The Intimacy of Manual Mode in Photography

If you want to shoot your camera in manual mode, be prepared for long walks on the beach and hours of one-on-one meetings with your resident dSLR. Manual mode photography requires intimacy. If you aren’t ready for that commitment, don’t bother or you’ll just get frustrated.

In manual mode, you have control over everything: shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, focus points and a whole host of other intricate settings deep within that amazing machine you’re holding in your hands. Control! Taking over the photographic world!

…crud. Control. What do you set where to capture the perfect photograph?

Ranch Bronc Riding at the Palouse Empire Fair RodeoNight rodeo=challenging conditions. The photo was taken at f/2.2, shutter speed at 1/250 and ISO-800.

Because you have control over your settings in manual mode, you have to understand exposure, how light is impacting the subject you want to shoot and how that light changes from shot to shot. It’s overwhelming, and it takes a lot of practice. I sometimes still have throw-away shots where I was under- or over-exposed because I chose the wrong settings.

So why shoot in manual mode if you risk not getting the shot?

That answer won’t be the same for every photographer, but for me, photography is art. I know what I want that photo to look like, and I can’t achieve that look consistently if my camera is making the decisions. I know what depth of focus I want (aperture) and I know how I want the action stopped (shutter speed).

Shooting in either shutter priority or aperture priority allows me to control one of those settings but not both. While ISO can be manipulated in both those modes, I prefer low ISO to reduce noise.

In addition, the more familiar you are with how shutter speed, aperture and ISO play together, the better photographer you will become. Or maybe a more appropriate adjective is “consistent”. Light is what makes photography work. If you understand how to manipulate your shutter, aperture and ISO settings to make the most of available light, you are well on your way to mastering photo shoots in all types of settings.

On a final note, I don’t think shooting in manual mode makes you a better photographer. I’ve seen a few articles bordering on snobbery from people looking down their noses at those who shoot auto or semi-auto modes on a dSLR. Rubbish.

The art of photography relies on the relationship between photographer and camera. Manual mode simply deepens that relationship and helps you understand how your camera captures those once-in-a-lifetime memories.

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