Why Shoot in Manual Mode?

The question of why to shoot in manual mode actually has one very simple answer -  because you are smarter than your camera! Yes, that piece of high tech gadgetry you hold in your hands actually needs a lot of guidance from you to take great pictures.  It really needs you tell it what's important in your photo - what the light is like, what to expose for, and what to focus on - in order for it to give you the picture you envisaged when you pressed the shutter.  With this in mind, here's my five reasons why you should give shooting in Manual Mode a try....

#1 Controlling how light is used
Light is probably one of the most important aspects of photography.  Understanding, controlling and using light correctly will improve your images immeasurably - and you really only get full control of this when you use the manual mode. It allows you make sure that the whole scene is exposed correctly (believe it or not, your eye is a better judge than your camera!) or choose to expose for a specific part of your image instead. Some of the greater advantages of shooting in Manual is the ability to manipulate how the light is used to create some artistic images, for example a silhouette like the photo below, or a back-lit image.



2 Getting Blurry Backgrounds
Another reason to come away from Auto is to control your depth of field (how much of your scene is in sharp focus) A key use of this is creating those beautifully blurred backgrounds that allows the subject to stand out and be the main feature. This little trick of separating your background from the subject is used a lot in portrait photography and is a great one to learn! 

Portrait with blurred background

Portrait with blurred background

#3 Choosing your focal point 
When in Auto your camera will either try to get everything in the scene in focus (or worse choose the wrong thing!) By controlling our focus points in manual you can tell the camera what you want to be the point of interest in your picture. In some cases this will be your child, but in other cases you may choose to have something else in focus, like in the picture below.This is a very simple way to get more creative with your photography.

Focus Point

#4 Shutter Speed 
There are a number of reasons why you want to control over your shutter speed and not your camera.  The camera will simply choose the shutter speed it thinks might be appropriate to get correct exposure, however, it has absolutely no idea whether the subject you are shooting is sitting perfectly still, is running, jumping etc. I've regularly seen my camera give me a ridiculously low shutter speed - even the movement of my hand would be enough to make my photo blurry! Most of the time you will looking to make sure your shutter speed is high enough for the scene you are trying to capture, but sometimes you may even want to deliberately choose a lower shutter speed to create motion blur.

Shutter Speed

Shutter Speeds

#5 Flash 
Another reason to move away from Auto is that your camera will frequently turn on the flash in lower light situations, but this leaves your subject looking drained and washed out.  In Manual you can choose to lower your aperture, slow down your shutter speed or increase your ISO, depending on the scene you want to capture.  (If increasing your ISO, in Manual you can choose to deliberately over expose making your images much less grainy) This gives you so much more wiggle room for getting great low light shots. (Even when I do want to use flash, I use it with my Lightscoop - and even with this I'm using Manual!)

No Flash

A camera in Auto will do a great job - some of the time. Other times, a nudge in the right direction might be all it needs, which is when I would use Aperture or Shutter Speed Priority Modes instead. Other times you need to take your camera firmly in hand and tell it exactly what you want it do - this is when to use Manual.  I never use Auto but I also don't use Manual all the time - I tend to use Aperture Priority more because with a fast-moving toddler I could be forever changing my settings - but I know how and when to use it, and that is what's important.

I hope this answered any questions you might have had about why shoot in manual mode. The next step is to learn how to use it! It really isn't that difficult - the tricky part is remembering to change your settings when the light changes or your subject decides to get up and dance from sitting peacefully in the corner! So, look out for a post on how to use your camera in Manual Mode in a few days!

Other Posts You Might Like: 

Getting Creative with Aperture 
Getting to Know Shutter Speed
A Quick Tutorial on Camera Exposure 


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