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How To Create Amazing Portrait-Like Photos

shooting in manual mode

5 Reasons Why Shooting In Manual Mode Will Get You To Portrait-Like Photos Instead of Those So-So Pictures

To me, there is a difference between making “photos” and taking “pictures”. Anyone can take pictures with point-and-shoot cameras or DSLR cameras set on auto. To create amazing portrait-like photos, you want to set your camera on manual.

think about this . . .

your camera takes pictures but you create photos

When you set your camera to manual mode, you are the one creating the photo. You set all the features to what you want your scene to look like. But when you keep it in auto mode, your camera decides what the settings should be.

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I have also used point-and-shoot cameras and had my camera set in auto mode, over the years. The pictures that were produced with these cameras were not too bad. But looking back and knowing what I know now, I wish I could go back in time and kick myself in the butt. Lol!! Shame on me. I found so many things wrong. The perfectionist in me. Lol !!

The pictures that I produced with these cameras were dark and just plain flat. Either not enough light or too much light. So, then I craved to learn all there was to create portrait-like photos. And I went out and took my subjects (my brave kids – lol) and practiced ’til they hated me. Lol. Well, not really but I drove them nuts. Still do once in a while.

I want to show you that it is not hard at all and it’s the way you want to go. You are probably expecting your firstborn child or perhaps you are going to become new grandparents and you want to take memory-making portrait-like photographs. You probably are a pet-lover and you just got a new dog or cat and you want to take photos of it to mount on your walls. Perhaps you just retired and you now want to travel the world and capture amazing memories to last a lifetime.

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You can capture all these moments and I can show you how to avoid producing those “so-so” pictures. For now, you just have to remember to have:


My Photography history

pocket camera

I have had a passion for photography since I was about 11 or 12 years old when I was gifted with my very first pocket camera. My passion grew over the years as did my collection of cameras.

I will never go on any road trip or vacation (short or long) without my camera.  We go away for the weekend, my camera comes with me.  Speaking of road trips, check out my latest article on “Essentials To Take On Your Next Road Trip”

We recently went to a wedding out of town.  It was 4 hours away and I wasn’t even the photographer.  I still brought my camera.

A Sly Design Photography
A Sly Design Photography
Edited in Lightroom

why you should use all the camera’s features

You probably finally splurged on getting a real quality camera but are struggling with how to use its features?  You can use the auto mode but it’s still like using your point-and-shoot camera or even your cell phone.  They take great pictures but YOU are not creating the photos, your camera is producing them.  When you use the manual mode setting, YOU are the boss, YOU are the artist creating portrait-like photos.

Take, for example, the photo I took above at my nephew’s wedding. This is “SOOC” (straight-out-of-camera). A term you should get used to when you begin to shoot in manual. It was during the time of day when the sun was still high which I had to take that into consideration when I fixed my settings.

In the beginning, when I would see how bright it is outside, I would panic and freak out. But, when you have the knowledge of where all the appropriate settings should be, you can achieve awesome-looking photos. All you need is patience. And you need to do 3 more things:

practice, practice, practice


You need to have patience. Take it from me. If you love the art of photography or you want to be a better photographer, the knowledge will come. Whether it’s for your new and growing family or maybe you want to get into the business. If you are patient and willing to learn, you will do it.


You know the old saying, “Practice makes perfect”. Well, remember that because it is so true. I always want things done or learned yesterday. But it takes time. And how will you learn if you don’t go out and practice?

Why I Love Shooting Manual

On our recent trip to Croatia this summer, I was using all my devices.  Lol !! No really.  I do.  I had my Canon camera on my hip (pretty heavy), my cell phone in my back pocket and sometimes even my video camera on standby.  Yes, I too am guilty of using my cell phone to take photos. But only so I can post on Instagram. That is for another post: the pros and cons of cell phone photography. Lol!

I’m telling you, I LOVE photography.  And that’s why you are here right now, am I right?  You have a love for photography as well and want to learn more.  Shooting in manual is the way to go. You can create so many amazing shots by just changing the settings on your camera. One more thing to remember is to shoot in RAW. This is also important.

When you shoot in RAW as opposed to jpeg, you will have full opportunity to alter any images when you download your photos to a program such as Lightroom and/or Photoshop. If you shoot in jpeg format you will be limited to the amount of correcting you can do in these programs.

So remember to shoot in RAW format.

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    reasons for going manual

    When you start shooting in manual, you will not want to go back to shooting in auto. I never did. Every time I went out to shoot something or someone, I learned something new all the time. That’s why I want to share with you why it’s important to shoot in manual mode.

    1. Harsh flash

    When you were in auto mode and you were in a low-light situation, your flash would pop-up. Your camera would see that the lighting was dark and it would automatically take the photo with its flash. The outcome would leave the photo looking flat and very unappealing. In manual mode, you don’t have to worry about any flashes going off. You have the control to set all the features in-camera. The iso | shutter speed | aperture

    2. lighting

    You have control over the lighting by changing the settings. You can change your exposure ratio. You can make it brighter or darker to whatever you want the outcome to be. It could even be a good thing to have your shot overexposed. As you see the photo to the right – I shot towards the sun. It created exactly what I wanted – a little bit of haze and some bokeh. You don’t let the camera make the exposure for you.

    3. The Art of bokeh

    Bokeh can be pronounced and spelled so many ways. Lol !! I pronounce it “bo-kay”. I love creating this. It’s really a really cool effect. It’s when you put your focal point on a subject and blur out the background behind your subject. It’s especially pleasing when there are lights behind your subject. The background turns out twinkling. Just like the photo above. But in this photo, you see a bit of the bokeh in front. To create it, you need a shallow-depth-of-field. You need to put your aperture at its widest setting.

    4. focal point

    This setting allows you to put the focus on your main subject and make it super sharp, while the background is a trail of a moving subject such as lights from a car. There are different focus modes you can use. If you have a fast-moving subject such as being at the race track and you want to catch the speeding car dead in its track, you would capture it by using one of the settings.

    5. creativity

    Shooting in manual mode allows you to be creative with your photography journey. In the photo below, I was shooting at the “golden hour” and held a gold-colored diffuser to my right to bounce from the sun onto my subject. I got this beautiful golden glow on my daughter’s face.

    When you go out and practice, practice, practice, try different techniques that you learned here today. I am still always learning and looking for that magical shot. Even when I don’t have my camera with me, I see shots that would look incredible in my viewfinder.

    Go out and have some fun with your camera. Trust me you will get it and you will have fun.

    you are on your way to creating amazing photos. with a little patience and a lot of practice shooting in manual mode, you will wonder why you didn’t do it before now.

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