Do ‘real’ photographers shoot in Manual?
One question I get asked again and again by photographers, is whether they should be shooting in manual?
In many cases, their friends have advised them that in order to become ‘real’ photographers they need to come out of all the other various auto modes (particularly Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority) and learn to use the camera properly.
Manual mode is what professionals use and it gives you greater creative control over your images.
When you shoot in manual, there’s a sense of having achieved the heady-heights of Jedi-Photographer, it’s on a higher plain of existence than lesser mortals. It’s a photography-nirvana, where all things become known and other photographers hold you in awe.
Let’s be honest, unless you shoot in manual, your photos will never be amazing. You’re always be at the mercy of the camera’s algorithms as it calculates the exposure for you.
In aperture priority, you choose the aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed for you. Yes, the camera chooses it… not you. How can you genuinely argue that the photo is of your making? The camera has done all the work.
Its the same process in shutter priority. You select the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture. C’mon, where’s the skill in that?
You might as well let your iPhone take the photo!!
Some people actually believe this crap!
If there’s one thing that bugs me about the world of photography, it’s the never-ending waffle I hear from self-opinionated photographers with dogmatic views.
Here’s a few that I often hear in Facebook groups and on-line photography forums:
- Never shoot in jpg, you should always shoot in RAW
- Street photography photos should never be edited or even cropped
- Black and white is better than colour
- Primes are better than zoom lenses
- Nikon is better than Canon
- Canon is better than Nikon
- Sony is better than everything
- Crop sensor cameras are rubbish
- Natural light is better than flash
- Never shoot in auto ISO
- In-body-image-stabilisation (IBIS) is absolutely essential
- Real photographers don’t edit their photos, they get it right in the camera
- Real photographers don’t take photos on their phones
- Face detection is for dummies
- Auto focusing is for dummies
- Film is better than digital (yes, I still hear that)
This list is not exhaustive (sadly).
Many of these opinions are passionately felt and argued… and I often despair at the ferocity of the arguments.
Here’s a thought. Photography is an art form
Would anyone disagree with that?
Photography is a creative medium that allows us to capture and create images in almost any style we wish.
Subscribing to someone’s dogmatic viewpoint about image composition, construction and tools used (ie: which camera, flash, filters, editing techniques, etc) would simply limit our own means of expression.
Not only that, what gives any one individual the right to dictate our choices for us? Everyone has the right to their opinions, but no one has the right to impose them upon us?
Getting back to shooting in manual
I am always disappointed when students come in saying they were told they should be shooting in manual.
I would be equally disappointed if they were told they should be shooting in any other mode. Different situations often call for different solutions. Horses for courses. Sometimes manual is best, other times aperture priority or shutter priority are better suited.
In manual you make decisions about the exposure based on what the camera is telling you in the viewfinder readout. So, if the camera suggests you take the photo at f/4 and 1/250th sec, that’s what you do.
In aperture priority, the settings won’t be any different – they just get done for you by the camera, and a lot quicker (with less chance of missing the shot).
Coping with difficult lighting
Some will argue that shooting in manual makes it easier when photographing in unusual lighting situations. You can choose to over or under expose the image if you wish.
That’s precisely why camera manufacturers give you an ‘exposure compensation‘ dial to let you under or over-expose when you’re shooting in aperture or shutter priority modes.
Most cameras these days will allow you to increase or decrease exposure by +/- 5 stops. More than enough for most situations. And what if you need more? On those extremely rare occasions, shoot it in manual!
There are some shooting situations that are genuinely better suited to manual though.
In wildlife photography, imagine a bird flying left to right. First with trees behind it and then open sky, and then back to more trees. Getting the exposure locked in manual beforehand, means the bird will be correctly exposed, regardless of its background.
Try shooting that in one of the priority modes and the camera will likely render the bird as a silhouette against the open sky.
With flash, shooting dynamically moving subjects on the fly, perhaps at an event or party, I prefer to set the camera to manual and the flash to ETTL. That way I can choose exactly the aperture and the shutter speed I want, and let the flash & camera talk to each other to regulate the flash power output. (On-camera mounted speedlight)
As a personal rule, with my Canon DSLRs, I tend to shoot aperture priority most of the time.
With my Fuji mirrorless cameras however, I find shooting in manual gives me more flexibility. I can see the results in the electronic viewfinder and make an instant decision about my settings. The controls fit comfortably in my hand with the aperture controlled via a ring on the lens barrel and the shutter speed via a dial on the top plate.
But here’s the thing. No two situations are the same and I will readily switch into any mode that I think will give me the shot I want.
At a wedding reception, when some guests are sat against large bright windows and others are sat in dark corners, I can easily switch between aperture priority and manual, as appropriate. Or I might stay in aperture priority with my thumb continually whirring the exposure compensation dial.
It’s WHATEVER WORKS.
So the next time someone tells you that you should be shooting in manual, I hope you’ll be able to tell him (and it will be a bloke, ladies are far more chilled) that no one method is the best for all situations. Tell him you are a free-thinking creative individual who will use whatever tools are best suited for the job.
Blimey, there might even be the odd occasion when you might want to shoot in auto!
I would love to hear your views, and you are of course allowed to completely disagree with me
If you’re looking for photography workshops, photography courses or photography lessons, check out our website at Hampshire School of Photography or call Tuesday – Friday 01252 643143