Friday, June 11, 2010

Photography Tips- Manual vs Automatic

Manual vs Automatic?

Most people I come across who are asking “manual vs automatic?” are the people who don’t understand what functions of a camera make it manual vs automatic settings. So I will touch on what each one means.


Automatic setting for any camera just mean the camera is picking average shutter speed settings and average aperture settings to give you an average (but usually decent) exposure every time. All you have to do is press the button. The only criticism you will ever hear about using your camera in automatic mode is that you can’t truly be creative with it. This leads to the typical consumer thinking that professional photographers are only good because they’re using manual, and then when the consumer tries manual they end up with worse pictures than automatic and don’t fully understand why.


Manual settings mean you tell the camera what to do for every little thing. You tell it how fast to open its shutter, what aperture setting to use, and if you’re using digital, even what ISO to use. If you’ve ever owned a film camera, when you load the film there’s a black rectangle that the film slides over, this is its shutter, and it opens up to allow light to hit the film and record an image. If you have only owned a digital camera, just imagine the lens opening and closing really fast. In Manual mode, you can tell it how fast to open and how long to stay open before it closes again. (To learn more about different shutter speeds and what they do, click here.) Also in Manual mode, you can tell the camera how much light to let in through the aperture setting. Have you ever seen a portrait done by a professional where the person is in clear focus, and the background is blurred, and it really makes the person pop? This was a choice of aperture. With aperture you can choose how much of the photograph you would like in focus. (To learn more about aperture settings, click here).

Manual is MORE work!

You can definitely be more creative in Manual mode, but it is a lot more work and time that you have to think about what you are doing. When first learning Manual it will take practice and several tries to get a good exposure every time. I’ve been shooting in Manual mode for 5 years and I still mess up every now and then because I forget to adjust something. If you change the shutter speed you have to change the aperture and if you change the aperture you have to change the shutter speed, and if you forget to, you will get a really bright or really dark exposure. Fortunately with digital you can see your mistake right away and try again, unless the crucial moment was missed. If you’re just taking photos at your child’s birthday party and you don’t care what the background looks like or about using artistic lighting, you will be just fine in automatic. It is not always better to be in manual, and I take pride in using a point and shoot in automatic for simple things that I just want the memories for.

Your colors, clarity, and composition will NOT be better just because you switched to manual. All these things are factors determined by you and Manual is not a setting like portrait or landscape on your point and shoot camera. Your camera becomes completely dependent on your decisions when it’s on manual, and you will need to know what shutter speed and aperture have to do with each other, as well as ISO before you can really get anywhere in Manual mode.

I will teach you the relationship between aperture and shutter speeds, and more about how to use your camera in manual mode, in my next article.


  1. Anonymous11.6.10

    very informative!

  2. Anonymous11.6.10

    I prefer using automatic for things like weddings/photojournalism. Landscapes are better with manual.

  3. Anonymous11.6.10

    really great blog!

  4. Anonymous11.6.10

    finally some real information.