Switch to Manual Mode

Switch to Manual Mode


A Guest Post by Sam Levy from citifar.

In the past couple of years, the price for DSLRs and other fancy cameras has decreased dramatically and these cameras have become affordable to many more photo-enthusiasts. I often stroll Fifth Avenue in New York City and observe so many tourists using their DSLR to ‘snap’ rather than photograph. There is nothing wrong with snapping but I can’t help feeling puzzled by the reasons beyond their purchase of an expensive and heavy camera instead of a good and cheaper point and shoot.


Since I started citifari to run photo tours for photo-enthusiasts of all levels, I have listened to some of the reasons for not using the manual mode. It is usually one of these:

  • I never took a photography class
  • I don’t have time to think about these settings when I take a picture
  • I am afraid of my camera’s settings, or
  • It would take bad pictures

Essentially: fear and/or effort. Let’s think about it for a second and let’s tackle them one by one.


Taking bad pictures

What makes a bad picture? Is it only a picture that is not in focus and/or poorly exposed? No, there are plenty of ways to take bad pictures. Rather, then, what makes a good picture? Is it only a picture in focus and properly exposed? Not either! Chances are that you are already taking bad pictures (I did not say only)! So where is the fear? That you will take more bad pictures? Are you afraid at the possibility of maybe taking one good picture by chance? If it is only fear, you are in the digital world: take one picture in manual mode and then switch to automatic to capture that shot you were afraid to miss, it won’t cost you anything additional and with practice you will realize that you don’t need the additional security shot.


Your camera’s settings

If the reason for the purchase of your fancy camera wasn’t a fashion statement or to get some exercise by carrying a heavy camera bag, it was probably in order to be able to play with the settings in order to get control over the camera and get those nice shots.  What has changed since? You became intimidated by the possibilities of your camera? You don’t know where to start? You need only to consider three variables to take a picture: the aperture, the ISO and the shutter speed. Forget for now all the fancy options hidden in the menus of your camera. Just these three will get you a long way. Play with them, mess with them, read more, take a class. But again: if you are afraid to miss a shot, take your picture in manual and turn to automatic as a safety.


I never took a photography class

The easy answer to this is: take one. But I would like to augment that by: if you don’t have the time or the means to, you don’t need to take a class. There are a ton of resources online to teach you about the basics of photography, including DPS which I keep reading for tips, tutorials and lessons from professionals. The best class is probably to take your camera out, take more pictures and experiment. With digital, you can take as many pictures as you wish without incremental cost, with software at home you look at the effect of the changes in one parameter by comparing two pictures otherwise similar.


I don’t have time to think settings when taking a picture

True, this one will be the hardest to overcome. It requires practice in order to build the automatisms you need so that you can set your capture the way you want in manual mode. But once again, you can start gradually. When you have time, force yourself take your picture in manual mode and when you don’t have time, turn on the automatic mode. You will gain with practice and will never want to go back to automatic mode after a while. Ultimately, the manual mode will add fractions of seconds to your setup but your end result will improve much more than the extra effort. Also, as a by-product, you will think more about your picture before the shot and the message will pass better.

I would like to add one more reason why you might not be using the manual mode.


I don’t know what the automatic mode does

If you knew you probably would not use it. You purchased your camera in order to control your pictures and instead, the automatic mode selects everything for you:

  • the focus point: your picture will be focused somewhere but not always on the subject you picked as a point of interest
  • the exposure: your picture will be exposed so that it matches an ‘average grey’. This will probably not help seeing what you wanted to show in your highlights or in the shadows.
  • all other settings: the processor inside the camera did not know whether you wanted to freeze the movement or on the contrary, to have a slow shutter speed, it does not know either whether you wanted to throw everything out of focus behind your subject or to have an ‘all in focus’ landscape


You invested and are now carrying your camera because you decided to tell the camera what to capture: you want to be in control and you don’t want now to let the camera decide for you instead. Forget the automatic mode and switch progressively to manual… (you might want to explore the semi-automatic modes aperture and shutter speed priorities too).

Sam Levy is the founder of citifari. citifari offers photo tours in New York City. Structured as a 2-1/2 hour practical workshop, citifari tour helps you get comfortable with your camera settings and take great shots from New York City. visit citifari atwww.citifari.com, on facebook at www.facebook.com/citifari or on twitter @citifari. email Sam Levy at sam@citifari.com

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Some Older Comments

  • Sam Levy January 9, 2012 11:29 pm

    Thanks for the responses further down below.
    @sonia - definitely this is a learning process that takes you down before taking you further up
    @robert - true, a great shot is a great shot, but your chances of getting a great shot are improved
    @caya - I believe there is no 'correct' exposure but only your exposure for what you want to say. as you say, the camera will auto adjust for the exposure you tell it to adjust to (middle, over, under) when measured under the selected method. You can then modify with the adjustments but it is as much work as doing it manually so why not start there rather than selecting the priority, the iso and the adjustment and let the camera decide for the non-priority?
    @maxie - that's the point of the article! keep control!
    @steve - one of my first books and best books about photography
    @kristen - THANKS - what's your website?
    @benok - correct, i usually keep AF on, unless very under or over exposed situations (the camera is better than my eye)
    @zack - thanks and it was really nice to meet you!

  • Zack Jones December 28, 2011 02:15 am

    If you're ever in NYC and have the time do yourself a favor and go on the photo walk with Sam or Louis. My wife and I did it earlier this month and it was OUTSTANDING. I learned more in the 3 hours we were with Louis than I have in the past 5 years of reading books, Kelby Training web site, etc.

