Shooting In Manual, Tips

Shooting In Manual {Baby’s Playtime}


Did you invest in a high end camera only to find that you’re stuck on automode; confused by the harsh flash light that pops up, yellow or green tinted images or blurry movement?

This post has been put together with the parent in mind, looking to take better pictures of their baby. With a focus on photographing your baby during their playtime, I’ll guide you through some tips on how to use your dslr and the standard kit lens (I promise my beloved prime lens will stay in the bag!)  If you missed the introduction to shooting in manual, you may want to give it a quick read first.


Whether or not you’re wanting to achieve a stylized session or photographing your baby in their natural environment, it is always important to think about your lighting when you want a well exposed shot.

When the sun is bright and the indoor area you are shooting within is well lit, such as with the top two images displayed below, I would recommend starting with your ISO at 800 (you could even try ISO 400 but your shutter speed will be forced to go slower and can cause motion blur.) You’ll notice in the two images below how much darker this space is on a different day, therefor I had to crank my ISO all the way up to 1600 and my shutter speed was STILL quite low.



Find different angles to shoot from by moving around and have shots that are both wide angle (more of the scene filling the frame) and zoomed in, which will create a shallow depth of field.

When shooting from above, try a wide angle shot first, for this you will want to have as much of the scene in focus as you can. I stood on a step stool to give myself more height. I like a combination of my baby interacting with his toys and a few where he is looking directly at me. Encourage smiles and make shooting time a FUN play time :-)


Settings : ISO 1600, Shutter Speed 1/100 sec – 1/125 sec, Aperture f/4.5



Sometimes it takes some trial and error to correctly expose your shot. These next shots were not correctly exposed. The ISO was too low so my speed was a little on the low side and it caused slight motion blur as well as quite a lot of noise. However, I really loved these ones of my little man! Is there a way to save some of these images? (I’m answering for those shooting JPEG not RAW) Short answer, yes.

If you are familiar with an editing software program (such as Lightroom) you can alter the tone curve as well as increase noise reduction. I also find that a black and white edit can bring a photo back to life and add a different nuance.


Settings : ISO 800, Shutter Speed 1/60 sec – 1/80 sec, Aperture f/4.5




For me, a portrait is all about the eyes; the position your baby is facing can change everything. See the below shots for tips on better lighting and angling (think ‘less nostrils’!)  Also pay attention to the framing. As much as I LOVE close ups, sometimes it can look terrible if the neck is cut off at the wrong point! Try zooming out a little.



Over the course of the morning it brightened up, I actually had to close the blinds to reduce the direct sunlight. I reduced my ISO from 1600 to 800 to keep noise to a minimum. However, reducing the ISO meant that I had to reduce my shutter speed from 1/125 sec down to 1/80 sec which allows more light into the camera. When shooting under 1/100 sec it’s really important to keep yourself steady to avoid camera shake.

Start looking at images and take a guess of the direction of the light source/s. Below, you will notice the main light source is coming in from the right and the secondary light source (window) is directly behind me. If you don’t have a secondary light source, try moving your baby around a little more towards the light and notice how the light changes over his face. Ask yourself, is this flattering? Are there harsh shadows under the eyes or nose? A little shadow is okay and will add some definition.

Settings : ISO 800, Shutter Speed 1/80 sec – 1/80 sec, Aperture f/4.5



I always edit my pictures. I like to make sure that I have pictures level (check horizontal floor boards or vertical windows.) I may slightly crop a picture and I like to adjust my white balance if it appears off, though a little word of caution when editing; do NOT always trust auto corrections! Try taking a little tutorial on white balance and tone. (Coming soon to the blog!) When I use brightly colored toys or backgrounds I very slightly decrease the saturation before adding a little contrast.

Image on the left is auto white balance and auto tone. Image on the right are custom edits.DSLR-Editing-and-Auto-Corrections.png


  • Set your camera to Manual Mode. (M)
  • Turn OFF overhead lights.
  • Set your ISO to 800 or 1600 (light depending), a higher ISO will result in more noise, but it will allow you to have a higher shutter speed.
  • Set the shutter speed by referring to your camera’s light meter.
  • Set your aperture to a lower setting to cope with less light. This should be f/3.5-f/5
  • Make sure you set your AF selection to manual, NOT automatic and learn to focus on the eyes or point of interest such as the hands reaching for a toy.)
  • For optimal sharpness, as you take each photo, look through the viewfinder and make sure the red dot is over the area you want to be in focus (such as the hands.) Press the shutter release half way to select the focus then click all the way down to take the shot. Stay in the same position and patiently keep taking pictures from the same angle. You will find that as your child moves, the range of focus will change.  After a few shots, take a look at the images and zoom in to see if your focus is sharp. I cannot stress enough the importance of this step.
  • Start with White Balance set to auto. If the images seem too yellow, try setting the WB to Daylight. If the images seem too blue, try setting the WB to Shade.


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