Do I really have to shoot in full manual mode on my DSLR?

Almost all DSLR users at one point in time were using simple point & shoot automatic cameras, then later on decided that they wanted to “take control” of the camera & get something which can shoot in manual. While the ambition is commendable & the drive to improve oneself is a good thing, many purchase a modern DSLR because they think that by getting a better camera their photos will automatically get better. Many then get disappointed when it’s not as easy as it seems. If you have read my previous article, you will find that the camera has very little to do with the quality of the images that you capture.

Most folks think that by taking control, it means shooting in full manual mode on a DSLR. Most newbies are usually coerced by their photography buddies into shooting manual without having learnt the basics in photography. Without understanding & learning the basics & the relationship between shutter speed, aperture & ISO, it’s impossible to shoot in full manual mode properly. The sad thing is almost all DSLR users, new or experienced will tell you that shooting full manual is the way to go. Worse most of these guys will scorn at you if you don’t. People who own a DSLR & shoot programmable auto all their lives will be laughed at because you are not part of the group. People like these are photography snobs & I think that as a newbie, you should do your best to avoid such people & focus on improving your own skills rather than listen to worthless advice.

I feel that to convince an amateur photographer to switch to manual shooting without first learning & understanding the basics in photography is very irresponsible & selfish.

Shooting in auto or manual doesn’t matter…

I always believe in the philosophy that if you can get the results you want on auto mode, who cares if you shoot auto or manual?

When you shoot in manual mode, you are essentially making adjustments to your shutter speed, aperture & ISO to get the exposure the way that you want it. Most folks will use the camera meter as a guide to whether they are getting these settings correct. Years of experience shooting in manual is key to doing this correctly & as a reflex without putting too much thought into it. Ultimately most of the time, the photographer uses the camera’s metering system to guide them on which settings to use. To manually make changes, you dial your shutter speed faster & ISO higher if you want to freeze action… or simply open your aperture wider if you are shooting in low light & need a narrow depth-of-field. In this aspect, you have full manual control so your basics will come into play & each change in setting will get you the desired results you are looking for.

When you shoot in let say, programmable auto, the camera makes an educated guess on which settings to use. Still using the same camera metering system to get there. The camera chooses a shutter speed, aperture & depending on how you set the camera, ISO is also automatically chosen. This is chosen to reflect on the exposure compensation which is set… usually the default is 0/zero compensation or we will call it 0 EV.

So now if you want to get more light in, you simply dial your exposure compensation up to let say +2/3 EV so that more light reaches your camera sensor. What the camera will do is it will make an educated guess on what you want & then make the changes on the camera in terms of shutter speed, aperture & ISO to get the results you want. So basically it’s the same thing…

Good thing is when you use the programmable auto mode, you have time to slowly learn the basics & learn to correct the imperfections. You also spend more time on composition & getting the shot than worry about all the settings on the camera. Later when you get better, switch to Aperture Priority mode & learn to control depth-of-field.

But what if the camera makes an incorrect guess?

For starters you can set your ISO manually in Programmable Auto. Second, if you turn the dial on top of your camera, you can actually adjust your shutter speed & aperture in relation to your ISO & preset exposure compensation. Technically you still have manual control over all these settings even if you are shooting in Programmable Auto mode! If you know how your camera behaves & have been using it for sometime, you can know what the camera is going to do & then make the minor tweaks with these simple settings to get the results that you want. It’s that simple!

Then why even bother with full manual mode?

Manual mode is required when the lighting changes abruptly where you are trying to shoot. Usually when you are using a flash unit for indoor photography, shooting moving objects in low light when you want a preset shutter speed to freeze time (indoor stadiums during a performance or sports) & at rock concerts or outdoor performances with strobes & lighting all over the place. There are some other examples when manual mode is required, simply also because the camera will get fooled if you try & use auto mode in these situations.

So now do I really have to use full manual mode all the time?

The simple answer is NO. If you know your camera well & know how to make the necessary tweaks to get the results you want, then you don’t have to be a slave to the manual mode. Ultimately as you get more advanced, you’ll need to experiment with manual mode under difficult lighting situations. For the moment, just enjoy photography & making photos. Don’t let the camera intimidate you!


2 responses to “Do I really have to shoot in full manual mode on my DSLR?”

  1. AsH_ says :

    What bout the built in preset scenes, maybe we can adjust manually for sports or concerts disco lights situation, how about macro situations? Pardon me coz I just switch to dslr, still really having the P&s habits of tweaking the dials to preset scenes/scenarios. Does tat destro the purpose of havin dslr controls bt not using it. Or it is ok since at my level these presets can get better picture than me tweaking the controls myself. Bt if I do tat too often I’m not practicing n won’t get better at all…..

    • Adrien says :

      Well technically the camera makers spent tons of R&D into making these presets so nothing wrong with using them.
      But when you start to shoot more with your new DSLR, remember that though a person may have an eye for photography, shooting in automatic all the time can inhibit one’s creative vision because the person will have no say in how the image will turn out… except maybe for composition. One day you will need to move from shooting using the preset scenes… start with Programmable mode then work your way to Aperture Priority. You won’t turn back once you do!

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