  • Benok November 6, 2011 11:55 am

    It would seem to me that most new camera enthusiast seem to confuse the Authors' "manual mode" with setting AF to manual too.

    I believe the author pertains to the Manual mode in M P A S, and not to manual AF of the cameras

  • Benok November 6, 2011 11:50 am

    @Rachel, use continuous focusing when photographing moving subjects.

  • Benok November 6, 2011 11:47 am


    Learn to use the focus points on your camera, as focus is very important on macro, also, learn to adjust the diopter setting on your camera... It would seem to me that the camera focus isnt the same as what you see on your viewfinder. - happy shooting

  • Kristen Duke Photography November 4, 2011 03:23 pm

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this article! I wrote a little book called Say NO to Auto, and you just over emphasized what I'm talking about! I'lm linking to this on my site!

  • Steve November 4, 2011 10:14 am

    If you are looking for a good book on switching to manual mode I suggest that you take a look at "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson. Practice setting your camera up on manual while shoot objects that aren't moving so you have the time to get the correct exposure.

  • Maxie October 31, 2011 09:02 am

    A few years ago, with the event of the digital age, becoming frustrated with my new camera which was the best thing since sliced bread. I recall talking to a professional photographer friend who nodded wisely and said "Maxie you have to tell the camera what YOU WANT IT TO DO, not WHAT IT WANTS TO DO.,
    This was top advice which I recommend to everyone. .

  • Caya October 30, 2011 01:04 pm

    I can't see the LCD screen in daylight. I changed a setting in the house before going outside. When I turned the camera back on, the setting was gone.
    I have a very expensive macro lens. I took 80 shots of an orchid. Each time the shot looked perfect to me. When I viewed them, they were terrible, out of focus. I switched to auto and got a good one. Does eyesight matter? Do you wear glasses when you focus? Do you have cataracts?
    I have a Canon EOS REBEL T1i. It has a lot of automatic choices and I use them. I move the camera around till a red focus light hits my chosen subject before I click. I zoom in and out, shoot vertical and horizontal, so need to take MANY shots quickly. I average 1000 photos per month. I rarely delete anything. All my pictures are good, many are great. I love the straight photo, and also adding layers and grunge in Corel. I had Adobe PS in 2000, but it won't work now on any 64 bit computers. I would love new software, but I fear the next computer upgrade will ruin using anything I might buy. My Corel came free with a Dell.
    I would love to have someone to tell me - use this ONE setting for ONE day and take photos of ~ say~ waterfalls or snow etc. so it would be burned in my mind forever (the setting). I can usually "trick" the camera into doing what I want, but I'd love to know how to use manual focus for those times when the camera gets stubborn and won't be tricked! ? It's embarrassing to be so ignorant.

  • thomas lieser October 30, 2011 06:05 am

    I only shoot manual because the errors that I make are mine, as re the right decisions and results. The bonus is that I have learned a lot about photography that way. The CPU in my camera has not gotten any wiser in the meantime...

  • Jerry October 30, 2011 04:14 am

    I'm still surprised by the fact how many people don't understand the difference between M a AP (SP) modes

    after reading the discussion under the article, I get the feeling, that most of the people do not realize that once they choose 2 out of 3 parameters (e.g. f speed and ISO speed) the third parameter is GIVEN, to have the correct exposure, so there is NO CHOICE
    so instead of losing time to change the shutter speed until the exposure is correct I will let my camera calculate it
    if I want to have correct exposure, the camera will choose the very same shutter speed as I would have found looking at the exposure meter when changing the shutter speed
    if I want to underexpose or overexpose the picture(what you would do in M mode by choosing shutter speedwhich will show you underexposed image), in AP I will choose to underexpose the picture in the very same manner (so I dont lose the possibility to quickly underexpose or overexpose)
    if I see that the speed the camera have chosen is not appropriate given the situation, I immediately choose the exposure shift

    but as most of the time I want the correct exposure (due to RAW I can even change it later) there really is no point making the third parameter of the exposure triangle manually, when I will get anyway the very same number as the camera

  • robert gardner October 30, 2011 01:42 am

    I can't believe how many people say they feel guilty about shooting Auto.
    Who knows?
    Who cares?
    When you look at a great image there is not a watermark across the face that says
    "this image was shot in manual with a $5000 Dslr at 23mp"
    For all we know it could have been taken on a cell phone..
    Do what you enjoy, and enjoy doing it.

  • Rachel October 29, 2011 02:39 pm

    Thanks Rober -- will give that a try!

  • Sonia Barton October 29, 2011 02:35 pm

    For me it was all about setting the time to learn it and the courage to take bad pictures and learn from them. It's easy to let the camera take a decent picture.

  • Big T October 29, 2011 02:07 pm

    johnp, Shelly and marco all have good points. I do a lot of wildlife photography or you can call it picture taking if that makes you happy. I don't see a lot of wildlife standing around posing while you adjust your camera, some do but it's rare.
    On the other hand, I take pictures of old buildings, landscape, people, etc. which might be improved with manual shooting but I get some pretty good photo's by setting the presets the way I want them on my Canon 60D or use aperture priority and manual focus when nessary but I seldom use the full auto. It work's good enough that my company usually ask's me to take photo's of company events and several friends do also.
    I'm not a professional photographer, just someone who enjoys taking pictures and seeing the results. I like my photo's to be as sharp as possible with the whole subject in focus. I'm not a big fan of extreme boken with too much apeture or water that looks like it's painted with too long a shutter speed instead of looking real. But that's just me.
    I bought the DSLR because it can and does take some great photo's by letting the camera make use of the technology that was put into it and I paid for. It works much better than the past 20 or 30 point and shoot camera's that I have owned and a couple of them were over $1,000.
    If it makes you feel good, use manual or use full auto if you like and don't feel guilty, just enjoy the great photo's your camera is capable of either way. That's why I bought it.

