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5 Ways To Master Manual Mode!

Master Manual Mode.

If you own a DSLR and have a passion for photography, you have landed in the right place. A lot of people are under the common misconception that buying a new DSLR camera will instantly improve their photography. They place an order, and a few days later, their new, shiny toy arrives on their doorstep. Then things usually get tricky. Once the camera is out of its packaging it becomes quickly apparent that working the damn thing is much harder than it looks. Therefore the dial is switched to Auto mode, and that is where it stays for the foreseeable. Here is a handy guide to help you master manual mode in no time.

ONE | Set your aperture

One of my absolute favourite styles of photography is where the subject is sharp, and the background is beautifully blurred. This effect is called ‘bokeh’ and happens when you set your aperture, or your f/stop to it’s lowest number. It is also known as shooting ‘wide open’. The lowest number (or f/stop) you can achieve is dependent on the type of lens you have.

For example, one of my favourite lenses is an 85mm prime, and it can shoot down to f/1.8. Imagine that the number equates to the area in focus on the image. The smaller the number, the smaller the area that is in focus (like a face) and the rest of the image is deliberately blurry. This look is impressive if you are shooting against a background of colour, like autumnal trees or in a meadow of flowers.

What kind of photography will you be shooting?

There are many reasons you would want to shoot wide open. My personal favourites are when I’m shooting portraits. I make sure both eyes are on the focal plane (explained below) so that they are both in focus and place them in front of a pretty background. That way, you can guarantee your facial features are all tack-sharp regardless of how low you have your f/stop. However, if you are a landscape photographer, you are going to need to increase you f/stop to a number large enough to bring everything into focus. Popular f/stops for this genre are f/8-11 depending on the scene, the lens and the camera.


While shooting wide open can indeed be beautiful, it can also go wrong. The trouble with shooting so wide open is that there is such a small area in focus, if you miss your mark, it can mean that the most significant bits are soft or blurry. For this bit, you need to understand:

The Focal Plane

Okay, unless you are a super-brain, I would avoid Googling this term. It can kick up some crazy tech-lingo and may put you off. Rather than fumble through an explanation myself, these guys have done a fantastic job of making something rather complicated, straightforward to understand. They also do some pretty awesome presets if you’re interested.

Another thing to understand is this:

A low f/stop (f/1.4) = more light let into the camera

Shooting “wide open” like this means that the diaphragm of the lens opens up and more light reaches the sensor. It also means that a smaller area will be in focus.

A high f/stop (f/16) = less light let into the camera.

“Stopping down” like this means the diaphragm in the lens closes, restricting the amount of light that reaches the sensor. It also means a larger area will be in focus.

Example of aperture in use

TWO | Set your shutter speed

The shutter speed is the amount of time that your shutter is open looks like this: 1/125. All this means is that the shutter is open for 1/125th of a second. It could also be 1/250, 1/500 or even 30 whole seconds or more (if you have a tripod and a trigger!). The type of camera you have will determine what it is capable of, but unless you are shooting specialist areas such as astrophotography, most basic settings will be more than you need.

Make sure you pick the right number!

When shooting moving things like children or animals, try to avoid setting the shutter speed slower than 1/125 as it will help to prevent your image from becoming blurry and out of focus. Even this setting can be too slow, but it depends on whether you want a little motion blur in your image to give the effect of movement. If you’re going to freeze your subject completely, increase your shutter speed.

Top tip!

You will find that if your shutter speed is too slow (let’s say 1/35), your image can be affected by camera shake (if you are holding your camera and it isn’t on a tripod). Another rule of thumb is always to shoot at a shutter speed value which is larger than the most extended length of your lens. For example, another of my favourite lenses is my 70-200mm, and I always shoot at 200mm. Therefore I will make sure that my shutter speed is at a MINIMUM of 1/200.

Here is the technical bit.

The lower your shutter speed, the longer your shutter is open. This means two things; one is that more light is reaching your sensor as the shutter takes longer to close. The other is that more movement is happening in your scene while the shutter is still closing. It is that which causes blurring.

Let’s look at it from the opposite angle

The higher your shutter speed, the least time your shutter is open, it’s snapping shut, which means that less light reaches your sensor as it has no time to get through. It also means that very little happens in your scene in the time it takes to close so you will end up with perfectly frozen shots. Again, choosing either of these settings will depend on what you want to achieve with your image. If you’re going to shoot a babbling brook and wish to have beautiful, silky, smooth tendrils of water, you will need a tripod, a trigger and a slower shutter speed. This means the scenery itself such as the rocks, the ground and the trees will be sharp and in focus, but the water will be blurred and soft as it moves through the scene.

