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A Primer on Shooting in Manual Mode: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO [video] (petapixel.com)
205 points by artsandsci 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments

I know almost no professionals who shoot on manual mode outside of studio settings. The computer is almost always better at guessing things like light and temperature. The only time manual mode is used is when you're in a studio where light, movement, etc are controlled.

Instead, shoot on aperture mode. Adjust to your desired depth of field according to the ambient light. Use ISO setting to adjust further for light. Finally, when you see the camera is under/over exposing, use the built in exposure compensation slider to adjust for lighter or darker pictures. Pay attention to and trust your exposure histogram.

Now you can very quickly (I can't stress how important quickness is) adjust for the perfect picture. And when the action changes, you'll know quickly which of the three knobs you need to turn.

Leave manual mode for the studio.

> I know almost no professionals who shoot on manual mode outside of studio settings

Absolute BS. You have not come across enough photographers. A computer is NEVER better than a human at evaluating light, unless you are looking at a uniform 18% grey card.

There is a child comment about manual vs auto focus. I would say even for manual focus, I have consistently beaten at focus accuracy with a split prism on my Hasselblad 501cm (a camera that does not even have a battery inside) than with a 30 something point focus of the latest Canon 1DX Mark something that I rented when shooting at sub 1.4 aperture openings.

> Leave manual mode for the studio.

Actually, a studio is the best place where auto mode will have consistent (and probably correct) exposures. Every. Single. Time. :)

Now if we talk about speed, yes, a computer is no doubt better at it.

> Absolute BS. You have not come across enough photographers. A computer is NEVER better than a human at evaluating light, unless you are looking at a uniform 18% grey card.

Could you please substantiate your claim with any references or information? I am curious because I suspect you may be conflating dynamic range of human vision vs. sensor's dynamic range. Just because sensor's dynamic range isn't as wide as human vision, it has no bearing on sophisticated algorithms in today's cameras that determine the optimal exposure. Modern cameras have ridiculous processing power, scene recognition, face detection, and all kinds of algorithms that determine the best exposure. Please correct me if I misunderstood.

I use a Leica M10 and the auto mode almost always nails the exposure (I use full 3D metering).

In my view, "Manual Mode" in cameras is akin to "Manual Transmission" in cars, almost all super cars have automatic transmission for obvious reasons.

To add to the others, I frequently photograph raves and dance competitions that are strongly (but quite randomly) backlit. I dial it in on full manual to get proper exposure of the face, and then the lights streaming around the performer can come and go and without varying my exposure by a significant amount.

While wandering convention halls getting pictures of cospayers or suiters, the ambient lighting is consistent: I set to full manual and don't have to worry about the occasional light fixture in the background causing sensor confusion.

When I get home, I can bulk-process sets of images as a starting point, because they all have the same curves, then decide what I want to accentuate with each photo.

Source: Photography as a strong hobby for 35 years. I usually take around 20-30k photos/year at conventions and events, and the results are widely appreciated.

By default the computer will assume that it's shooting an 18% grey card and expose the picture accordingly. There are a basically two knobs you can tune, to change this behavior.

One, you can decide what parts of the pictures are used in this calculation and how they are weighted. These are your spot, matrix, and middle measurement modes.

Two, you can use a creative program, e.g., night photography. That will treat bright highlights differently, AFAIK.

However, the world isn't really an 18% grey card and how you expose the picture depends on your creative intent. The most obvious examples are high-key and low-key photos. In fact, photographers often use 18% grey cards to determine the light conditions and then lock the exposure and white balance down and shoot manual. This way, they have a precise reading and no surprises. I only do that when I do portrait photography because skin tones and therefore white balance are crucial. In most other cases, I look at the histogram to see if the exposure is correct and use auto white balance.

You can always adjust white balance when you shoot RAW in post processing. However, you cannot fix the exposure if you're missing the data. That's why I use manual.

You’re forgetting the third knob you can tweak - the exposure compensation dial. That’s arguably the most important control for the metering system!

If you understand how your camera’s metering system works (area selected, 18 percent gray etc) you can often work with the Metering system and compensate for when you know it’s likely to get it wrong - for example it’s not uncommon to dial a +1 if shooting a bright snowy scene, as most metering systems will be overly aggressive in trying to preserve highlight detail in the snow.

Similarly, if shooting in darker conditions dial in negative compensation.

Metering is pretty sophisticated in modern cameras, the exposure comp dial let’s you work with the tool and augment it’s measurements with your own human input.