  • robert gardner October 29, 2011 01:43 pm

    Rachel : one of the best ways to handle a moving child is to shoot on Auto and change your mode to burst. Keep the keeper and delete the rest.

  • DaveE620 October 29, 2011 10:19 am

    I appreciate the post for it's ethos which is to know how the variables work in relation to each other.
    It is however a bit like experts who are enthralled by people who develop their film in the dark room - then have an alternative opinion about people who develop digital images with software.
    Both have an equal place.
    More snapping and less yapping.

  • Rachel October 29, 2011 10:00 am

    Fantastic article. I would by no means call my self a photographer but I have a question for the author of the article. I had previously branched out and started shooting in manual because I do a lot of travel through Asia BUT my first child was born a year ago and ever since he started moving at 6 months, I've resorted back to automatic at least for focus because he doesn't keep still!!! I don't like it because it takes me more photos to get the shot I want and it's not always focused on what I want either. What are your thoughts on that?

  • eosDave October 29, 2011 07:02 am

    I have always been happy with the photos I get with my now 8 year old Olympus P&S because I got familiar with its manual controls limited though they may be. Auto is just for a quick picture record of where I am. Manual mode is for photography. Now that I am shooting with a Canon t2i nothing has changed other than the fact that I have vastly more pixels, more and better lenses and a lot more manual control. As some earlier commenter mentioned I do miss the days when I shot enough Plus-X or Tri-X that I could eyeball the environment and know how to set the camera to get the image I wanted. My favorite control on the DSLR is the exposure adjustment button.

  • Eric October 29, 2011 05:40 am

    I think that some folks may have missed the point of the article, which is in my opinion a simple urging to get to know and understand your equipment. The body I most often use doesn't have an auto mode; and it doesn't have any settings for close up, sports, landscape, portraits, night etc. ... If you think about it, there are these variables:

    Shutter Speed
    Focus type
    Focus Point
    Metering type

    Full Auto takes care of everything, just point and shoot. DSLRs with their bigger sensors will give better photos than a pocket camera, are better in low light and you have better lenses. Some folks use them as high-end P&S cameras and that is just fine.

    Auto modes like Close-up or Night etc. are a simple way for the user to give the camera guidance as to how it is being used, thus allowing the camera to better optimize the variables it has to work with.

    Modes like P, A ,S (Nikon) are what I would call either semi auto or semi manual depending on whether or not "Auto ISO" has been selected.

    Theres also matrix metering, spot metering, multi point Autofocus etc.

    But all of the modes are nothing more than instructions to the camera indicating what and how the user wants the camera to take charge. By learning to shoot in manual mode, you actually are learning what it is you are telling the camera to do, and where your own responsibility lies.

    If your goal is to use a camera to capture memories and you get the images you like, Auto is great. If you are looking to make prints that hang on the wall and express an artistic interpretation, then in my opinion manual modes will be more fun and more satisfying.

    Understanding what is is you are asking your camera to do will give you the most flexability. ..and this includes knowing when to use the semi-manual modes because manual is not always best (moving subject with changing light for example) The key is to have fun, and understanding how to get the most out of the camera is a good thing.

  • Ray October 29, 2011 05:36 am

    I sometimes shoot manual, but I don't hesitate to shoot either aperture priority or shutter priority, depending on the circumstances. Knowing how and when to use all the tools in the toolbox seems much more important to me than fixating on only one tool as if there were no other options.

  • Angus October 29, 2011 05:08 am

    I like the post, although it sure would be helpful to see the photos you took compared to Auto mode. The photos look great, but proving why people should switch is often more important than writing about it. I have found more interesting shots by playing around with new lenses (ie fixed lenses) than many changes to the settings. It is a hassle to carry around more than one lens, but the results are pretty startling...

  • sammy October 29, 2011 05:03 am

    I purchased and read 'Understanding exposure' a month before I purchased my first DSLR. I read it again after I got the camera. In the year that I have owned my DSLR, I have only used auto in tricky light situations to see what the camera sets itself to. Then I work off those settings in manual again. I almost never use flash and used auto a handful times.

    On such occasions when I compare the output from auto and manual, manual is always better in color and light rendition. No one who has seen them pics has said otherwise.

    Straight up MANUAL for me, baby!!

  • DC Nebeker October 29, 2011 04:40 am

    The "Switch to Manual Mode" rant reminds me of the past when NO decent "photographer" would ever use a zoom lens, the most worthless image degrading device ever made for SLRs. Today, must one start buying a DSLR without a lens to avoid one? Or when the proper way to hold the camera for a long exposure without a tripod was to turn it upside-down and press it to you forehead because you could get one or two slower shutter speeds and still get sharp focus. Yes, it did work and it still does. So why not damn Image Stabilization as another form of unneeded non-manual automation? Then let us lament the lack in todays sensors of films reciprocity failure: besides being a pesky problem, reciprocity did have some advantages. I have used Olympus and Canon point and shoot (P&S) and bridge cameras. I did not want a DSLR to replace my zoom lenses ranging from 3× to 30×. Just try to buy a 30× zoom for a DSLR! Nor for the lack of an articulated view screen, only recently becoming available in DSLRs. Articulateds very useful for a lower camera position if you want to see what is in the frame, when your knees won't bend, and your waist will not lower your head to to ground level.