It’s a popular technique in landscape photography. However, if you want to freeze your subject entirely, you choose a much higher shutter speed. A lot of sports photographers shoot at a minimum of 1/800 to freeze a shot say of a footballer booting the ball into the back of the net.


It is worth bearing in mind that the slower the shutter speed, the MORE light gets to the sensor. The faster the shutter speed, the LESS light gets to the sensor. Want to freeze motion? Then you cannot compromise your shutter speed, but you CAN adjust your aperture to counteract. If you find the scene is now too dark because you’re shooting at 1/400, you can lower your f/stop to f/2.8 to allow more light in that way. If you cannot do that, you may find you are stuck. It’s at this point you need to consider your ISO.

THREE | Check your ISO

Your ISO setting can and will be the thing that saves your shot when you need your shutter speed and aperture to be where they are. ISO stands for International Organisation Standard (which is pretty meaningless) but measures the sensitivity of the sensor in your camera. By increasing the number, you are increasing the sensitivity of your sensor to light. Kind of like tricking it into thinking that more light is available than there is. It’s a pretty handy little trick when you’re stuck in a low light situation. However, as you’ve probably noticed with everything else I’ve written so far, there is a trade-off.

Your new camera is likely to be set at ISO100. 100 is the number for a lovely, sunny day outside in the garden. From here on most entry-level cameras you can move up to 250, then 400, 650, 800, 1200 and 1600. Beyond that, unless you have bought yourself a professional level DSLR, your camera will most likely not cope, and your images will become noisy (grainy).

As a general rule of thumb, the following settings are good starting points:

ISO100  Outdoors on a sunny day

ISO400  Outdoors in the shade

ISO800  Indoors on a bright day

ISO1200 Indoors on a cloudy day

You can adjust up or down from any of these starting points. Bear in mind that the setting you need will depend on what aperture and shutter speed you are using and what kind of camera and lens you are using too.


If you make sure that your exposure is always correct by using your exposure meter in the viewfinder, you are less likely to get such an issue with grain.

Use an ISO of 100 in bright sunlight.

Surfer girl catching her breath on the sandy beach in front of a row of colourful beach huts

FOUR | Exposure

If you look through your viewfinder, along the bottom, you will see a little exposure meter. It will look something like this:

Exposure meter

Now you have learned about setting your aperture, shutter speed and ISO. By adjusting these three things, you will be able to get the perfect exposure for your images. Just nudge each of them until you have the little arrow/”ticker” is in the centre on the zero. This is technically ‘perfect’ exposure, but a lot of photographers have preferences.

I always try and aim for the zero and then tweak my levels in post-processing to achieve the look I want. However, my post-processing technique will vary depending on what my image is, whether it’s backlit, the time of day, indoors, outdoors and many other factors. A lot of photographers like to shoot very slightly overexposed; some even shoot underexposed. Ultimately it is up to you; however, a good rule of thumb is to aim for the centre and work from there.

When shooting weddings I am always careful to expose the dress well. Being white means the highlights are easily blown, especially in hard sunlight.

Bride and groom walking away down a forest lane lined with evergreen trees.

FIVE | Choose the right white balance

Making sure the colour temperature is suitable is essential when taking your photograph. Correctly setting your white balance removes unrealistic colour casts from your image and means that you will get more natural colours. You will have the choice of the settings below:

White balance icons

AWB (Auto White Balance)

A good all-rounder and will work well for most scenarios.


There’s no rocket science here. Use this one when shooting in daylight. Best used on a sunny day outdoors.


Again, easy peasy. Just set to this mode when you are outdoors and on a cloudy, overcast day. It will bring warmth back into the shot where the clouds would cool everything down in tone and colour. 


Use this setting in the shade and your colour temperature will be warmed to compensate for the cool tones in the shadows.


This one can be a lifesaver when you are shooting in public buildings. A lot of pubs, village halls, registry offices, and even a lot of churches have this awful lighting, and this setting cools down the orange tones of this offensive cast.


This setting is another convenient one for public buildings. Village halls are the WORST for fluorescent lighting! You could use this setting to counteract the awful green tones here.


I use this setting a lot. While it is supposed to be used with flash, I sometimes use it without to add a lovely, earthy warmth to my pictures. I always use this setting when shooting using strobes in the studio, but that is for another time.


This setting is for when you want to set your white balance manually. You’ll have to refer to your camera’s manual on how to do this.

Using the right white balance helped to transform orange tungsten into light, bright whites.

laughing at the altar wedding ceremony Woodhall Manor

Is your brain going to explode yet?

This blog is a basic introduction to mastering manual mode, and you will find further tips and tricks in my other blogs so take a look at my blog pages to learn more or, if you’re interested, at some of the shoots I’ve been doing. I hope you have enjoyed this lesson and to help you with your journey into mastering manual mode; I have designed and prepared an epic guide for you to download for free.


