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

DSLR Basics: 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode for Nikon 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 Nikon D7100 DSLR camera settings in this article. It is pretty much the same for all the Nikon DSLR Cameras. If you are a Canon DSLR owner please read DSLR Basics: 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode for Canon 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 left hand side, to point to M . Some of the models may have the mode dial at the top right hand side.

Mode Dial on Nikon D7100 DSLR showing Manual Mode selection for Nikon DSLR cameras.

Select Manual Mode from the Mode Dial as shown in the picture

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.

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

Step 4: Check the Important Camera Settings

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

info button on Nikon D7100 DSLR displays all the Camera settings on the LCD monitor

Press the info button to get Camera settings on the LCD screen. Note that LCD display times out after few seconds. Image is for Nikon D7100 DSLR

Note: After a few seconds LCD screen display times out, press info 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.

Images showing Aperture Value and the ISO value in the Camera settings on Nikon DSLR Cameras

Left image shows the Aperture value represented as F with a number and the right image shows the ISO value represented as ISO with a number

If you have not changed any of the camera settings in your DSLR, then you should see F number to be very small like F2.8, F3.5, or F5.6, which means the maximum aperture of the lens attached.  If not, then turn the aperture dial (usually in the front) towards your left to get the smallest possible F number.

Image showing the aperture dial on Nikon D7100 DSLR which is used to change the aperture value to increase or decrease the depth of field and also to achieve proper exposure

Aperture dial on Nikon D7100 DSLR which is used to change the aperture value or the lens opening to control the light falling on the Camera sensor

If ISO value is 100, which is the least value, then you are good. Otherwise, press and hold the ISO button and turn the dial (on top-right corner of the back panel) towards your left (or counter-clockwise direction) until you get it to ISO 100. In some Nikon DSLRs, minimum ISO is 200.

Secondary dial on Nikon D7100 DSLR which is used to change the ISO value to achieve the proper exposure.

Secondary dial on Nikon D7100 DSLR which is used to change the ISO value to achieve the proper exposure

Step 5: Check the Camera Metering indicator

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

Nikon D7100 Camera Metering mode which indicates if there is enough light or too much light falling on the camera sensor.

Camera Metering mode which indicates if there is enough light or too much light falling on the Camera sensor

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.

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

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 -.

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 info button again to get back to the settings on the LCD screen.

If the picture was underexposed or the arrow is pointing towards -, then turn the secondary dial (top-right corner of the back panel) towards your left (counter-clockwise direction).

Secondary dial on Nikon DSLR which is used to change the ISO and Shutter speed values to achieve perfect exposure in Manual Mode

Secondary dial is primarily used to change the Shutter speed value as quickly as possible. It is also used in conjunction with ISO button to change the ISO values, WB button to change White balance, and so on

As you turn it left, you will notice that the blinking indicator or arrow 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.

Images showing Underexposure on the Camera Settings on Nikon D7100 DSLR and also the proper settings to achieve perfect exposure using Manual Mode

Image on the left shows that there is very less light which means the 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).

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 showing overexposure and the proper exposure using the Manual mode on the Nikon D7100 DSLR

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

In this step, 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 once again. 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.

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Prathap is a professional nature photographer and founder of Nature Photography Simplified blog. He aims to simplify every photography concept to help beginners and amateur photographers.

Download his highly recommended FREE eBook "Bird Photography – 10 Mistakes and Solutions" which has been instrumental in helping thousands of bird photographers.

Download it right now to jumpstart your bird photography.

This Post Has 55 Comments
  1. Hello Blog Owner,

    Nice Lesson.. All these days was trying Manual Mode, today after going through your info about Manual Mode, I admit, I learnt a basic lesson.


    1. Hi Pramod…glad that you learnt about it. Hopefully you will continue to learn more in the upcoming articles. Good luck with your photography.
      Best Regards,

  2. Very nice lesson! I have to say after reading this blog, this is how I learned Manual mode on my D7100! THANK YOU!! 🙂 Its exciting to see the pictures and play with the exposure so easily!

  3. Thank you so much for these great information….
    Amazing information.. Although I’m not trying it… But definitely one day I will try it….
    And yes I want more information…

  4. far out this was helpful.. as someone new to manual mode I couldn’t work out why the pictures were black.. exposure duh.. I now feel more confident to muck around with manual settings!! thank you so much
    pleaaasssse keep posting these!!

  5. Just Hannah again! do you have an email or forum I can get tips and help from??
    My latest problem are the metering keeps changing depending where I point the camera, even on manual mode?

  6. Thanks Prathap for the besic knowledge of manual mode. As this is my first DSLR, I could not deal with the manual mode.