    So why did I want a DSLR? #1- Manual focus where a P&S fails. The DSLR's advantage is accurate, quick, easy manual focus. A great help for macro photography on anything not two dimensional and in a parallel plane to the cameras sensor. Better when auto focus fails, and maybe in low light situations. #2- The larger sensor for its higher quality image with a full frame sensor so that wide angle lenses (and I consider a 10~20mm as my normal lens) really are wide, let alone wider lenses! Full frame to avoid the 1.5 APS lens conversion towards the telephoto range. Does a cheaper APS formated DSLR have a focal extension advantage for telephoto addicts? While the DSLR lenses do not have the zoom range of their little brothers, no P&S has a 10~20mm zoom equivalent, None have ƒ1.4 50mm for available light, yet, but they are working at it. I doubt P&S will ever compete with the wonders of big glass. But who knows? With zooms being considered normal lenses by so many, and DSLR's being use for video, the time may come when our lowly cameras evolves into something far better than we conceive of today. What would the purists of the camera obscura era think of todays offerings? For me, manual exposure control is the icing on the wedding cake, more a necessity rather than the luxury reason to have upgraded.

  • Elly October 29, 2011 04:37 am

    I have to admit, I've been doing photography as a hobby now for 4 years and just this year I've only become more comfortable and really tried using the manual setting- although there are many times when I don't wanna miss a shot or stuff it up so I use auto.

    I have been practising and fiddling around alot so I'm slowly becoming more comfortable and sort of know what settings I need in certain lighting and what ISO etc.

    You defintaley have to experiment and invest time into getting to know the camera, the settings otherwise you could be stuck in auto mode forever.

    Although I'm pretty sure I read an article on here by another photographer that said that the auto setting does have it's use- I mean why would the setting be on the camera in the first place if manufactures wanted people to learn manual only...?

  • Jason Racey October 29, 2011 01:37 am

    I started shooting manual mode occasionally a couple of years and have since moved to shooting manual mode exclusively. The primary reason I use manual is because I want total control over the exposure. I have a Canon 60D and the light meter on this camera (in evaluative metering mode) consistently wants more light than I prefer my shots to have. I'm looking to preserve highlights and get good color saturation.

    I also underexpose because don't have a tripod and need to use a faster shutter speed. I know about how much underexposure I can get away with and pull back up in post-processing. It works for me though I think I'll finally get a tripod this year (2012). Tripod owners were looking down their noses at me when we were all lined up shooting Arches NP at sunrise. I was the only one shooting hand-held. The peer pressure was too much.

    If you choose not to use manual mode then fine but if you don't understand the exposure triangle and how to use manual mode then you are just another tourist taking snapshots. There's so many people walking around with DSLR's these days. *Everyone* at Arches NP had a DSLR around their neck. It was gross. If you want to stand out from the hordes of tourons learn how to really use it.

  • Ed D. (CT) October 28, 2011 09:24 pm

    Excellent article. Sam Levy gives one the needed 'push' to switch from automatic to manual. The results are amazing after some practice. Once you have somewhat mastered the manual mode then it becomes easier to switch between modes depending upon the picture being taken.

  • L.S. Chen October 28, 2011 02:34 pm

    Previously I was using a film SLR camera for many years, so everything should be set manually, and I like it very much. But now, it's too difficult to find films with various ASA (ISO) so I start to switch to digital era. I use a Point & Shoot and D-SLR as well. Before, I just dealing with Speed-Aperture-ISO (ASA) and distance setting. But now with a DSLR (Point & Shoot as well), they have more items to set or manipulate such as white balance, point of focus etc. Seems to be complicated to, and especially for a new comer in photographiy. But I'm sure by keep trying and exploring the digital camera you will find something different compare to old film camera in term of the freedom to explore and doing experiment shoot without cost you at all. That's why don't be affraid to explore all of your camera features in order to improve your skill.
    You can also enrich your photographic capability through the internet coz lots of professional photographers are willing to share their experience and knowledge to others. One of them is DPS and I like this website so much. Thanks a lot to Darren Rowse.

  • Lorri A October 28, 2011 02:22 pm

    Totally agree with the whole 'do a photography class' - I took one last year, one evening a week for 7 or 8 weeks, I learned so much, I haven't had either of my cameras on automatic since that course. Sure, I still occasionally get a photo that isn't quite what I was after, but hey, it's all learning isn't it. I look back at the photos I was taking before the course, and what I'm achieving now and can see a huge improvement.

  • Marco October 28, 2011 12:36 pm

    "Hmmm, wonder how all those old photographs were done (sometimes on large format) pre auto. Must have been done with tame animals. lol"

    All to often they lost patience and resorted to "baiting" to get the shot. We hold higher ethical standards today and still get the great shot because cameras have advanced dramatically.

  • Marco October 28, 2011 12:25 pm

    No nerve touched. Just annoyed that a great site like this one would publish such arrogant crap. I know the shots I get and in the "good old days of film" they would prefocus each shot and hope for the best with National Geographic crews spending months on a single shoot to hopefully get five or six shots.

    My point is valid and is the reason that I was willing to spend the money on a Canon 7D. It would not be worth it unless it could get the shots I want. A powerful computer with two good processors and lots of memory for the cache so that it can take bursts of RAW+JPG without bogging down. I also have L series lenses only since the best resolution gives me the best results. I still work on my skills but at least my equipment gives me the best chance of getting what I want without holding me back.

    I am really, really tired of "photographers" who spout their opinion like theirs is the only type of photography. LOOK beyond your specialty and consider that other types of photography have different requirements of camera and operator.

  • Red Wolf October 28, 2011 12:16 pm

    There's nothing quite coming across a sunset or a rainbow and selecting Manual. Just watching the photo come alive as I do the adjustments is a miracle...

