Why Manual Mode Isn't Always the Answer

Spend any amount of time reading about photography on the internet, and you will probably come across the claim that professionals should shoot in manual mode. And there is certainly some truth in the idea that manual mode gives you the kind of control necessary for certain shooting scenarios, but that does not mean it is always the best choice. This great video discusses the issue a bit and why you should not always default to using manual mode for your work. 

Coming to you from PIXEL VIILAGE, this fantastic video discusses why manual mode is not always the answer. No doubt, manual mode can be a tremendously useful tool for a lot of situations, but there are other times where a semi-automatic mode like aperture priority can be a much better choice. Cameras can simply react much faster than we can, and in quickly evolving conditions, it can be better to leave those decisions up to the camera. For example, when I shoot baseball, I set my shutter speed and aperture manually, but I leave the camera on auto-ISO with a bit of negative exposure compensation to protect the highlights. When the ball is darting through light and shadow at over 100 mph, it simply is not possible for any human to adjust settings quickly enough the keep up, but with auto-ISO, my camera has no problem. Check out the video above for the full rundown.

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2 Comments
Paul C's picture

Dear Radhakrishnan

I know what you are getting at; the AE and programme exposure of modern cameras means that 99% of images come out "OK" and students can concentrate on developing their eye for composition; searching out leading lines, rule of thirds, golden ratios, symmetry/asymmetry and using colour wheels......

However there are so many standout needs to learn manual that avoiding it, or delaying it for students can be a handicap too.

Here are 3 for starters.....
[1] balancing daylight and flash - learning to set manual exposure for the background and then adjust the flash exposure for the subject. Set everything to manual and "The Strobist" website can teach you this technique in just a few minutes
[2] ND filters - check out the number of images posted daily with slow exposure landscapes or cityscapes - smearing clouds and water, making pedestrians and cars vanish from a busy street scene. Few cameras can auto-expose with a 10-stop filter on the lens. In manual - just move the exposure controls by 10 steps and add the filter and shoot!
[3] keeping a uniform exposure over a sequence of shots - where multi-sensor AE could vary it frame to frame as the subject moves just a little. This can save a whole lot of post-processing work later.

Anyone care to list some more "must haves" for manual exposure?

Still, I wouldn't give up AE now unless all I did was architectural photography - but I'm glad I learned in manual. It's also one key reason why I get out my old Nikon and shoot a roll of film at regular intervals - to keep those manual instincts alive !!

best wishes - Paul

Simon Forsyth's picture

It's not so much the exposure mode you use, although obviously you have to make an informed decision depending on what you are photographing, but more knowing how to expose and when to use exposure compensation etc.
I only use manual mode when shooting panoramas so each frame has the same exposure.
Also, Rhett is no such thing as only one correct exposure, rather it is the exposure that conveys what you want. A correct exposure for a silhouette is different from one that shows detail but is backlit!
While I use aperture priority now mostlyxi come from a background of using a camera that didn't even have a meter and had to use a handheld meter. Next was a built in meter that measured the whole image with no bias. You had to know how to compensate!
Early aperture priority auto cameras were like this as well.
Now with things like matrix metering there is less chance for problems, but you still need to know when you have to apply compensation.