My guess is that you are sick of constantly being told to shoot in manual mode rather than automatic.

Well here is something I've learned from the professionals.

You don't need to shoot in manual mode in order to take great photos.

It's true. BUT, Manual mode is going to give you much more control over the look of your photos.

The auto modes such as:

  • Auto
  • Program
  • Semi automatic mode
  • Aperture Priority
  • Shutter Priority

on your camera are great places to start but in order to get the most out of your camera, and in particular your photos, you must explore Manual Mode. You won't regret it, once you get the hang of it.

Automatic Setting on your Camera

Manual Mode is one of the main settings on your camera, and it lets you manually control

  • shutter speed
  • aperture
  • ISO

These three settings work together to control how bright or dark your photo is (exposure), as well as change the overall look of the image.

Now, if you are just getting into photography, you might not even know what shutter speed, aperture or ISO do, so taking control over them can be overwhelming at first.

                                   Don't let that stop you from shooting!

What are the main benefits of shooting Manual Mode and how can it assist in improving the look of your photos?

Taking control over the aperture and shutter speed


Controlling Depth of Field: Using Manual Mode allows you to control how much of the image is in sharp focus. Most helpful when taking portraits as a large aperture (smaller f/number) helps create shallower depths of field, making the subject stand out from the background - creates amazing bokeh.

Selecting a small aperture (larger f/number) keeps your photos more in focus. This can be useful for many situations, like in landscape photography where you want to capture both foreground and background in reasonably sharp focus. Shooting manual mode let's you make the choice based on the result you wish to achieve.

SHUTTER SPEED As for shutter speed, being able to control it can help you capture motion in more creative ways.  

Selecting a slower shutter speed allows you to capture shots where your subject shows some motion blur. Think about those nighttime city shots of cars making trails of light, or waterfalls with smooth flowing water. Slow shutter speeds will capture these.  

Maybe you want to completely freeze some kind of action, like a child jumping in midair. Using a fast shutter speed will help you freeze that instant in time. Being able to choose your shutter speed let's you decide just how you want movement to be portrayed in your image.

EXPOSURE Creating silhouettes requires having your subject stand in front of a bright background, and then deliberately underexposing your subject so that they appear quite dark.  

There will be times when you will want to take control of the overall brightness of an image (manually adjusting shutter speed, aperture, and ISO).   Night sky or star photography you will need to shoot with a large aperture (small f/number), open the shutter for a longer time (10-30 seconds), and shoot at a higher ISO.  

These are two different scenarios each requiring a specific approach to choosing your settings in order to get the look you want.  

Brightness in your images is a personal preference (an artistic choice). It is a way of telling the story of your image.  

Dealing with Lighting Situations in underexposed and hard to see images.Your camera will always try to capture the brighter light, that is, if the light behind the subject is much brighter than the subject, your camera will try to adjust the setting in order to capture the brighter light, resulting  

Shooting in automatic mode when the light is not right will give you the wrong exposure and you will end up frustrated and ready to toss the lot into the nearest garbage bin.  

Some lighting situations are simply too difficult for the camera's auto mode to handle.   Reversing this situation can also be difficult for the camera's auto setting to correctly expose. If your subject has really bright light on it, but the     background is quite dark, then your camera may choose to expose for the     darker background. Here the subject will be totally over exposed.   

                        There is a solution to these problems - Manual mode.   

Being able to manually adjust your settings almost guarantees that the subject is properly exposed. A bonus compared to struggling to get your camera to do what you want.   


Shooting in low light.  

Most cameras in auto mode are designed to activate the camera flash at the     slightest hint of darkness.  

If you are shooting in manual mode you can set the camera to a higher ISO     (increasing the sensitivity of the sensor). Be aware though as higher ISOs do tend to produce more image noise making more work in post-processing.   

Let's Get Exposures Right  

Do you want this inanimate object (your camera) to do the thinking for you?     Controlling how bright or dark your image should be and risk getting the     image wrong each time you press the button?                                                                    or Do you want to take control of each and every image ensuring that from the     multiple pictures you take there will be one or two you are happy with?  

Getting consistent exposures might not seem like a big deal at first, but think about how it affects your photography. You are now able to get predictable and repeatable results.  

You can be certain that you will get consistent exposures.

When shooting in manual mode, the shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings won't change from shot to shot, unless you change them.

Your camera has a light meter inside that takes measurements of the light     coming in through the lens. In auto mode the camera takes that light meter     information and determines what it thinks are the ideal settings for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO in order to produce good exposure. 

As the frame changes (because you move the camera, your subject moves, or the lighting changes) the exposure may also change. That means that two shots taken one after the other in the same scene might have very different exposures. It can create a pretty inconsistent set of images. 

Your camera has a light meter inside that takes measurements of the light coming in through the lens. In auto mode the camera takes that light meter information and determines what it thinks  

  Getting consistent results is especially important when shooting  professionally. It can look pretty awful if sequences of photos in an album, or gallery are inconsistent in brightness. Some of this can be corrected with editing but personally I think it's a waste of time to be trying to correct mistakes in editing when all you needed was to set your camera setting correctly in the first place.

Benefits of Shooting in Manual Mode  

  • More control over the look of your image
  • You don't have to fight to get the image you want


                  Take Your time - this is not a race to see who gets it first

You now have a lot to think about and do before becoming truly comfortable     in shooting in Manual Mode.  

  • Composition
  • Lighting
  • Subject interaction
  • Aperture
  • Shutter speed
  • ISO

At first you will feel frustrated as it all seems too hard, but, if you want that creative control in your images keep at it. Eventually it will feel natural and you will become intuitive to look at all the aspects at once. You will probably surprise yourself at how much you can do without thinking about it too much.   

START WITH PROGRAM MODE If you are just getting started with photography, you may want to slowly work your way up to Manual mode.  

You can start off by shooting in the Program mode (usually "P"). This is like Auto mode but it gives you access to exposure compensation. Basically exposure compensation allows you to tell the camera to make a photo brighter or darker than the automatic settings (by adjusting a dial up or down while shooting). So if you are shooting in Program mode and the photo seems too dark you can increase the exposure compensation and then take another photo and it will be brighter. It's a very simple way to start taking more control over the look of the photo. 


Once you get comfortable with Program mode you can move up to Aperture Priority mode. With aperture priority you set your aperture, and ISO, but the     camera automatically sets the shutter speed. It's pretty easy to get the hang of Aperture Priority mode and it gives you a lot more control over the depth of field in your photos. With Aperture Priority you also have access to exposure compensation, so you can also control brightness.  When you have the hang of Aperture Priority you are ready for the next step of Manual Mode.  

APERTURE PRIORITY VERSUS MANUAL MODE There are some situations where it is better to use Aperture Priority over   Manual mode!  

  • Where light conditions are changing so quickly
  • You are moving through varied lighting conditions
  • When you feel you might miss a good shot if you are trying to adjust your settings manually.

                                         Manual mode is NOT the only way to go 

Be comfortable in every mode, and then choose the best one for the situation!



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