  • OzMerican October 28, 2011 12:10 pm

    "For some types of photography Manual is fine but for others there is NO WAY."

    Hmmm, wonder how all those old photographs were done (sometimes on large format) pre auto. Must have been done with tame animals. lol


    Touched a nerve have we Marco? Didn't notice any "berating", but just encouragement to venture out beyond the confines of auto, but if you feel threatened then you may be correct. ~:>)

  • Marco October 28, 2011 11:41 am

    On the flip side, if I am shooting landscapes with all the time in the world to set things, I will usually use Av mode and manually set the ISO and manually focus the lens. I understand that manual gives you more control over the results, but action shots YOU WOULD TOTALLY MISS while I get them with my 7D that is very smart on auto.

  • Marco October 28, 2011 11:36 am

    I really hate to see articles like this on DPS as they are based on opinion not fact. It is pure snobbery to make such categorical statements. For some types of photography Manual is fine but for others there is NO WAY.

    I shoot wildlife, specifically the wildlife action shots. How can you possibly adjust the settings as an eagle drops from a tree with the sky in the background to a few feet off of the water with a river bank in the background to him grabbing a trout from the water and the burst of water spray???? I shoot in P mode with auto ISO in most of these cases unless I have a problem and then I switch to Av or Tv for the nest shots. It is way too late to switch and get the shot you missed!!!! I suspect that sports photographers do the same.

    As for why would someone buy a DSLR for shots and never leave the auto settings- they just might like the improvements of a good camera with a reasonably large sensor that has virtually no shutter lag. If that is what they want, WHO ARE YOU TO BERATE THEM?????

  • Richard October 28, 2011 11:35 am

    Article was nice, but could have had more meat. Those of us that have DLSR and don't use M mode, know that we should, but don't know how? or wish that we knew it all better! Fortunately the comments and this newsletter have been a great help and inspiration to get to know my camera better every day. Thanks to all.

    ps - maybe not the best forum for ??? But I have a Canon Rebel t1i/EOS 500d. Bought a Tamron 28 - 300mm f3.5-6.3 and am very disappointed. The Canon Kit lens' that came with it 18-55 and 75-250 take much better pictures. If I want really good pics, do I need to looks at Canon only? at f2.8? And what is a great all purpose lens that has crisp pics (ie 2.8) and some zoom?

    Love any help - thanks.

  • Liju Augustine October 28, 2011 10:34 am

    Good points. If I don't have time for a 'manual shot', I usually go with programmed auto, but never fully auto.

  • mwcyclist October 28, 2011 10:29 am

    I've used a Nikon FM2 since the mid 80's, which is 100% manual. My vision has changed over the years and now I appreciate the auto-focus. One nice thing about having the dslr is that I can see my mistakes and change settings to compensate for that which I can do before leaving. Perhaps many of us have a lot more camera than we will ever need, and I think that the most of us who have used manual cameras already have an idea of what settings we like. If shooting in manual, semi-manual or auto, just go out and have fun.

  • John Lambert October 28, 2011 09:28 am

    I recently returned from a trip to England where I took hundreds of stills and 143 video clips. It's surprising and disappointing to see how many of the videos were out of focus. Since then, I make it a rule always to use manual focussing, at least for videos. Since I shoot at 30 fps, I use a slow shutter speed and usually f22. This, of course, means virtually everything in my frame is in focus. I just focus on infinity and shoot away. Peice of cake. Automatic? Never again.

  • robert gardner October 28, 2011 09:06 am

    I shoot in Ap most of the time, but fine M to be fun. If I set my 5d to Ap and then check the speed I find it to be about the same as if I shoot in M set my Ap at 8 and then move my controls to find the S. nine times out of 10 it is the same.
    I really think that M is a man thing. (i'm a man)

  • Eric October 28, 2011 08:27 am

    As I see it Manual mode is about creative control. When we shoot film, (without pushing it), once the ISO is set, that's it. As such, with fiilm the decision is how to balance aperture vs shutter speed for the desired interpretation of the scene. With the DSLR, we can change ISO on the fly and get as much as 7 stops of adjustment. (I understand noise is an issue but that's simply a consideration akin to blur and shutterspeed.) So, with a DSLR there is actually more creative latitude than we had with film. In essence we have another degree of freedom on a shot by shot basis. In manual mode with film, I might set aperture for DoF, then adjust shutter speed for exposure, then choose a compromise between the two if the shutter speed was too fast or slow for my intent. With Digital, I also get to choose ISO. The semi auto modes are actually shortcuts to allow a photographer to choose what is important.

    With aperture mode, you get to set depth of field and trade off shutter speed and noise (ISO).
    With shutter priority, you get to choose how to handle motion in your image and trade of DoF and noise.
    Program mode can be seen as choosing the noise (film grain / ISO/Dynamic range) and trading of DoF and shutter speed.

    (Yes, there is a trade-off associated with ISO and Dynamic range, which further complicates matters.)

    Anyway, the point in shooting manual is that it is more difficult to forget all of the ways your camera will impact the image you record. By taking time with the image, there is a greater chance of noticing some nuance that allows creativity to come forward.

    Having said that, I think that the semi auto modes are great, just as long as you remember what it is you are electing to hold constant. ... But if you haven't shot film, I believe that shooting in manual is a great way to expand the relationship between photographer and camera.

