How did you learn to master your camera?


No longer a newbie, moving up!
Jan 20, 2016
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I bought a Canon 600 D a couple of years ago and took a class on how to use the manual settings last year. A friend then took me out and explained it all again and tried to get me to figure the settings out. Since then I've been trying to work out how the ISO, depth of field and Aperture all work together.

Did you learn by yourself or what did you do that helped you really get to grips with how the settings work? I've been trying to use the camera just on manual to force myself to learn. Sometimes I get good shots but I feel like I'm walking in the dark and not really sure if they would be considered ' good '.

So I'm trying this forum to get tips from people who have been there!

Thanks for your advice
I learned best by using it.
To learn to use the camera it self and all of it's features and gizmos I bought a book specific to the camera. Such as "mastering the nikon d7000" by Darrel Young. After going through that book and learning each feature, then the camera's manual made sense.

To learn the exposure triangle I learned by reading and mostly by experimenting various settings to get a similar outcome. It was one of those things were reading about it really didn't explain it well. After I experimented and understood it, then the reading made sense.

And then, by posting photos on this forum you can help yourself to understand what things are good or not, as there are various views on everything.
Scott Kelby told us in his " Best of" book, stop reading books ( pretty cool for an author to admit IMO) and start taking pictures. Sparky hit it on the money.

I try personally to set Learning goals such as;

Yesterday it was learn grouping on my light settings. ✅
Today it is finish reading Kelbys book ( even though he said not to!) ✅
Tomorrow it will be trying to use a hairlight on my daughters portrait...... Again. ( probably this will thrn into today as well)

Post photos here for critique and people will help you immensely.

I'll be posting another with the addition of my speedlights so I can get better.

Have a thick skin. I ask people who arent afraid to tell you what they think. My wife is a harsh critic and sometimes it is hard to continue ( I just want to quit sometimes)but this is how we move forward. I show her my work every time and am beginning to be able to do so in a more productive manner. I also bend my shooting towards the clients ( wife) taste.
I began with a manual rangefinder and a handheld light meter.


If you want to learn to shoot in manual, treat it like film. Set the ISO and forget it. (You can't change the ISO with film, you have to load the right speed film in the first place.) Use an appropriate ISO, like 100 or 200 outdoors. Turn off auto-ISO. Then all you have is shutter and aperture. Read the meter in the viewfinder. Set a shutter speed and then find the aperture that centers the meter. Or set an aperture and find the shutter speed that centers the meter.

The meter is still your guide. Until you get some experience you can't just throw settings at it and hope for the best.

As for which shutter speed and which aperture, that's where judgement comes in. Do you have to freeze something that's moving rapidly? Then a fast shutter speed is needed. Do you want most of the picture to be in focus, no matter the distance? Then you want a small aperture (high f-number.)

The advantage of digital is the instant feedback on the screen.

Don't try some settings and then wonder why it didn't work? It's almost always obvious why it worked or didn't work. Is the picture dark? Give it more light, either larger aperture or slower shutter. Is everything blurred by motion? Speed up your shutter. If you can't speed up the shutter without making it dark, then you need to raise the ISO.

Don't change ALL the settings when trying to range in on the shot you want. If the exposure's wrong, change ONE setting to try to adjust. If the exposure is right but something else is wrong (motion blur, depth of field) change TWO setting in opposite directions.

Lastly, don't assume that shooting manual is better. It does give you more control, but not necessarily better pictures. I almost never shoot manual unless I'm shooting at night or with lighting equipment. If I want control of shutter speed, I'll shoot shutter-priority, and if I want control of depth of field I'll shoot aperture-priority. I don't have to worry about reading the meter and stopping to adjust settings, but I have control of the aspect I have to control.

