Do I need to take photos in manual mode: Automatic vs Manual

do I need to take photos in manual or automatic mode

When moving into photography, one of the first questions many creatives ask is about automatic or manual modes.

Let’s break down the different modes and see if shooting in automatic or manual mode is right for you.

Do I need to take photos in manual mode

Creating a proper exposure for your photography takes skill and practice and fundamental knowledge of lighting. If you’re new to photography, then working in your cameras automatic modes can help you understand what settings to start with. More advanced users will choose manual modes to have complete control of the exposure settings. Both automatic and manual mode will allow you to achieve a proper exposure in camera.

Photographers will shoot in automatic or manual modes, and then adjust settings as needed to accommodate different factors in taking a properly exposed photo.

The goal is to get it right in camera so you limit the amount of post processing needed and to be as efficient as possible.

Camera Dial Shooting Modes

Camera dial shooting modes

Multiple Automatic Photo Modes

Every camera is different and all manufactures provide options for shooting modes for all skill levels. It is common for beginners to start in more automatic type settings until they become more advanced and comfortable with their cameras.

The first place to look for your camera’s different modes are on the top dials. You will normally see a control dial with all the different modes available to you on your camera. They have the designations of “M”, “A”, “Auto”, “S” and more. Let’s break down the two most common modes and how each can benefit you in making decisions.

What is automatic mode?

Automatic or auto mode on your camera is a shoot mode that allows your camera to set certain settings that balance for a properly exposed photo. Full auto mode on many cameras will set aperture, ISO and shutter speed for you.

There are also other auto modes as well and your camera will take care of the rest. For example, you can set your aperture in aperture priority mode and the camera will set the ISO and shutter speed to balance the exposure.

You can also set your preferred shutter speed in shutter priority mode and the camera will set the aperture and ISO to balance the exposure. Both of these modes require you to set your preferred aperture or shutter speed before you shoot.

What are the standard auto modes on cameras?

  • Full Auto mode (auto)
  • Aperture Priority (A or Ap)
  • Shutter Priority (Sp or S)
  • Portrait Mode (person icon)
  • Landscape Mode (landscape icon)

Benefits of shooting in automatic mode

  • Faster shooting – You just set one of the three main settings and the camera will do the rest
  • Great for beginners looking to learn the exposure triangle
  • Multiple modes including: Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Portrait mode and more.

Drawbacks of shooting in automatic mode

  • You have limited control of the settings the camera chooses
  • You will have limited creative options as the camera is set to standard settings
  • It can be more difficult to get certain exposures based on your personal taste
  • Some cameras require the built-in pop-up flash to get correct exposure in low light situations

When to use automatic settings

There are some instances where using the automatic mode can make shooting easier. You don’t always want to bother with very specific settings on your camera.

For example, shooting small events or taking some quick photos of family and friends. Graduation parties are also a good time to use automatic mode if you’re not fast at changing settings in camera.

Sometimes we just get lazy and want to shoot for fun. No need to put your camera in manual mode.

This mode is great for beginners as you can see the camera change settings in real-time and you will start to learn base settings for certain lighting scenarios and situations.

It can be a good starting point to learning how aperture, ISO and shutter speed work together for an exposure.

What is manual mode on a camera
What is manual mode on a camera

What is manual mode

Manual mode on your camera is a mode that allows the user to have complete control over photo exposure. The user controls and select specific exposure settings such as aperture, ISO and shutter speed in order to achieve the desired look.

Unlike automatic mode, the camera will not change and compensate when you are changing single or multiple settings.   This mode is for more advanced users who are familiar with lighting and the exposure triangle.

Benefits of shooting in manual mode

Don’t let this mode scare you. All photographers start out learning the same way and gaining more experience with camera settings. As a beginner, you will learn how light and the exposure triangle work together to give you a balanced and properly exposed photo.