  • Shoaib October 28, 2011 07:56 am

    I bought a DSLR earlier this year and made it a point to shoot manual from day one. I feel I have more control over what I want to get from a picture that way...however it still takes some time to run a few practice shots to finetune

  • raj singh arora October 25, 2011 11:29 am

    what i want in a shot my P mode or honestly my non flash mode give me.....if i feel like i use M/S/A( i learned to understood shutter, aperture n iso n use it to my advantage).....BUT HONESTLY what i want in these modes might defer by just 10% from the other 2 modes so i first take the shot on these n then if i feel like i need more might shift to manual.....but i neeD my shot on the street in an instant.....these have always worked brilliantly for me.....P for day....NON FLASH for night.....they are bang on to generally what i want.....manual is gr8 i am sure n i too make it a point to work on it..whenever i have the time....but at the end of the day modern dslrs rock.....n i need a clear shot with no blur n an aperture between 3.5 to 6.3.....max 7.1.....unless i am going for gr8 depth then yeah manual......but otherwise i think there is too much of a big deal made out......try it... shoot manual if u experienced PHOTOGRAPHER n then try the P/ NON FLASH mode your results wont be too far apart.....i knw this is turning the argument on its head !!!! but a tip from an amateur to a pro :)

  • Deirdre October 25, 2011 06:09 am

    I just figure that the people who can afford to buy expensive dslrs and keep them on automatic mode are the same people who can afford to hire me as a photographer. If they always shoot on auto they will not get consistent results, and they will be more likely to hire someone and appreciate their skill and talent for the important shots.

    I shoot on full manual now, but for several years I shot on Aperture Priority and sometimes Shutter Priority. They offer just as much creative control. Full Manual gives only slightly more predictable results. What it's best for, in my opinion, and why I moved to it, is where you are taking a lot of photos in a similar lighting situation. Knowing that your settings are exactly the same for each shot means a lot less fiddling with post processing on each individual photo later.

  • Marcy October 24, 2011 04:04 pm

    I've used manual mode some, although I've found I much prefer sticking to Aperture priority. When looking at a shot I'll first decide on what aperture I want to use, then adjust my ISO accordingly to get within a good shutter speed range and the right exposure. I've found that my camera's light metter does a pretty good job with exposure most of the time, so I let it do that for me 9and adjust as needed if it doesn't). Sure, I could use full manual mode and set aperture, then ISO, and then shutter speed for correct exposure... but I see little point in needing to do that extra step manually when the camera can do it for me and when I'd make the exact same setting adjustment that the camera will make anyway. There are times and scenes when full control is great and even needed, but I'm also a mom taking pictures of my kids who tend to not have the patience to sit around for that extra 0.5 second to adjust another setting. ; )

    As for why people get a fancy camera and then use the auto modes... I know I've definitely noticed that even accidental shots on a DSLR tend to have a much better quality to them than on a point&shoot. That alone may be worth it for a lot of people.

  • Normand Desjardins October 23, 2011 10:51 pm

    For me, shooting in real manual MUST include a fourth setting : White balance. Even if I shhot RAW.

  • ratti October 23, 2011 09:38 pm

    hmmmm.. bit of a can of worms, this one.. when I bought my first dslr, i was a beginner with a CAMERA, let along something with as much input from me as a dslr... so for a LOOOONG time I used the presets, all of them (sports, sunset, aperture priority, shutter priority, even landscape, and night portrait).. but I looked at every photo to see what the camera did, and then started to play with manual to change just one or two things.. that step took 2 years and over 10,000 photos... 4 years later, I had pretty much outgrown that body (low iso range being the main reason).. so off I went and got a whole new outfit, because I wanted one that would grow with me this time.. from the day I got it, only ever on manual, unless I am shooting my children, then it's on sports mode.. don't want to miss a minute with kids and grandkids who never sit still...

    I can see WHY the OP is frustrated with people taking 'happy snaps' when they could really be creating something special... but honestly, if that's what they want. then leave them to it.. there's room enough for all types of photo takers :>

  • Carlos Urrutia October 23, 2011 06:15 pm


    The answer is simple, control and skill. No matter what anyone says, you have the most control over the exposure in manual mode than any other mode. Many, if not all, of the people that use Manual 100% of the time are skilled photographers who know how they want their shots to look. Many of them developed their skills back in the days of film where it was normal to set aperture, shutter and focus manually. As such they feel perfectly at home in manual mode and have the skill to use it. Perhaps because of that they see the auto and semi auto modes as a form of cheating.

    I myself hope to one day be able to take most, if not all, of my photos in manual mode. For now though I use mostly Aperture Priority mode, and Manual mode when taking pictures in low light or when I need long exposures.

    One more thing, there is one shutter setting that you will only find in manual mode and that is the Bulb setting. The Bulb setting allows the shutter to stay open for as long as the shutter is held down. I haven't had a chance to play with this setting yet, but I will once I can get some nice, dark, clear skies :)

    @steve m

    It isn't a waste to purchase a DSLR, fancy or otherwise, and always use it in manual mode. If the person has the skill to use it that way go for it. If the person has the skill to use it like that then they probably bought it because it had capabilities they needed for the type of photography they do.

  • Erik Unger October 23, 2011 06:33 am

    Shooting in other modes isn't a bad thing, but if you can understand manual, and get good at it, you can take the pictures YOU want (not what your camera wants) just as fast as if in another mode.

  • Alexander Rose October 23, 2011 05:44 am

    Why full manual?
    I set the ISO speed by hand and shoot in either aperture or shutter priority with the exposure correction I have in mind.
    That's pretty much the same yet a lot faster than going full manual.

  • Tim October 22, 2011 11:54 pm

    I'm in the same situation as Alex a few comments back. Mostly in aperture or shutter speed priority. Very seldom in full manual...just for things like panorama, stop motion animation, long shutter exposure affects. ISO sometimes when I want to reduce noise when I don't need to freeze action and the light is low. WB I do mostly in post, except in harsh conditions such as gymnasiums with those lights that create a nasty orange color, then I use custom WB in the camera.