Exposure comp plus histogram reviews with metering on is a pretty effective way to work a lot of the time.

All in all, I agree with your assessments. Its good to note that what you are trying to do is read the amount of light hitting the target. This could always be done with a ambient light meter placed in front of your subject (Studio).

The issue was the convenience of seeing it through the camera. The first automatic in camera meters were limited to high-key or low-key and tried to just make the picture's average lighting match the 18% grey card, a portion of it (center weighted or spot). Highly colored subjects could throw this off as the meters weren't always linear to all wavelengths. As technology advanced, matrix meters used multiple points to try and guess tricky lighting conditions. As more elements to the matrix were added, identifying where the subject became possible.

However, they all are just trying to guess at the level of light hitting the subject of the photograph.

Again, you are incorrect if you meant that multiple samples have fixed the in-camera meter foobar.

I am assuming you are well acquainted with colour management, so I will just leave a brief suggestion. If you further need more pointers, let me know and I would love to elaborate.

Read about reflectivity and their influence on metering.

> Could you please substantiate your claim with any references or information?

If you are dealing with a scene that has uneven illumination, for example, a sunrise or sunset, your camera metering will completely go nuts. The same happens when you are shooting snow.

Read about metering modes as one of the child comment had mentioned.

Personally even for exceptionally uneven lit frames why drop into manual? Point the spot meter to the area you want exposed, hold hallway down and readjust shot. This is so much faster.

For places that are controlled for light and movement and field (tripod camera pointed at a sunset)... sure use manual.

Read about 5 degree vs 1 degree spot. Also read about reflectivity of different colours. Lastly your in camera spot accuracy depends on the focal length of the lens sitting in front of the sensor. You will also benefit from Ansel Adams’s zone system. Read the book if you have time. I think you will like it.

This is why for challenging exposures, we use a hand held meter.

Good questions.

Look into metering modes and exposure compensation. In short, he's right.

It depends a lot on whether the scene is changing or the light is changing.

The problem with auto-exposure is that where you have a fast-changing scene with slower-changing lighting - especially fast-changing background scenery with constant lighting, the computer will change exposure when it shouldn't. This is a scenario professional photographers probably find themselves in rather more often than amateurs - think concerts, stadium sports, etc.

When the lighting changes more frequently than the scene then auto exposure can be helpful.

In this sense full manual settings could be viewed as a longer lasting "exposure lock" type function in a way. It's not that the computer-assisted metering is not useful - more that you want to get the metering locked in for the actual subject then stop it from changing.

I've often wondered how cool it would be if Google or Apple made the software for a DLSR camera? Judging by the results they can pull out of tiny sensors and tiny lenses, I'd be excited to use one.

Professional wildlife and product studio photographer here. We certainly do shoot manual mode outside of the studio, just not with film.

With auto-ISO, "manual" camera mode (which refers to manually setting aperture and shutter speed) becomes an automatic exposure mode because the camera is metering the scene and adjusting ISO automatically. It is also possible and practical for certain applications to use "full manual" mode which also involves setting ISO, especially for something with a mostly-fixed scene such as astrophotography.

While camera-adjusted ISO and post-processing lightening (moving the exposure slider up in lightroom) are similar, the reason post-processing alone is not enough is because of dynamic range. Each camera sensor has a certain number of stops of light it can capture. If you're within that range, you can adjust in post and arrive at an image similar to what you would've got had you exposed in the camera. If you aren't within that range, you clip the highlights or shadows.

There are a few reasons why manual mode is beneficial. They mostly relate to speed and accuracy of control. First, aperture and shutter speed have different effects on the result of the image (depth of field, and motion-stopping capability respectively).

For example, I went to the shoreline on Monday and photographed birds. There were terns flying around protecting their young, the young wandering and gaping for food, while osprey were fishing just offshore. For terns and fast-moving birds, shutter speeds in excess of 1/2000 sec are necessary and there are many times when 1/3200 sec is not enough. Meanwhile, the tern chicks being about 25ft away mean that depth of field is shallow because the subject is near (minimum focusing distance on that lens is about 19ft). So an aperture of F8 for chicks is helpful but F5.6 is better for the further subjects and faster motion.

There's no good way to have a camera adjusting multiple settings (ISO and either aperture or shutter speed) because it doesn't understand the circumstances. In order to do this with aperture or shutter priority camera modes, you would be constantly switching the dial between aperture and shutter priorities which requires a button press and command dial turn, as opposed to ONLY adjusting the desired setting using one of two command dials.

