When man­ual mode is best

Practical Photography (UK) - - Welcome -

I’ve heard I should be work­ing in man­ual to start get­ting more pro re­sults. Do you think this is nec­es­sary for me to progress? Man­deep Sidhu, Hamp­shire

Tim says: Ab­so­lutely not! Any ad­vice sug­gest­ing you can only get de­cent re­sults in man­ual mode should be taken with a large fist­ful of salt – more of­ten than not it will be noth­ing more than pho­to­graphic snob­bery. In the vast ma­jor­ity of shoot­ing sit­u­a­tions, you have all the con­trol you need in ei­ther of your cam­era’s semi-au­to­matic modes (aper­ture-pri­or­ity or shut­ter­pri­or­ity), and they’re both con­sid­er­ably faster to use than man­ual as you don’t need to worry about balanc­ing your ex­po­sure. If you do need to tweak the brightness of your shot, you can al­ways ad­just ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion by sev­eral stops ei­ther way. Per­son­ally, I work in aper­ture-pri­or­ity mode for 95% of the time be­cause it’s the quick­est and eas­i­est way for me to get the re­sults I need.

All that said, there are a small num­ber of sit­u­a­tions where you have no choice but to switch to man­ual, as you’ll need to be in full con­trol of all three vari­ables that con­trol ex­po­sure (aper­ture, shut­ter speed and ISO) with­out in­put from the cam­era’s me­ter­ing sys­tem. These might in­clude con­di­tions with very fast-chang­ing or very con­trast­ing light, or where the light when the shot fires is likely to be dif­fer­ent to when the cam­era me­ters, such as when us­ing flash. We check out three of these com­mon sit­u­a­tions be­low.

It’s also worth not­ing that some pho­tog­ra­phy im­provers choose to work in man­ual not for im­me­di­ately better re­sults but for a better un­der­stand­ing of the ex­po­sure tri­an­gle.

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