Do all Pro Photographers really only shoot in Manual Mode?

We have all had it...we’re with other photographers and one of them puts their hands on their hips, stretches out nice and tall and says "I only ever shoot in Manual!" As if that fact in itself makes them a better photographer. Knowing how to shoot in manual is obviously a helpful skill to have but is only ever shooting in full manual mode a good thing?

photographer holding their camera

Cameras of today are very complicated pieces of equipment. Gone are the days of loading film, and setting your aperture and shutter speed depending on what ISO or ASA speed film you used. Today, there are a million and one settings that can affect the final image from white balance to noise reduction or picture controls. Knowing how the shutter speed, aperture and ISO interact with each other is definitely something all pros should know, of course. After all these are the tools that help us to get the depth of field, motion blur or grain that we’re looking for, but should we take the time to set them before every shot?

silhouette of photographer at sunset

In the middle of a paid shoot though, where we have a limited amount of time and need to get the correct exposure and proper composition first time, shooting in full manual can be a distraction. For example, if we are taking a portrait and want a shallow depth of field, the only factor in regards to the shutter speed that we care about is if its fast enough to give us a sharp image, so why would we waste the time trying to calculate the correct shutter speed to give us the right exposure? The camera can do it in a fraction of the time and with exceptional accuracy. Stick your camera in Aperture Priority and the camera will set the right shutter speed for you, meaning you can move onto your next shot. Some of the higher-end cameras will even make sure that our shutter speed doesn't drop below a pre-set number so we can make sure that we still get sharp images in any situation.

The same goes for shooting sport. If we shoot someone running, the depth of field isn't a huge deal since the motion blur from us following the subject generally blurs out the background giving us the required separation from the background.

Holding a camera

"But what if we want to underexpose or overexpose our image?" is a common question. Cameras have another feature called Exposure Compensation for situations like this. It’s used when you shoot in Program, Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority mode, and it allows us to tell the camera how much we want to over or underexpose the image. The camera will then take that into account when it meters the image to figure out the shutter speed or aperture depending on the current mode.

These features allow the professionals to concentrate on getting the proper composition and the image that the client wants without worrying about getting the right exposure. The camera can calculate the correct settings much faster than we can, so why not use it and focus on other things? After all, photography is art. Clients are paying you to produce art. Focus on the right settings that get you the photo you want, and ignore whether you’re shooting in full manual or not.