Manual Mode, Why Bother?

It’s a common misconception that having a big, fancy camera will mean you take better pictures. Modern cameras have an awesome array of fully and semi-automatic shooting modes, so many it can be somewhat confusing as to which one to choose. Manufacturers will turn up the marketing machine to tell you how wonderfully innovative and accurate the auto options on their cameras are, but really your camera’s AI is not able to make the creative choices you will have control over if you are shooting with Manual Mode.

Sure, if you’re shooting on an Auto Mode, much of the time you’ll get acceptably exposed photographs. But an acceptably exposed photograph is not always a particularly creative photograph. Given that light is the substance of photos, (with no light you have no photo,) to be truly creative with your photography you will need to be in control of your camera’s exposure settings and know how to adjust them to create the image you want.

Your camera ‘sees’ and records photos differently than how we see. Our eyes and brain have far more dynamic ability and processing power than our cameras. Understanding some of these differences will help us to improve our photography.

The exposure meter in your camera measures the reflected light in a scene and provides information that translates into the automatic settings, or a visual display if you are using Manual Mode. Learning to select which part of the composition the camera takes an exposure reading from and adjust the shutter speed and aperture settings will help you develop a creative style that you will not achieve shooting on an Auto Mode.

Sure, it takes longer to set your camera manually, but what’s the rush? If you slow down a little to set your camera you can also take a little more time to think about the lighting, choose your angle and compose your shot. I’ll often pre-compose a shot, set my exposure and then just wait for the right moment. It does take practice, and it’s worth putting in the effort, because over time you will get faster at making the settings and you will notice an improvement in your photography.

When you’re first starting out using Manual Mode, choose ‘easy’ subjects, don’t go to sports games or local market where your subjects are constantly moving. Ask a friend to let you photograph them, or photograph your favorite tree. This way you can take your time and really begin to experiment with your manual exposure settings.

Learning to use the Manual Mode on your camera will take time and practice. As you become more familiar with the settings and how to use the exposure meter to get the right settings, your own photographic style will develop.

Please download my free exposure infographic. This is a visual guide to help your further understand using Manual Mode. Click Here.

Take a look at my teaching course on Click Here.


woman opens temple doors in the morning
Exposure using Manual Mode.
Using Auto Mode would have made an exposure to look like this because the camera averages the exposure value between the very bright and very dark areas.

Leave a Comment