Shooting in Manual


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Shooting in Manual


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Teacher Courtney Zimmerman

Making photographs is an opportunity to say something visually, so you might as well say that something well, right? Using your camera in “auto” is like only being able to write within the confines of a template.

Sure, you can get the basic message across with a template, but you can’t exercise the full extent of your creativity or feel any sense of satisfaction and ownership over it. Complex and nuanced thoughts become overly simplified and devalued through the template’s forced order and limitations. Your message cannot become a piece of originality.

It’s time to graduate from template messages – from auto mode picture-making – and master manual mode, because learning to shoot in manual is the critical first step in mastering the craft of photography.

In this four-week class you will learn the different elements your camera uses to record pictures and how you can harness those elements to make the images you have in mind, rather than the images your camera’s computer has in mind.

Each week focuses on an individual element and offers exercises that allow for you to grow in your familiarity with it, and culminates in the final week in which you will bring those elements together to create images entirely in manual mode. The process will leave you feeling empowered and inspired to continue your journey of communicating valuable messages through photographs.

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WEEK ONE: Harnessing Light Through Aperture — How to change an image’s depth-of-field, understanding how aperture affects the overall feel of your images, and its role in guiding viewers’ understanding of your subject.

WEEK TWO: Harnessing Light Through Shutter Speed–How to effectively freeze and blur motion, understanding how shutter speed affects an image’s sense of movement, and its role in the capturing of light.

WEEK THREE: Reading Light Through ISO and Metering — How to adjust how your camera sees and utilizes light and understanding the repercussions of those adjustments.

WEEK FOUR: Bringing It All Together — How to bring all technical elements together to create images that are truer to your vision and voice.

The Schedule

All participation and interaction for this class will take place in a private online forum. (Registered students will receive instructions on how to access the forum a few days before class begins.)

On the first Monday of class, Courtney will share Lesson 1 in the forum and e-mail it to every student. She will be available during the week to answer questions and facilitate discussions in the forum as you read and work through your lessons.

Homework will be due on Sunday and personal critiques will take place the following Mondays. Each week will follow the same pattern.

The beauty of this class and every other class at DEFINE is that you can read, practice, and participate throughout the week whenever it is convenient for you- from any timezone, anywhere you have Internet access, at any time of day. Most students spend 3-5 hours per week “in class.”

If you have any questions, please feel free to email

Is this class for you?

You value well-crafted visual messages, and it’s time to give voice to your own. This class is for beginners or intermediates looking to strengthen their technical skills and learn how to shoot in manual mode. This is the perfect place to start if you find yourself fumbling with settings or you have never taken your camera off of "auto" mode.

Material(s) Needed

A DSLR camera and your camera manual




  1. :

    You wouldn’t believe how much I learned in this class. Before taking this class, shooting in aperture priority or in manual mode with the auto ISO turned on was as manual as it got for me. I never systematically practiced the different parts of the exposure triangle until this class. I found it really helpful that we focused on one element at a time starting with aperture and to blur or not to blur the background; shutter speed and either freezing or blurring the motion; choosing the appropriate ISO for different situations and shooting in manual for the last two weeks of the course.

    The reading material was very informative, and the photos that Courtney used to illustrate her points were spectacular. Separating the reading, homework and feedback for each lesson in separate modules made it so easy to process the information. The videos she made to give us more detailed information about points she discussed in the reading provided the just right amount of clarification. I loved the way the homework assignments gave us defined things to shoot, but also included questions to think about to help us process what we were doing.

    The most enjoyable and helpful part of this experience was the interaction with Courtney – in the video feedback, by email, and in the forum. I appreciated the time she took to look at every photo and gave very detailed and balanced critiques to let us know what we did right, and to also let us know areas we could improve so we can continue to grow. The suggestions for next steps and personal projects were wonderful, too.

    The main benefit of this class for me is that shooting in manual has made me slow down and be more thoughtful about the photos I take, which helps me to get the exposure right in camera and spend less time processing photos where I missed the exposure. I feel much more confident shooting in true manual than I did when at the beginning of the class. Thanks for providing us with the tools we need to master the concrete part of creating a photo, and for encouraging us to keep up our momentum from this class.

  2. :

    I am really appreciative of this course! Thank you so so so much Courtney!

    While finishing up my last homework and thinking about where to go from here, I just kept thinking about how I’m so glad to have a good foundation so that I can actually explore so many different things! I had tried learning on my own and was just so lost.

    I like that you often emphasized that we have to explore our own artist vision and decide what WE like in photographs. It was great to get so much info on the technical side of things to really give us the tools to decide.

    I also really liked getting to see other people’s photos and your feedback to them. I’m happy to explored some other topics too, and let us ask about things that were off topic! I was able to learn so much from other people’s questions and their experience as well (so thank you to everyone else also!)

    Thank you again, I really wish it didn’t have to end! 🙁

  3. :

    Courtney, such a great course. Thanks a lot for this!

    I was really suspicious before if it’s possible to learn photography by doing an online course. And, it works :-). You took such great care about everything, really good and consistent lessons, not too much, but also not too less or boring. You were totally fast in answering all our questions.

    I was thinking about different courses to take first – light & life, foundations of black and white, living in lightroom … They all seemed to be a bit more artistic and maybe interesting. But this course was absolutely right for me. You made it clear that basics and technical basics are everything. And I understood that you need to learn this before thinking about something else.

    I admire that you never talked about “good” or “bad” pictures; that everyone has to decide about the artistic vision themselves.

  4. :

    I was unsure if this class was right for me as I had read a few books and watched many tutorials online about the different settings of my camera.

    I emailed The Define School to ask and they assured me this would be the best place to start — man were they right!
    Being a part of this cozy class had so many benefits and I truly felt like I learned so much. I’ve gone from taking a ton of photos crossing my fingers that some come out to thinking more about what I am doing and why.

    I loved the lessons, the videos and the feedback I received each week. All of my (many) questions were answered and I really feel like I am getting the photo that is in my head out through my camera without having to heavily edit.

    I know that I have so much to learn, an endless journey — but having a better understanding of my tool, I’m much more ready to take it on. Thank you Courtney and Define — I’ll be seeing you guys again soon!

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