I love being in full manual and being able to adjust the shutter speed and aperture without taking my eye off the viewfinder. I did it more as an enthusiast and was able to get some decent "motion" pictures at a local racetrack.

Did a few weddings/senior pictures as side gigs but what I enjoyed the most was the thrill of getting the 'shot' in action moments where you have a split second and that is it. Also hiking some trail to be at the top of the summit to get a perfect sunset is also very rewarding.

Some of my photos can be found https://www.timsoperphotography.com/norwayspeedway

Simple website using zenfolio which has been abandoned as I now have a tech job that is full time so I don't have as much time for my photography hobby anymore.

Couldn't agree more about action shots, they're my favorite!

Maybe this is just me speaking as someone who shoots with a camera that doesn't have a dial with the P, M, etc. letters on it, but I wouldn't consider auto-ISO a manual mode (and I'd use it in precisely the sort of situation you describe).

I can't watch the video right now, though, and maybe it really does mean "the dial setting with the M", no more and no less, when it says "manual mode". But I think that is a bit silly. Lots of cameras have different controls.

I agree with you, while it is called "Manual" exposure mode it is absolutely an auto-exposure mode when using auto-ISO. The thing was that GP specifically mentioned pros using aperture priority:

> "I know almost no professionals who shoot on manual mode...Instead, shoot on aperture mode...Use ISO setting to adjust further for light..."

It sounds to me like you're mostly in agreement: situations in which you want full manual (including ISO) are rare. Most of the time what you care about is either the aperture (setting ISO and shutter speed to get the correct exposure) or the speed (setting aperture and ISO to get the correct exposure).

For non-pros like myself, it's unfortunately not common to shoot with a camera that has good auto-ISO: basically anything above ISO 800 is going to be unusable, and ideally you want ISO 100 or 200 if your lighting situation can allow for it.

So most of the time I find myself in semi-manual modes: where I lock the ISO to a setting that's ideal for the light I have, use auto-focus (unless it's failing to lock on the correct target), and set either the aperture or shutter speed to what I want. The camera then adjusts the other factor appropriately, but I still find myself using Canon's quick adjustment exposure compensation tool almost constantly because my Canon blows out highlights pretty badly a lot of the time.

For a pro I imagine the situation is usually reversed: set both shutter speed and aperture how you want them, and trust your camera to be good enough with the auto-ISO. It sounds to me like GP was basically right: in a non-controlled setting, full manual mode is pretty rare.

There's a bit of confusion here. Importantly the GP is talking about "professionals." My post was written with that in mind, and the assertion that "...almost no professionals... shoot on manual mode outside of studio...Instead, shoot on aperture mode..."

The important distinction is that "manual mode" is being discussed and compared to "aperture mode." So it's about the PASM setting and not specifically about "true manual mode" (auto-ISO or not). The clear (and in my view incorrect) assertion of GP is that manual priority/mode is not for use outside the studio. It is said three times:

> I know almost no professionals who shoot on manual mode outside of studio settings.

> The only time manual mode is used is when you're in a studio...

> Leave manual mode for the studio.

Idk if his work flow is still the same but as of well into the digital age, Nick Brandt was still shooting with a Pentax 6x7.

There are so many times when I shoot with Manual mode. I'm not a professional, but I would consider myself a skilled photographer, and have used multiple brands and systems.

There's Manual with Auto ISO, which does almost the same as Aperture/Shutter priority, but lets you select _both_, and the camera chooses an ISO. Or you can specify the ISO as well.

Nikon, Sony, and Canon all have _excellent_ metering systems, but there are two main reasons I sometimes ignore them and go full-manual:

  1. In tricky lighting environments, where a face is in shadow, but another is not, and zone or spot metering is causing the camera to meter for the wrong part of the frame. Think dimly-lit weddings, PJ scenarios in night scenes...

  2. When you're shooting something with a uniformly-lit area (e.g. stage, sanctuary, podium area) and you can lock in the exposure so you don't accidentally get a few frames underexposed because the meter was looking at the black curtain and not the bright face you focused on.
It's not often, but I'd say I switch to M at least once on almost every on-location shoot, whether natural or artificial light.

Agreed. Manual mode is a necessity. I was just shooting night skies and had to use manual focus and manual mode to get the photo. My Canon 6D doesn't have the imaging magic that comes with modern smartphones like my Samsung Galaxy S8 that can take a rapid fire succession of photos that my Canon 6D could only dream of, but the 6D is a boss at getting low light photos of high quality, or being able to take the photo I see at the time I want it. It's always ready, and will always take the photo.

