How to Learn Manual Photography Quickly and Easily

November 20, 2022

W.A.I.S to set up your exposure

W.A.I.S. to set up your exposure in manual mode by Charlie Naebeck

Are you starting out with manual mode photography? Or do you want to improve and still don’t understand?

Today, I want to give you a gift called W.A.I.S. to set up your exposure.

While teaching in New York City, I developed this concept with one of my students who likes acronyms.

Many of my students have found this very helpful to begin or improve their manual mode photography.

How to use W.A.I.S

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Step 1: Set your white balance to automatic on your camera. Most of us can quickly and accurately do so by clicking the menu button.

And honestly, you can set your White Balance to automatic to set it and forget it. Most modern cameras do a fantastic job in AWB, and if you want to fix/change the colors, you can shoot in RAW and adjust the WB in post in something like Lightroom.

Step 2: What depth of field do you want in your shot?

If you are not familiar with the depth of field, it is the amount of focus in your shot, both in front of and behind, where your camera locks its focus.

For example, focus on someone’s eyes in a portrait with an aperture of 2.8. There will be a tiny focus in front of and behind the subject. Whereas if you focus on someone’s eyes with an aperture of F22, there will be a significant amount in front of and behind the subject.

For this step, anything less than F8 falls into the shallow depth of field family (subject in focus, the background is a blur). Anything larger than F8 falls into the large depth of field category (subject and background sharp).

If you are confused about where to set your aperture, a safe bet is to put it to F8 and shoot away. Think F8 is great!

This is the middle of the road for most lenses and is often the sharpest point on most lenses.

Step 3: Set your ISO based on the time of day.

Recently, I have seen many photographers telling me they set their ISO to “auto.” I will tell you several reasons why you don’t want to do that.

The ISO is the sensitivity of the image sensor to light. A lower ISO produces a smoother image, while a higher ISO produces more noise/grain in a shot.

Letting it ride is like going to Vegas. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, depending on the quality of your image sensor.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet on how to set your ISO to understand:

100 = Bright sunny days

400 = Cloudy days or if you are shooting between indoors and outdoors

800+ = Indoors and nighttime, and also, if you need more light

If you follow where I am leading you, you will set your ISO each time you change environments and set it and forget it.

Step 4: Set your shutter speed based on your camera’s light meter.

Now, up my left sleeve, I have nothing. And up my right sleeve, I also have nothing. Yet, I will show you how to make magic with your camera.

You can use the camera’s built-in light meter to get great exposure every time.

If you have an old-school light meter, it looks like this:

-3 — -2 — -1 — -0 — -1 — -2 — -3+

And if you have a new school numeric light meter, it looks like this:

0+ or -2.0 etc

The idea is to get the line below the old-school light meter to “0” for the perfect exposure.

And you would also get the numeric light meter to 0.0, which is the same as the old-school light meter.

You do this by adjusting your shutter speed faster or slower until you reach the middle.

Things to watch out for:

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

When setting your shutter speed, ensure it comes to 1/60th of a second or above. If it goes below the 1/60th mark, you may get blurry photos without balancing your camera on a tripod, stoop, or ledge.

If your light meter is at “0” and the shutter speed is below 1/60th, adjust your ISO higher until you can get the shutter above 1/60th of a second if you are shooting handheld.

There is also a balance between the Aperture, Shutter, and ISO called the exposure triangle. While you are learning, don’t worry about this too much.

The rule is if you want to practice for the future that if you move one full stop of light on one setting (three clicks on the wheel), you must move one of the other two settings one stop to balance.

I suggest playing with this setup for a while until you are comfortable setting up your shot in full manual mode.

After you are comfortable, the next step would be to work on the laws of reciprocity with counting stops for creative control.

And last but not least, remember there is no such thing as right or wrong in a photo.

Suppose you want a quick shot in one of your auto modes to test the settings and hit your display button, down arrow, or info button to see what the camera chose for settings.

In that case, it will help you get in the ballpark.

You can also download the image I posted above with W.A.I.S. to keep on your phone or in your pocket (you’re welcome).

Practice this method until you understand it like the back of your hand, and you will be shooting a complete manual in no time.

Bonus tips:

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash
  1. If you only get one shot, expose the brightest part of the image and then fix the shadows in post.
  2. Practice at different times of the day.
  3. Practice with many other subjects and objects.
  4. If you don’t have time to set up your shot, try one of the partial modes on your camera.
  5. Have fun!

And if you have questions or need help understanding, please set up a free 30-minute photo coaching call with me to chat about your photography here:

My hope is that I can work with you as your photography coach to be transparent and that you will join me as one of my students. I am happy to help you grow as you practice photography.

Happy shooting!

Hi, I am Charlie Naebeck

I am a husband, photographer, teacher, writer, entrepreneur, and adventurer.

Book a free 30 minute Zoom consultation to chat how I can help you with your photography and creative projects, or try one of my classes on Udemy.

Listen to my podcast, “What Would Charlie Shoot? with photography stories, interviews, tips, and tricks.”

If you like what you read, please consider giving me a follow on Medium.

Thank you!

How to Learn Manual Photography Quickly and Easily was originally published in Share a Picture on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.