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Move to Manual

January 30, 2012

I have always had a love for photography. My mom had a fancy Canon Film Rebel back in the day and I remember feeling like a kid at Christmas the days that she would give my sister and me a roll of film and tell us to go play. We’d pretend we were high fashion models; outside posing in our denim shorts and flip-flops on an old tire swing in our front yard. I remember the sense of power I felt, even as a kid, holding the camera and knowing that the outcome of the photo was in my hands. In high school, we used point and shoot digital cameras to snag yearbook photos. And I remember getting my first digital camera for Christmas my Senior Year of High School.

But, when Little Man was born in October 2008, I knew I wanted more for my photos of my son. I wanted them to be better, to capture the emotions that I saw other people’s photos capturing. That’s about the same time that I started blogging. And started following people like The Pioneer Woman who took not only beautiful pictures of food, but of her kids, too (this was back when she was only getting 200-300 comments per post…you know, before she made it big).

So after much nagging whining begging deliberation on my part, I decided that if I was going to learn photography and learn it well, that I’d have to invest in a better camera. My mom shot with Canon, so it was only natural that I go the Canon route as well. In February 2009, my husband and I splurged on a Canon Rebel XSi. I was kid-on-Christmas-morning giddy about my new prize. I had spent some time reading and studying the i Heart Faces website and learning the ins and outs of the different functions on my camera (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) so I thought I was prepared for what was to come.

I was wrong.

I didn’t realize it then, but looking back now I don’t know how I couldn’t have. Photography isn’t about the camera. Or the lens. It’s about the person behind the shutter and knowing how to use and utilize your cameras abilities. It’s been almost three years now since purchasing my first DSLR camera and to say that I’ve learned something…would be an understatement. From the moment I took my camera out of the box and figured out how to put the lens on started using it, I’ve been pushing myself and my camera to the next level. Trying to get “that shot” and create images that look like the ones that I love. I’ve only recently upgraded my camera (and by “recently” I mean, within the last two weeks) so to say that you need an expensive camera to take pretty pictures would be a lie. (Unless you don’t think I take pretty pictures, in which case please don’t tell me!) You don’t need a $1000 camera or $500 lenses.

You just need to want to take better pictures.

And that’s where I’ve decided that I’m going to intervene.

There are a lot of fantastic places to learn photography out there for little or no cost. I’m not going to say that my way or the things I can teach you are any different or any better than what you’ll learn anywhere else. In fact, some of the things I say may not even be considered “technically” correct.


I have spent the last three years teaching myself. Learning my camera, what it does, how it does it and how to put everything I know together to take better pictures. How to take beautiful pictures that look good in a frame using something other than the auto mode of my $600 camera.

When I first started, my photos looked like this Straight out of Camera (don’t laugh):

 And now, three years and the same camera later, I get these SOOC* (straight out of camera):

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be teaching all of you how to make that big leap from shooting in the auto mode of your camera to shooting in full manual and gaining total control over your shot and the end result of your photograph.

I’m going to start at the very beginning and cover the basics of composition, exposure, lighting, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and how to combine these elements to get a beautiful shot. Each week will consist of lessons and homework to get you out of your comfort zone and putting the new ideas and techniques into practice. I’ve created a Move to Manual Flickr Group where you can come linkup the assignments, post questions and get feedback on your images.

This isn’t a class; there’s no enrollment fee or charge. Just me, sharing with all of you, what I’ve learned about photography. Like I said in the beginning, you can find this information on dozens of other blogs and websites. But, for those of you who have asked how I do it, here is your chance to learn!

The first lesson is coming on Monday, February 6th and will cover the very basics of Composition and Lighting. I hope you guys are as excited about this as I am!

  1. […] think they should be. My life is documented and messy. That’s who I am. I want to get back to teaching and mentoring aspiring documentarians the way that I used […]

  2. Kelly-Marie says:

    I’m so glad I have found you as I am trying to switch to manual mode after so many attempts at it, this time I am going to make myself use it from now on. Wish me luck 😉

  3. DeAnna says:

    I found this blog about a month ago and haven’t had the time to sit down and read through it all but I am bound and determine to do it this weekend LOL I hope it isn’t too late to join these challenges and any adivce/suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!!

  4. Lia says:

    I have just purchased my first DSLR camera and would love to do your lessons .. Your site was reccomended by a lady on Clickin Mom’s . Cheers Lia

  5. […] incredibly talented friend Courtney Kirkland on a new series called Move to Manual. Courtney wrote an introduction to the series and the first post about composition. This week I’m going to be discussing one of the most […]

  6. […] Courtney’s teaching FREE photography classes! […]

  7. JSS says:

    I’m excited for your shooting in manual series! I’ve been tinkering around with my Canon Rebel t1i for a couple years, and have gotten seriously addicted to photography within the past several months. My husband got me some great new lenses for Christmas, so I’m all ears when it comes to learning how to better use all this great equipment!

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Courtney Kirkland is a Southeast Alabama photography and design business. Since 2008, Courtney has passionately provided beautiful, meaningful documentary-style photography and intentional, high-quality design.  Value and celebrate the beautiful, messy, and uniquely-special moments of everyday living.