward to practice newly gained strategies, thanks a lot! 😊

  31. Could you please tell how the image size varies from one click to another? I set L size and took a photo at manual mode, and the image size was 3MB. For the next click, if I change some settings the size reduces. Why this happens?

    1. Hi, What’s the size reduction like? Every image will be having a different size based on the data (details) in the image. But the size variation is usually not large. As long as the dimensions are correct, you don’t have to worry.

  32. Hi Pratap, Thank you for such a stunning writing on photography. Can you please post printable version? Printable version would be more helpful to learn. Thanks again.

  33. Thanks for teaching the basic skills using Manual. I am glad I learned about the exposure meter. That will be very useful.

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