  • Complete control of all camera settings as you see fit for each exposure
  • Creative and artistic styles can be achieved with manual mode settings

Drawbacks of shooting in manual mode

  • It can take time to dial in settings, so shooting manual can be slower
  • You may need to take multiple test shots before you get the proper exposure for your photo
  • This can be difficult for a beginner with limited to no experience with manual settings

How to switch your camera to manual mode

Check the control dial on the top of your camera. There should be a “M” dial setting. Turn the dial to this setting and you should then have control of your aperture, ISO and shutter.

Some cameras require the change in menu so check your menu functions and see what modes are available to you.

Fear of shooting manual mode

Don’t let manual setting scare you as a beginner. Everyone starts and learns differently so approach the manual settings with a little bit of wiggle room for error.

The more you practice, the better you will get with shooting in manual mode. Start with the basics like aperture, iso and shutter speed and see how each of these settings work together for your photo.

Also, I recommend shooting at different times of the day and with different lighting so you can learn more about how to dial in a correct exposure with multiple lighting styles.

Automatic mode as a kick-starter to manual

I often recommend photographers start with automatic modes like aperture priority or shutter priority to see how the camera is changing settings in real time. You will start to notice specific patterns in the settings and can use these as starting points when you switch to manual mode.

When to use manual settings

There is no right or wrong time to use manual settings for a shoot. Sometimes you just don’t have time to dial in your exposure so you shoot in auto mode to compensate for time.

I shoot portraits in manual mode. This allows me to change my settings based on the exposure of certain areas of the models face or clothing. It allows me to dial in an exact look that I want for the shot.

Manual settings vs manual focus – What’s the difference

There is a difference between shooting in manual mode and shooting with manual lens focus. Switching your camera into manual mode allows you to change all the manual settings of your exposure to get the shot you’re looking for.

This means manually controlling the aperture, ISO and shutter speed. This should not be confused with shooting in manual focusing mode. When you shoot in manual focus mode, you are controlling the focus on the physical lens and not in camera. This does not change exposure settings.

Every lens has a focus wheel built into the outside of the lens. This allows you to turn the wheel in both directions in order to focus where you want. Many cameras have automatic focus settings and will find focus on the subject for you when in this mode.

Which camera mode is easier for beginners auto or manual?

If you’re new to photography, then consider starting in auto mode until you gain more experience with your camera. The goal is to never miss a shot and if you’re not comfortable changing settings quickly in manual mode, then having the camera set your exposure in real time is a big help.

You can always switch back and forth between all the modes your camera provides. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to taking photos.

The biggest question is always how much control do you want over your camera’s settings and the exposure of your photo. This helps determine the need for auto or manual mode.

Which camera mode should I use for portraits?

You can use both automatic and manual modes to shoot portraits. When shooting in automatic modes, the camera will set the exposure based on the available lighting and pre-settings that you have provided like aperture or shutter speed in camera.

Automatic modes can assist in shooting portraits faster as a beginner but it does have limits.

If you’re wanting to take more control over the settings and control the exact look of your portrait, then manual mode is a better option for you.

You can change your aperture (f-stop), ISO and shutter speed settings individually and the other settings will not be changed.

What modes does my camera offer?

Check your user manual and see what options your camera provides. Many mirrorless cameras or DSLR cameras will have control dials at the top of the camera. For auto modes, you’re looking for the “A”, “S” or “P” on your control dial.

If you are looking for manual mode, then look for the “M” setting on the dial. You can sometimes change these modes in your cameras menu system, but all cameras are different so make sure to do your research.

What mode do professional photographers use – auto or manual?

Photographers of all skill levels will choose camera modes and settings based on the photo being taken. I know portrait photographers who will only shoot manual mode.

I know professional wedding photographers who shoot both automatic and manual modes for their events. There is no right or wrong answer to which mode you use. Just depends on the current environment and the abilities of the individual.

Is it bad to shoot in automatic mode?

I’m still not sure how the negative stigma of automatic mode came around, but it is not true. Many photographers started with Film which is a very manual process.

The introduction of digital cameras made for newer technology that took much of the guess work out of taking photos.

It’s not a bad thing to use auto mode, especially as a beginner. It’s also not a bad thing to use auto modes as a professional photographer.

It is always up to the user and the comfort level they have built with their cameras.

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