  • Mandy October 22, 2011 07:38 am

    I agree with FuzzyPiggy lets not get hung up on how much we think we need to know and lets just enjoy making photographs in whichever way suits us best!

    I have to say I haven't ventured to manual mode yet nor feel the need to.

    I've found plenty enough control and challenges with Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes

  • Erik Unger October 22, 2011 04:40 am

    @ steve m

    Not really sure what you meant by this or if it was a mistype.

    "the real waste of purchasing a fancy DLSR is setting it to full Manual mode."

  • Steve M October 22, 2011 02:07 am

    I started shooting with a Nikon F and a hand-held Lunasix in 1966. I believe I know how to handle my camera well enough by now that I'm not ashamed to use the P mode most of the time. I do insist on selecting my own ISO, and I will use exposure compensation if called for. That said if you have the experience to know when your subject matter demands a switch to Aperture or Shutter Priority, the real waste of purchasing a fancy DLSR is setting it to full Manual mode.

  • Barry E.Warren October 22, 2011 01:20 am

    I guess that is the difference in if you want to take pictures or Photo's. Anyone can take pictures, but only a photographer can take photos. manual is the way to go to create photo's.

  • Gnslngr45 October 21, 2011 11:38 pm

    I've found that if I want to use any kind of flash at all, I MUST be in manual mode to get the best shot. If I'm using natural light, I'm usually in AV or TV mode. Never Auto. Ever. Again. Probably.



  • Ed Letts October 21, 2011 09:55 pm

    I'm still learning and I usually shoot auto first and then manual at a few different settings. Then when I review the photos I can compare the Exif data and use the auto shot as a reference point. I have an Olympus PEN E-PL1 and if I press the shutter 1/2 way in auto I can see what settings it is using and then switch to M and start there. It's been a big help in learning and also to quickly get set up in M. After a year of this I'm usually happiest with one of the M shots but there are still many times I'm glad I had the auto shot.

  • Tom_Vienna October 21, 2011 08:01 pm

    I shoot in M-Mode most of the Time (95%). For snapshots i use P-Mode (5%) , which is almost automatic exept the control of the Flash.
    For sports i use the possibility to preselect Aperture and Time in M-Mode and set the ISO to Auto. This gives excelent control about the picture result. (Canon 60D)

  • Fuzzypiggy October 21, 2011 07:15 pm

    This isn't directed at the author or even the forum members, just a general rant about the obsession. As the article author states, ease out of auto-mode slowly.

    I don't get the obsession with 100% manual mode, as though it proves you have obtained some badge of honour by making life difficult, albeit sometimes more creative. Now don't get me wrong, I like using manual mode when appropriate. However I use manual focus with AP mode, sometimes SP mode if needed. Much like my landscape professional snapper heroes who too shoot AP with manual focus.

    The minute anyone says they don't turn everything off on the camera they are derided and told they not doing it properly. Well I own a car fitted with GPS and aircon, but I don't spend my journeys getting lost or baking under the sun behind the windscreen. They are tools I use to ensure the journey proceeds comfortably. Sometimes I turn off the air-con and open the windows, sometimes not. Sometimes I use a map, sometimes the GPS.

    Everything has a place and a time and even some auto-features are useful some of the time to simply dismiss them out of hand it's no wonder beginners get put off of trying new things. The second they show they have some fear of using the camera they are instantly put down for being "stupid" relying on it's features. We all had to start somewhere and easing people out of their comfort zone slowly will yield far better results that simply switching everything off and telling them use it properly! That will often only result in most simply giving up and walking away, which could be a huge loss if we lose the next budding Gary Winnegrand, William Klein or Joe Cornish.

  • oernii October 21, 2011 07:05 pm

    I can and I sometimes use M-mode. BUT that was not the MAIN reason I bought a dslr. It was a second season. THe main reason was QUALITY. No other cameras can make such high quality pics as dslr. Sensor size, speed, focusing, lens. these are the thing for which I bought a dslr.

  • Erik Unger October 21, 2011 05:38 pm

    Just do it. Your skills and quality of photos will increase ten fold. It really is just that much better having full control over your exposure. I know it can be hard when lighting situations are changing fast, but you will learn to adjust to correct, or very close to correct settings just by seeing the light change through your view finder. I have dealt with so many students who just cannot seem to get the camera the do what what they want and I have to tell them that is because they are not on manual.

    I know it can be hard when things are moving fast, but practice and time will help, and you will be better off for it.

  • Saurabh October 21, 2011 05:01 pm

    If I use 'M mode', my photos show lots of noise even at ISO100 as compared to 'A mode' or 'P mode'.
    I am using Panasonic FZ18.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck October 21, 2011 04:21 pm


    I always shoot M especially for Studio Work! One must adjust ,


  • Shelly October 21, 2011 02:55 pm

    I got my dslr to go along with my p&s because the dslr takes better photos and lets me change lenses. The settings have a wider range and I get a bigger variety with my lenses. I've had an slr film camera since the late-'70s and I still consider myself an amateur.

    I know how to use the manual settings, but I'm not the most coordinated person. It's faster and easier to use the AV or TV setting and then concentrate on composition, focus, and lighting. So, I use it semi-manually, I guess.

    If people want to let the camera do everything, what's the big deal? It's their money and their choice.

  • Lou October 21, 2011 02:21 pm

    oh and all the pictures in the article are terrific

  • Johnp October 21, 2011 02:00 pm

    Another reason for buying an expensive camera is to take advantage of the camera's sophisticated computer which is a big part of the cost of the camera. Why waste that asset by using only manual settings. By all means use manual if appropriate but also make full use of the countless hours (years) of work that have gone into the computer algorithms in your camera.