  7. WOW !! THANK YOU SO MUCH. You are right, I will never go back to another mode. I had my cameras for years and could never get the concepts down. I was excited when all my pictures started looking great after using these steps. Now I can seriously think about starting a new career. Thanks again.

  8. Dear Prathap,
    Appreciated your help on this. your article is very simple and give more interest to read.
    in simple English and simple steps you explained. i will follow the same in future.

    Thanks Again.

    1. Hi Claudio, I am sorry. I did not write that eBook and instead wrote a free eBook on Bird Photography. Many concepts are covered in the form of articles. Please browse through my earlier articles to understand all the basic concepts.

  9. Just started learning the concepts.. and this blog saved me in addressing metering issues.. keep up the good work..

  10. Woooow!!!

    I’m literarilly jumping around, this is a great lesson.

    I’m actually a DSLR VIDEOGRAPHER using Nikon D7100, believe me sir, u dont know how much you have helped my cinematography with this lesson…now when i can shoot videos in manual mode, adjusting ISO and other things while shooting which was a limitation to me before..kudos sir…

    Could you also please direct me to links where i can learn more on DSLR VIDEOGRAPHY? Thanks in advance.

    Ibraheem Oloye from Lagos, Nigeria

  11. Greetings from Romania!!
    You are a genius man!!! You made me very very happy!! I was also jumping around before i read the previous comment!!
    For two days i watched video tutorials and read about aperture, iso and shutter speed..but no one said anything about this blinking indicator..(and i was wondering what it is)
    Thank you!! Thank you!!

  12. Just bought the nikon d3300 and the only camera I’ve ever used was on my phone. I was in over my head with this camera. After reading your post I feel so much more confident. I’ve taken about 500 photos in the last 2 days using manual mode and understanding exposure compensation, aperture, and shutter speed. ISO is in auto for now. You both make it so easy to learn that I had to buy your book and can’t wait to dive into it. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Thank you so much! Lunay Jose. That’s awesome to know. 500 photos all with manual mode! That’s the way you get better at it.
      Wish you good luck! Let us know how it goes.

  13. Hi here, I just came across your 8 tips on Manual Exposure on a D7100. I tried everything it said but when I turn the dial on the back of my camera it doesn’t move. Also what is displayed on the LCD screen in the +/- area is different then what’s in the viewfinder. Can you help me with that. I must have a setting locked or something in the menu and I can’t figure out what that might be. Thank you kindly,

    Wendy E

    1. Hi Wendy, That doesn’t look alright to me. Can you try the steps again? If you are in Manual Mode (M) then you should be able to see the change. There’s no lock as such.
      It might be helpful if you can send me some screenshots.

  14. The subcommand dial changes the aperture and the main command dial changes the shutter speed on the D7100. Your description above under the camera states the opposite. I was a bit confused and surprised no-one had picked up on this.

  15. I am having Nikon SB600 Speed light & Nikon D7200, please suggest what setting I have to do in Camera & Flash for portait photographs as they are coming very dull.

  16. Excellent. I’ve followed a number of different lessons trying to improve my knowledge using the Nikon D7100 and this was by far the easiest. I’m spending the rest of the day playing.

  17. Prathap you’re the best! Well-illustrated training, you have made this training enjoyable, fun to read and understandable. Thank you, sir. Vusi

  18. Just ordered a Nikon D7100. going to give your lesson a try. Thanks so much for the information. Can’t wait until the camera comes. I do a lot of Church photography in low light. This will help, once I have it mastered.

  19. Thank you Pratap. This is a very good lesson. Till today I have no idea about aperture, exposure etc. I always used auto mode in my D5200. This lesson gives me some ideas to take photos in m mode. Thanks

  20. I must say you have hi quality content here. Your posts should go viral.
    You need initial boost only. How to get massive traffic?
    Search for; Murgrabia’s tools go viral

  21. Hey Prathap. Can i ask for your advice on choosing a camera. I’m contemplating between choosing Canon T6 and Nikon D3400. I’m a newbie and planning to use it for school. I read an article on Sleeq Tech( but the writer suck at explaining the differences. Wasted my time spending 10 minutes reading it. What would be your adivise? Canon T6 or D3400 for a total newbie like me? Thank you in advance

  22. thanks. the screen all of sudden stopped looking alien and I can figure out the numbers and relevance. thank you indeed

  23. I can’t thank you enough for your clear and concise instructions. I look forward to reading your other articles.

  24. thank you so much! i learned a lot! i don’t know why it took me this long to learn manual. i didn’t know it can be this easy, thanks to your straight forward instructions. so grateful!

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