I've never used the P or full-auto modes on any camera I've ever owned, and 99% of my shooting is either A or S mode. Nothing wrong with auto-exposure, but giving the camera complete control of the decision making is silly.
Did you learn by yourself or what did you do that helped you really get to grips with how the settings work?
If you're taking about learning full manual, I think it is a matter of experience. Spend some time with your camera just making the settings manually. You could, as an exercise, take an average subject, it matters not what subject. Begin with what you suspect to be "low exposure settings" and work up to "way over-exposed". Do this exercise without looking at the results on the LCD. (besides, they often lie to you anyway)

Shoot the scene with say; ISO 100, aperture at f/32, shutter speed say around 1/1000 second. Second shot will be 100, f/32, 1/500, and just keep working through the settings until you reach ISO 800, f/2.8, and 1/60 second. Then upload to your computer and find the best one, the second best one, the third best, etc.

Have a look at the EXIF for each of these shots. Somewhere you will find the "mid range" where most of your shots will look half-way descent. This is your new starting point for similar lighting conditions. If you repeat this exercise with many different lighting conditions, you will develop "the knowledge" of where to start almost anything.

Repeat the entire learning process by looking at the on-board light meter. Even if the meter reading is way low or way high, just shoot. Keep on doing this until you can do it with or without the light meter (because they sometimes lie to you as well).
Not sure if I have it mastered, but I read the manual (even before I received the camera) and watched many useful videos. Then I read parts of the manual again. I have the pdf of my manual in my phone, on dropbox, work computer, home computer...........

These may help you canon t3i tutorial - YouTube
I learned it back in the day before digital cameras. Manual mode was the only choice - the "sink or swim" school of exposure control.

There are 2 keys to understanding how each of the triad of exposure settings affects an photo, and how to balance the 3 settings for each shooting situation.
1. While all 3 of the exposure settings in combination determine the exposure of a photo, each of the 3 affects specific attributes of a photograph.
Shutter speed mostly determines if motion in the image frame is stopped and not blurred, or isn't stopped and is blurred.
Lens aperture is just one of several considerations that affect depth-of-field. Point of focus distance, lens focal length and image sensor size also affect depth-of-field.
ISO determines how much the available light is amplified, but if we use a high ISO setting electronic image noise becomes more visible in the photograph.

2. We can adjust the triad of exposure settings such that we can change the look of a photo's depth-of-field, motion rendering, & image noise but not change the exposure by understanding the fundamental concept of a stop of exposure.
A Stop
A 'stop' is a doubling (2x) or a halving (0.5x) of the amount of light that reaches the recording media, be it film or an electronic sensor.

Since exposure is a triad of adjustments (shutter speed, ISO, lens aperture) you can change 1, 2 or all 3 of the triad settings.

If you want 1 more stop of exposure (brighter) you can adjust just one of the 3 by 1 more stop.
Or, you can change 2 of the 3 by 1/2 more stop each for a net gain of 1 stop of exposure.
Or, you can adjust all 3 by 1/3 more stop for a net gain of 1 stop of exposure.

You can also change the triad of settings and have no change in the exposure.
If you change 1 of the 3 settings by 1 stop more exposure and change a 2nd setting by 1 stop less exposure the net change is zero.
Suppose you subtracted a stop of shutter speed to help stop subject motion, you could add a stop of lens aperture to keep the exposure the same. However, adding a stop of aperture will also affect the total DoF by a small amount. So, if you don't want the DoF to change you would add a stop of ISO instead, however, adding a stop of ISO will increase by some amount the image noise in the photo.

Note: DSLR cameras are set by default to adjust the exposure settings in 1/3 stop increments.
Most DSLR cameras let you change that to 1/2 stop or 1 stop increments.
However, the advantage of 1/3 stop step increments is more precise control of exposure.
I learned with a film SLR that only had Av setting (& exposure compensation).
No possibility to play with ISO during the film, so exposure was simplified.
Mind you I had to learn to focus manually to get anything.

Over the last 30 years, I've picked up a fair bit more, but like tirediron, I wouldn't claim to have fully mastered it yet.

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