Photograph Tip — Stop shooting manual

Tim Wells
3 min readMay 18, 2021

All to often you will see someone online saying how “you should be shooting in manual” or “you’re not a real photographer unless you shoot manual”. It seems to be “advice” that is often repeated despite the fact that it’s unhelpful for newer photographers and not true for all photographic situations.

My advice is to consider what you’re shooting and choose the best mode for that situation.

Although it could have (and maybe should have) been shot in manual this wasn’t. I was in the middle of a long drive and pulled over on the hillside here, rolled down the window, grabbed the camera and shot a couple of frames. The camera was in P mode I think with a wide angle lens. (This was using a D7100 and an 18–55mm kit lens). Some post processing from the RAW in lightroom and this was the end result.

Camera makers have spent billions of dollars in research and development to get to where modern cameras are today and while they aren’t perfect in every situation, often the cameras metering and semi-auto modes are very accurate. Why would you spend so much money on an advanced camera system, only to use it as though it were something from 30 years ago?

Please note: I’m not saying NOT to shoot at all in manual. Manual has it’s place as well and can in fact be used for a majority of situations. Manual is great for landscapes, glamor, portraits etc.

Choosing the right mode.

How do you know when to choose what mode to use?

Consider what you’re shooting. Is it fast motion or action? If so you should consider Shutter Priority mode. This way you can think about the shutter speed needed to capture the action and let the camera handle the aperture and ISO as needed.

If the depth of field / depth of focus is important then consider using the Aperture priority mode. This could apply to events and weddings. When shooting those you want to be ready instantly to capture a moment that might only last a second and never be repeated. You don’t want to be taking that time dialing in shutter, aperture and ISO or you might well miss the shot.

If you’ve got time on your side, such as when shooting a landscape or a posed portrait you can and maybe should use manual mode as this will give you the most creative control.

This Meerkat portrait was shot using aperture priority mode because it was well lit and they were moving around a lot but I knew I wanted to have a really shallow depth of field. It didn’t matter what the shutter speed was so I used AP mode.

It’s also about comfort.

It can also come down to comfort level with the exposure triangle and how well you understand. It’s not worth using manual mode if you miss your shots or get an incorrect exposure.

Even if you’re totally comfortable in manual mode, it’s still worth using the semi-auto modes if the situation can be made easier by doing so. It’s not worth the extra stress of shooting manual during a wedding or event as they are stressful enough. Make it easier on yourself instead of harder and trust your camera to assist you by using a semi-auto mode… and use manual when it’s appropriate.

Trust me, your client doesn’t care what mode you use, only the results you get. They will care if you miss the important shots because you were trying to dial in the right settings.

--

--

Tim Wells

Self taught software developer and photographer.