The New Manual DSLR Project

Hi, and welcome to my blog. The Manual DSLR Project was started March 30, 2010 with the intent of devoting one year to learning how to use my Nikon D300 in manual mode. I invited you to join me as I took this journey. You celebrated with me as my fingers began to remember which wheel adjusts the shutter speed and which controls the aperture settings. I was brutally honest in sharing my mistakes.

A year passed quickly...and I achieved my goal of demystifying the manual operation of my camera.

While the Manual DSLR Project was intended to be bound by time (one year), I am eager to keep the conversation going. So look for additional posts on anything related to photography. And interact. Let me know if you are reading the blog and find it useful.

All the best...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Two Important Lessons

So we took a quick trip to New Orleans this week via Amtrak. Our train was delayed leaving Birmingham and flooding in Mississippi and Louisiana resulting in our going very slow on the way down. That was okay, since we had a nice quiet room and free meals in the dining car.

Lesson # 1 - On the way down, my wife (who usually shoots in Aperture priority or Automatic with her D80) asked how manual mode works. Of course the teacher in me came out so I explained how to use manual mode and the relationship between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Good news: She caught on very quickly. Bad news: By Tuesday she was shooting mostly in manual mode and nailing her exposures. Lesson learned: My wife is awesome and can kick my butt at almost anything. (Did I say almost?)

Lesson # 2 - I did get an opportunity to shoot a lot on this trip, so I started learning to adjust the camera on the fly without having to take it down from my eye. One little memory tool that I used was to decrease shutter speed turn the wheel toward the center of the camera body and to increase shutter speed I turn it away from the body. An easy way to remember that is to increase the amount of light (by slowing the shutter speed) you turn the wheel toward the hot shoe. To decrease light (by increasing shutter speed), you turn the wheel away from the hot shoe (away from the light). Okay, it's cheesy but just cheesy enough that it might just work. If you don't believe me, sing along with me as we sing "Conjunction Junction, what's your function" or "Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas..." or any of the memory tips that we used when we were kids.

Here are a couple of shots from this week. This first shot is an example of some of the great detail in the architecture in New Orleans. I thought this house (which was next door to the B&B where we stayed) told the story of New Orleans: The city has endured some rough times, but there is a beauty there--a sense of class--a city with a clear identity.

This was shot in manual mode at ISO 320, F7.1 and 1/800 sec.

The second shot is a bear (duh!) taken at the Audubon Zoo. It was shot at ISO 200, F5.6 at 1/40 sec. Both were shot with a Nikon D300 and a Nikkor 18-135 f3.5-6.3 AFS lens.

I was trying to travel light on this trip so I took only the D300, the 18-135 lens and an SB600 speedlight. I'll post more photos on this site and on Twitter as I get a chance.

The more I shoot in manual mode the more I see that it is not rocket science, but it does take practice, practice, practice until the adjustments become second nature. Look for a new post soon.

All the best...Mike


  1. Mike,
    Congrats on starting on this journey! Keep in mind that there are very few people in the world who can look at any scene and know what settings to use. The most important thing is to become as familiar with your camera that you can make adjustments quickly without having to think much about it. As for knowing a scene, you should be able to learn enough to "get in the ballpark" and nail the shot within one or two shots.

  2. Thanks for the comment. As you can see in the header to this blog, you are one of the teaching professionals who inspired me to start this journey. Thanks for your encouragement: past, present, and future. - Mike (ManualDSLRProject)