Why Manual Mode Isn't Always The Best Mode | Light Stalking

Why Manual Mode Isn’t Always The Best Mode

I’m sure you’ve heard this one a dozen times: professionals shoot in manual mode.

It’s true, pros do use manual mode. They also use aperture priority, shutter priority and — dare I say — some might even use program mode from time to time.

What people are really trying to say when they say pros shoot manual is that pros shoot exclusively in manual mode. The thing is, most don’t.

The idea that manual mode is always the best choice is a myth. Below I will present to you three reasons why manual mode isn’t always the best mode and three ways in which other shooting modes get the job done.

Manual Mode Means More Adjustments

Each time you want to shoot a new scene you’ll have to change settings. In a controlled environment (studio work) this won’t be a concern. You can just dial in your settings and shoot away.

When you’re working in an environment where conditions are changing quickly or when you’re consistently moving from one place to another, you want to be able to concentrate on getting the shot. Unless you’re a master of shooting in manual, constantly having to change settings can be a distraction.

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Manual Mode Means More Mistakes

Having to fiddle with your camera settings on the fly when you aren’t accustomed to working in such a manner can lead to mistakes — mistakes as simple as stepping out of the sun and into the shade and not adjusting your settings.

Will you be able to take the shot again? Maybe, maybe not. It’s not a risk worth taking, though. Whether it’s underexposure or overexposure, unintended motion blur or not enough depth of field, these relatively easy to make mistakes are made that much easier when you insist on shooting manual in certain situations.

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Manual Mode Means Taking More Time

If you favour speed and simplicity when shooting, manual mode isn’t going to give you either of those.

This is, of course, a generalization. There are photographers who are highly adept at working in manual mode. This doesn’t change the reality of manual shooting, however — it can slow you down and cause you to miss shots.

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Aperture Priority

Aperture priority is the go-to mode for many photographers, professional or otherwise. In this mode, you control one setting — aperture.

Set this according to how much or how little depth of field you want. If you’re shooting portraits, you’ll probably want shallow depth of field, so set a larger aperture. If you’re shooting landscapes or architecture, more depth of field will be preferable.

In either case, you set the aperture and let the camera take care of the rest.

One of the drawbacks of aperture priority occurs when the light gets low and the camera selects a shutter speed slower than you want, which can introduce motion blur or camera shake.

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Shutter Priority

In this mode, you dial in the shutter speed you want and leave the rest to the camera.

Shutter priority is especially effective in rapidly changing situations where motion matters, such as sports and street photography. Most of the time the goal is to freeze motion, so you’ll usually want to use a shutter speed anywhere from 1/200th of a second to 1/500th of a second, depending on how fast your subject is moving.

One downside of using shutter priority is that you can’t control depth of field. If the camera has selected a large aperture it’s still possible to get blurry images because not everything will be in sharp focus.

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Program Mode

Don’t confuse program mode with full auto. Unlike full auto, program mode still allows control over ISO — hence, why program mode is sometimes referred to as ISO priority.

While program mode selects both shutter speed and aperture, it still allows you to override either setting if you need to. Program mode, in short, works by attempting to maintain a consistent exposure from scene to scene.

Program mode might be the way out of full auto for some photographers, but it can be useful to even seasoned photographers who want to focus primarily on getting the shot and getting it as quickly and simply as possible.

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Final Thoughts

All photographers should learn to shoot in manual mode; it’s the single most powerful mode on any camera, as you can do absolutely anything you want with it.

But manual mode isn’t always the best mode to use. Program mode, shutter priority and aperture priority each make capturing shots in various situations far more efficient than manual mode.

The fewer technical parameters you have to concern yourself with, the more you can connect with your subject. There are times when this matters more than being able to boast about shooting exclusively in manual mode.

Further Reading

About the author

Jason D. Little

Jason Little is a photographer, author and stock shooter. You can see Jason’s photography on his Website or his Instagram feed.

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