Why not visit my Facebook page and post some of the images you have taken using the new skills you’ve learned here? I will be announcing the best images submitted at the end of every month.

Take Better Photos Of Your Kids

Take Better Photos Of Your Kids

If you are a parent with a passion for taking good photos of your kids, this guide will walk you through it and help to improve your skills. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below. Happy learning!

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Posed vs. Candid Shots

The first thing you might be asking is; “What do you mean by ‘candid and how is that going to help me take better photos of the kids’?”

Good question.

A majority of us are more familiar with traditional style shots. These are where the photographer makes you sit in a particular way, facing the camera. More often than not they ask you to say “Cheese”, and you end up with a very unnatural looking grin. In this style of posed photograph, the subject is very aware that their photograph is being taken. The photographer is completely in control of most aspects of the shot and may direct the subject to get the shot they want. In a lot of cases, this way of taking photographs works perfectly well. Especially if it is for a styled shoot like glamour or fashion. A lot of people quite like this style of photography in weddings too, although a lot are now turning towards a more candid style of shooting.

What is candid photography?

With candid photography, the photographer has much less control over the shoot. They will have to move around a lot and the subject may not even be aware that they are being photographed.

The pay-off here is that you end up with much more natural moments and expressions. These are often moments that you would never capture if you were going down the traditional, posed route.

In the first photo I am trying to control all aspects of the shot I was taking, but my daughter wasn’t impressed. In the second photo I zoom in and take a natural shot of her as she watches the snowflakes fall. Which one do you prefer?

It’s all about stealth.

There is nothing rocket science about this. You don’t have to have a first in child psychology to understand that kids love to play. This is the whole reason for their existence in their own eyes. The best images I’ve seen of children have been of them immersed in play or captured in moments that are natural to them. This might look like mud kitchen chaos, Lego building, making dens, or having a quiet cuddle with Daddy before bedtime. Whichever it is, take the opportunity and get your camera or phone out without making a fuss. Resist the urge to order smiles from them or to make them face the camera as it will immediately turn them off to the idea. Instead you will get either prompt grumpy faces and hiding, or silly face pulling. You don’t want either of these. Not only will they then look unnatural, but it will almost certainly mean a lot of waiting until they forget your intentions to capture them without them knowing.

What equipment do I need?

Most phones have brilliant cameras built in to them but honestly, for this kind of thing you just can’t beat a DSLR and a longer lens. Using a long lens means that you can be much further from your subject and zoom right in. This means that they are less likely to realise you are taking their picture but it will still look like you are right on top of the action.

Using a DSLR and longer lens will obviously require a certain level of skill. If you are unsure what to do aside opt for the ‘Auto’ function, please click here to be directed to my Beginner’s Guide To Using A DSLR At Home.


One of the biggest secret weapons in candid photography is the use of anticipation. Some of the best photographers I know use this skill so well, they can take a photo at the exact moment that something significant happens time and time again. I’m talking about the moment in a conversation where everyone bursts into laughter. Or the moment when the baby smiles for the first time. Some of the best photos I’ve managed to get have been when I’ve been watching my children or at a wedding, and there is a ‘moment’ unfolding. Having the skill to predict when these moments happen will serve you well as a candid photographer.

Capture the character!

On the opposite end of the scale I have complete divas and nutters in my family. I absolutely love encouraging my kids to be themselves as much as possible. So if you child is anything like mine, embrace the mentalness! It’s who they are! Don’t try and over-rule them by demanding they stop being silly! Ultimately you will be denying them their natural behaviour, and isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to capture? After all, nine times out of ten, once they’ve done something silly or crazy, there will be a couple of seconds afterwards where they are laughing and smiling for REAL. Those are the moments you need to anticipate or predict and is when you should press the shutter.

Step it up!

For those of you who are relatively comfortable with these ideas, there are a number of ways you can really up your game and start getting some really lovely, wall-worth pictures. The first one I would suggest is to think about your surroundings. If you are shooting in your house, why not step it up and into the garden on a nice day? Get the kids gardening or digging in the flowerbeds for worms. Maybe try the local playground or the beach or forest. We are surrounded with some of the most natural beauty in the country. Get out there and make the most of it!

A rollercoaster of emotions.

One of the things you will hear me banging on about is human connection. That social interaction between humans and those that they love. For many, that can look like people and their loved ones and for many others it can look like humans and their pets. All are so important and all are brilliant subjects for your photography. The emotional side of it is easy, don’t just photograph the smiles. After all, if we are documenting our lives we may want to see all the fun and happy parts, but life is not all happiness. There is also sadness, frustrations and anger along with everything in-between. Try to capture a broad range if you can but remember to be respectful. A brilliant way to take better photos of your kids is to capture them in all the emotions.