  • Jim October 21, 2011 12:46 pm

    Love Manual Mode...Makes me feel like I'm a Real..Photographer..I control the Camera...The Camera does not control me.

  • tsfatt October 21, 2011 11:57 am

    when 1st using DSLR ..alway using Auto without flash ... later learn to use .. manual .. but what I feel ..taking one picture getting slow & slow .. due to need take one 1st ..then adjust ..then take another one ...

    Anyone can use manual 1 shot finish???

  • Brad October 21, 2011 11:35 am

    Coming from a film based background, I found it frustrating with my new D7000, wanting to control aperture with an non existent lens control ring and dial in the shutter speed with an old style shutter speed knob, plus focus. So I fully appreciate the intent of the author and having developed the experience with film, to look at a scene and know what settings would produce the desired result sans exposure meter. So satisfying to be able to control the settings based on this knowledge and concentrate on composure. The significance of this will not be realised by those who've never had to wait a week for their processed photos to be evaluated, having the luxury of instant digital playback and review!

    Knowledge is power. Experience (through experimentation) gives confidence. Therefore, learn and know what you can do in manual mode and the world is your oyster. You can always use auto for family snaps etc.

  • steve October 21, 2011 11:01 am

    Although I agree shooting manual all the time is not necessary, I'm finding I'm more likely to consider changing ISO than I did shooting A or S priority with exp. comp. - can't really explain why that would be, but it's something I've noticed.

  • Lou October 21, 2011 09:57 am

    I don't know.............didn't seem like the article provided any information. Just lamented a presumption as to why people by a DSLR

    buying it for more control............I don't know about that. For me I bought it thinking it would take way better pictures. I had no idea the skills needed to take great pictures. Don't get me wrong I love having the control now and work hard to learn and ....to have great exposure.....great composition......

    But none of above was the reason for purchase. Too one must figure there are just too many people in the world to really be the only one doing something for a reason. With that said...I'm willing to bet a lot of people figured having a DSLR was going to give them much better pictures as opposed to having more control.

    And once again.. just what was the point of the article? I judging by the few responses so far the writer's conjecture seems to be far off the mark.

  • Major Bokeh October 21, 2011 09:53 am

    I'm with Alex. I shoot primarily in aperture priority since the f-stop is what I mostly want to control. I then use the exposure control to either under or over expose the camera's setting by up to 2 stops for the desired result.

    I do use manual at times and shutter priority too, and very often I set the ISO rather than allow the camera to do it. The bottom line is manual is great, but you can have just as much control to get the desired results if you use both your brain and the brain inside your powerful DSLR together.

  • Mario October 21, 2011 09:47 am

    Just because one knows how to use "manual" doesn't mean one should use it all the time. Sure, if you encounter a difficult lighting situation and you know your camera won't expose right in this case, go for it. But if I am on a photo walk, I use aperture priority with exposure compensation and I set my ISO manually. I prefer spending my time with composition and new angles, rather then adjusting my camera settings to the changed light.
    IMO manual is most useful in constant and difficult lighting situations.

  • PancakeNinja October 21, 2011 07:54 am

    well said!
    I agree about the photography class, if you can't do that just reading the articles on this site you can learn so much.
    I switched to manual this spring. I'd shoot one in auto to see what settings it chose. I'd go to manual and match those settings and then gradually I'd start experimenting with the settings and before I knew it I wasn't bothering with auto anymore.

  • v October 21, 2011 07:53 am

    AS FOR PEOPLE SNAPPING PHOTOGRAPHS, KEEP IN MIND you are only viewing them for that moment and have no idea how they really use their camera all the time. if i'm with my family, i'm snapping photos...my time at the moment is to get a quick documentation and move on. when i set aside time to photograph alone then i use the camera in all its glory and the creative settings.

    that's the beauty of the different settings, we get to choose. i don't know why people spend thousands of dollars on a car and then buy an automatic, i prefer manual, but somedays an automatic car would be nice..

  • v October 21, 2011 07:53 am

    AS FOR PEOPLE SNAPPING PHOTOGRAHPS, KEEP IN MIND you are only viewing them for that moment and have no idea how they really use their camera all the time. if i'm with my family, i'm snapping photos...my time at the moment is to get a quick documentation and move on. when i set aside time to photograph alone then i use the camera in all its glory and the creative settings.

    that's the beauty of the different settings, we get to choose. i don't know why people spend thousands of dollars on a car and then buy an automatic, i prefer manual, but somedays an automatic car would be nice..

  • Alex Scoble October 21, 2011 07:43 am

    What about those of us who shoot in one of the hybrid modes like Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority? I'd rather have to think about two things in the triangle like ISO and what shutter speed I want and let the camera figure out the other part.

    Oh and I have my 5D locked to use only the center AF zone so I can control where it focuses.

    It just seems tedious to have to set all three settings all the time.

  • Joe October 21, 2011 06:53 am

    I'm finally overcoming my fear of Manual, but it took a long time. The biggest problem was that there are soooo many things to think about. To overcome that I started doing the following (which admittedly ignores the "takes too much time" problem): take a picture in Auto > look at it on the LCD and decide what's not right about it > look at it's efix data and think about what could change to get your desired result > switch to Manual and use all the same settings as the Auto pic except for the one you need to change for your desired result.

  • Clive October 21, 2011 05:49 am

    I don't like Photography i love it and im getting to grips using manual settings and trying to up my game more and more, its great just being out there meeting people and seeing my photos witch i think are getting better, thanks for the tips, more than helpful.