#194 – The Myth Of Manual Mode

A recent discussion on Talk Photography got me thinking about camera technique, something I don’t tend to give much thought to. Someone had asked why they should use manual mode, and the consensus seemed to be, quite refreshingly, use it when you need to, but don’t use it slavishly. Great advice, although some people still insist that they’re a better photographer because of it. Good for them, personally it’s something I use maybe 10% of the time in my photography. Sure, in some situations it’s essential – panoramas, studio phtoography and wherever you need absolute control of the settings. For everything else though, I personally use Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program (no scene modes on my current camera, not that I ever used them on my old camera).

While there is some merit in using manual for people learning photography, it’s a bit like learning to drive a car – you do everything by the book, then once it’s all internalised, you can do a lot without giving it conscious thought.

Where speed is required, manual mode falls down (although street photographers still use it, often with their camera pre-set though), especially on modern cameras where the shutter and aperture settings are not as visible as on old cameras, and either require looking though the viewfinder or on a screen to set up, rather than twisting an aperture lens on the lens or a dial on top. To me, letting the camera take partial or full control of exposure allows me to concentrate on composition, which is something you can’t adjust in post processing, whereas exposure can be tweaked using levels and curves.

Bottom line is this – no-one has ever asked me what mode I used to take a photograph, or complimented me on not allowing the camera to make exposure decisions. No-one cares. They’re bothered about what the photo looks like, not the finer points of technique!

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