What are they looking at?

A really great way of capturing moments is to take photos of your kids or loved ones when they are all looking at the same thing. This is called a ‘shared focus’ and incorporates that thing into the scene, giving a wider view of what is happening. You could even go one step further by using the camera as a point of view in the child’s life. So you could shoot over your child’s shoulder as they are doing some painting, or zoom in on their fingers as they do up their shoelaces. All of these things help to tell the story of their childhood and will be memories very much cherished at a later date. To take better photos of your kids doesn’t just mean taking photos of their faces!

Don’t be lazy!

As I mentioned before, you will not have a lot of control over your environment or the lighting conditions when you are shooting candidly. The trick is to make sure you get moving! The way the light hits your scene or subject is going to have a big impact on the images you take. Make sure you take advantage of it by checking all the different vantage points available to you. Don’t be afraid to lay on the ground or shoot at different angles to create more interest. It’s the difference between an average photo and an epic one.

Another pointer here would be to take a test shot to check that your exposure is correct. This is especially important if you are shooting into back-lit conditions or if it is particularly dark or light. You can always retake the shot if you need to.

Clear the decks!

Some people like to leave everything as it is and go true documentary style however others like to have a little clean-up before. Whichever way you decide to go, it’s entirely up to you. I tend to make sure any unsightly items are out of view when taking the picture. I’ve seen so many photos ruined because poles are growing out of people’s heads! Keep an eye on the surroundings when you are framing up your shot and decide whether you are happy to keep everything in view. It’s up to your personal sense of style to gage whether this is how to take better photos of your kids!

Just take the shot!

A lot of the time you have a split-second to take the shot before the moment is lost. If this is the case, make sure you have your camera set up properly for the conditions you’re shooting in. For many it’s just a quick snap on their phone, but if you are doing this with a DSLR (which I highly recommend you do), make sure that you have the basics down. Ultimately, photography is all about light and the quality of that light. Make sure you have enough of it to take the shot. If you don’t, make sure you understand how to introduce artificial light or you know how to increase your ISO to allow more light to your sensor. This will allow you to increase your shutter speed so that you can capture things in motion and freeze them (if that is what you are trying to do). Just knowing a couple of these things will increase your photography massively.

Ultimately, the best way to learn is by doing. So just get out there and take the shot!

Give up and hire a pro.

Unfortunately, photography just isn’t for everyone. While I firmly believe that anything can be learned (click here for a guide on how to Master Manual Mode), you may not have the time or the inclination to do so. In situations like this, I fully recommend hiring a professional to do it for you. It is an expense you won’t regret and the images will be cherished for generations.

For information on our family packages, please click here. If you are here looking for a candid photographer for you wedding, please click here.

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Qualified with The Guild of Professional Photographers TWICE! Weddings & Children

I'm Qualified with The Guild!

Yesterday I was informed that I am now a Qualified member  of  The Guild of Professional Photographers.

As a wedding and family photographer, there is no greater honour than to be recognised by my peers and I am so happy to receive this news!

There was no way that I could submit a panel of images to show my work for both weddings and children’s portraits at the same time. The two are SO different. So I was informed that I had to submit not one, but two separate panels for judging.

Scroll down to find out more…

What does it mean to have “Qualified Status”?

The Guild’s ‘Qualified’ status is aligned to standards of competence that reflect a level where the customer should be delighted with the quality they receive, when employing the services of a skilled photographer. In other words ‘Qualified’ indicates professional ‘competence’.  It’s a level where the Guild is willing to recognise the photographer as an ambassador of the association. Those who achieve this should be proud.

And I really am.

Submitting a panel (let alone two), is a nerve-wracking task and requires a certain dedication to improve. It also requires the willingness to hear sometimes difficult but necessary critique in order to improve your work.

What does it involve?

I had to submit a total of 21 images per panel (so 42 in total for me) taken in the past 2 years and relevant to the area(s) I wanted qualification in.

All the submitted images had to be what I had taken for customers and I also had to provide proof of my Public Liability and Professional Insurance Certificates.

The images had to be presented digitally and I had to write a short purposeful brief for each panel.

The judging process involves three judges assessing each panel.

What does being a Qualified member of The Guild mean for me and my clients?

In a nutshell, this means that I am continuously striving to be my best for my clients and also for myself. I’m a perfectionist at heart, so having a structured assessment process like this is perfect for me. It means I can focus on improving my skills which in turn means a better product for my clients.

Not only that, but being part of The Guild is like being part of an extended family for me. Everyone is so encouraging and supportive and it really does help to have this kind of support when you are trying to better yourself.

I’m already planning to apply for the Craftsman level which is the next level up!

Wish me luck!

Contact me to discuss your wedding photography needs or to talk about booking a family session.