A Beginner’s Guide to Perfect Exposure in Manual Mode

Whether you’re shooting in the city or out in a wide open space, getting the perfect exposure in manual mode might be a little tricky. But it doesn’t have to be. If you’re having trouble getting a perfect exposure, here’s a super easy 3-step process by Joshua Cripps that will help you get it right every time:

3 Easy Steps to Perfect Exposure in Manual Mode

1. Compose, Set Aperture, Focus

The first thing you need to do is set up your composition and adjust your aperture and focus to get the right depth of field.

2. Meter to the Middle

Set your metering to Matrix or Evaluative, then adjust your shutter speed until the light meter is in the middle.

meter in the middle photo

3. Review Histogram and Repeat

Have a look at your camera’s histogram to see if you’re underexposed or overexposed.

A big spike on the left means you have clipped shadows and your photo is underexposed.

underexposed photo


A spike on the right means you’ve blown out highlights and your photo is overexposed.

overexposed photo


Adjust your shutter speed to fix the exposure: a faster shutter speed to fix overexposure and a slower one to fix underexposure.

perfect exposure in manual mode

Technically Correct Exposure

Keep taking pictures and checking your histogram. Once it’s somewhere in the middle—with no spikes on the right or left—then you’ve got yourself a perfect exposure.

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2 responses to “A Beginner’s Guide to Perfect Exposure in Manual Mode”

  1. Kim Fyson says:

    Why not just use aperture or shutter speed priority modes and speed up this process considerably – the camera will compute the correct exposure for you. That’s what modern cameras are designed to do. Make minor adjustments to taste with the exposure compensation dial.

    Learn how to use aperture or shutter speed priority modes creatively and forget about making laborious manual settings. This article takes no account of the creative process.

  2. Phil Johns says:

    I have to agree with Kim Fyson. However, for those who are ‘enthralled with the Process’, then the above will offer some insite.

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