Manual mode is something that you probably know all about, even if you can’t actually use it. It’s the setting on your camera where everything is in your control. You set the F stop, the shutter speed, the ISO, and any other factor that needs to be looked at. It’s all down to you.
Most professional photographers won’t use manual mode all the time. There are situations where you might want to have control over just the shutter speed, such as when photographing sports. There are times when setting the ISO to set itself automatically is fine. And of course, there are times when you might want to focus on getting your depth of field right and allow the shutter to sort itself out. So why would you bother to learn how to shoot in manual mode? Here are some very good reasons to consider.
To know your craft
Learning how to use your camera is all part of being a photographer. If you do not know how to shoot in manual mode, you are really just an amateur. No matter how good your photographs may look, you can be sure that the camera is doing most of the work for you!
Learning how to shoot in manual mode means learning how your camera works. It means understanding what kind of changes you can make in order to improve an image – techniques that you might otherwise not realise exist. You may even discover that your photographs could be even better if you shoot with more control!
Before DSLRs, and before modern film cameras, there was no such thing as an automatic mode. You had to get it right or your film would be ruined, and all the money you spent on it would go down the drain. It might actually be beneficial to learn how to use a film camera – you can pick them up online very cheaply, especially on second-hand auction sites, and you can still get the film processed at some stores if you do not have access to a darkroom. Understanding the original meaning of terms like exposure will help you to see the art of photography more clearly, and understand how to get the best results out of it.
To prevent panic
What do you do when something goes wrong? When your camera cannot adjust properly to the lighting in automatic mode?
If you do not know how to use manual mode, then unfortunately the answer is panic. You won’t have any clue how to rectify the situation, and if you are working for a paid client, you could be watching money walk out of the door. Not only that, but screwing up a shoot because you don’t know how to use your camera could really hurt your reputation.
How long is it going to take you to Google how to solve the problem and really understand what to do in order to solve it? How long is your subject going to wait before they get fed up and decide to leave? These kinds of situations are very stressful and are best avoided. If you know how your camera works, you won’t panic – you will just adjust a few settings and go on shooting.
To adapt to all situations
On a similar note, there is something really strong about a photographer who can adapt to any situation. It means that your potential for work is much wider, and that you never have to turn down a paid job because you are not sure of what to do. Any time that you are asked to take photographs, you will know what to do – whether the location is dimly lit, has yellow-tinted lighting, offers a distracting background, has a large range of people to get in focus at once, or so forth.
Being adaptable makes you a better photographer, period. It also means that if something changes halfway through a shoot, or something gets in the way of your original idea, you will have one less thing to worry about – you will be confident that you can still get good quality photographs no matter what happens.
To impress on the job
When you are shooting with a client, especially one who knows a little bit about cameras, you don’t want to be flustered about camera settings and the way yours works. You don’t want to have them ask you a question that you just don’t know the answer to. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to come up against someone who wants you to explain what F-stop is when you’ve never even used it yourself?
It’s also true that a lot of subjects are more relaxed if they feel that you know what you’re doing. It can be a little stressful for them to find out that the person taking their photograph is little more than a point-and-shoot hobbyist. How do they know that you will take a flattering photograph, or that you are worth the money they are spending to get the photoshoot done? Put simply, it doesn’t come across as professional.
There can be more repercussions to your performance than you think. Let’s say that you are unknowingly photographing the CEO of a mid-size company. He’s putting together a new website, and when he sees how comfortable you are behind the camera and what great results you get, he decides to hire you to take headshots of the full management team. Or he sees you fumbling around with the settings, not knowing what to do, and decides that he’ll do his research better when he’s hiring a professional for the headshots. It can go either way.
To break the rules
Once you know how to set up your camera properly and use it in manual mode, you can break the rules. You can manipulate the results you get by switching to another mode and then changing a few settings, knowing full well what you will get out of it. You can overexpose or underexpose deliberately to achieve a certain effect, and even play around with techniques like slow shutter speeds for more artistic photographs.
Knowing the rules and how to break them will give you the chance to open up a whole new world of opportunities with your photography. You will certainly see a marked improvement in your technique, and the results you get. It could be enough to bring you from an amateur status to a professional one.
Have you chosen not to learn how to shoot in manual mode? Why not? And what’s holding you back? Let us know in the comments.