Definitely. I take most candid pictures with my phone nowadays... but if I have any kind of money tied to the photography, it's a DSLR (or soon maybe one of the higher-end mirrorless).

I know that when I hold it in my hand, I can go from off-to-on-to-take-well-exposed-sharp-picture in less than 1/15th of a second. With my phone there are times when the camera seems to take 5+ seconds to allow a picture to be taken. And with my older Sony alpha mirrorless startup times can go from 1-10 seconds, I guess depending on what mood the camera is in.

There's a reason professionals use chunky bodies even though they (sadly) severely lack good software processing—they get the image. You have to do more post processing still, but hopefully someday Nikon, Sony, Canon, et all will catch up to like 2010-era smartphone camera software :P

For scenario #1 I'm so happy the A7S2 has a dedicated EV correction wheel plus it can do really fast exposure bracket photography.

Built-in HDR is also decent - no match for manual work in PS/LR, but usable.

Really? I think maybe you might be talking to quite a limited subset of photographers. Lots of landscape and architectural work is done fully manual for many reasons. Some of these are: 1) tilt-shift lenses are almost always manual only. 2) exposure/focus stacking. 3) panos. 4) long exposures with strong ND filters. 5) anything involving astro. 6) scenes with very large dynamic range.

There's a lot of other things too - your advice is really very over-simplistic and misses a whole lot of important things. There is no such thing as the perfect picture, artistic choices matter and there's more than one way to tell almost every story.

Are you conflating manual focus with manual exposure (i.e., manual mode)?

The camera can still do auto exposure for manual lenses, so your example of tilt-shift only applies to manual focus. For panos, I use the "exposure lock" feature on my A7Rii, but it is still auto.

Other than that, I agree. I use manual mode all the time.

Apologies, I read too quickly and thought that the GP was referring to focus as well as exposure. The rest still applies, however.

Program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual all have important use-cases. Program and aperture priority are probably the most generally useful, but they're not the only useful modes.

Sometimes controlling depth of field is most important, so you'll be in aperture priority. Sometimes controlling motion is most important, so you'll be in shutter priority - a photo of a moving car or a waterfall looks very different at 1/125 compared to 1/1000.

Manual is less frequently used today, but it's still vitally important. There are plenty of creative applications where you want or need full control over the exposure triangle. Modern autoexposure systems work incredibly well, but they'll still fail catastrophically in some complex lighting situations and still make decisions that aren't in line with your creative intent.

Big strobes aren't a studio-only tool and are often used in the field for fashion, product and architecture photography; TTL strobe systems are available, but you won't always have (or want to use) TTL metering. I've often gone fully manual even with just a speedlite, because any sort of automatic control introduces an unpredictable variable. Underwater photographers nearly always use manual exposure, because AE and AWB systems can't cope with underwater conditions. There's still an important place for bulb exposure, particularly in ultra-low-light and lightpainting situations.

More broadly, learning to shoot in fully manual mode is IMO essential if you want to fully understand exposure. I still highly recommend shooting a few dozen rolls of film early in your photography career, because it breaks your reliance on automation and the shoot-review-reshoot loop. Autoexposure is an extremely useful tool, but your skills will always be severely limited if you depend on it totally. Learning to use the zone system and estimate exposure in your head is hugely empowering and liberating, even if you go on to shoot predominantly using AE.

Not a professional, but I often use manual mode with auto-iso enabled (and auto wb... and auto focus, etc) on in case I want a specific shutter speed and aperture. Arguably not fully manual, but hey!

Yes, fully manual is the best way to miss the moments and should only be used in studio settings.

There are "program modes" in most modern DSLRs that can achieve exactly this. You shoukd explore the, you can even store multiple P-modes for quick access.

That’s what most of the people I know do. I have three of my more common modes programmed in, but in the end they’re just starting points. Still a lot of real time tweaking, and sometimes the same shot with changes in the balance of ISO, Aperture, and shutter speed can be super interesting.

Program modes have even been available on Film cameras going back to the late 80s and early 90s.

> should only be used in studio settings.

I would tweak that to say "controlled settings". I occasionally use manual in the same fashion as you, but I don't have a studio, or anything close to it.

Yes `controlled settings` is more accurate. :)

Auto iso is better now, but not that long ago higher iso (above 200 really) would introduce unacceptable artifacts into the picture.

There are many reasons to not use auto iso, in spite of the fact that modern sensors produce much less digital noise than they used to. If you're enlarging your images, or cropping significantly, you'll want images that are as clean as possible. It also tends to vary from camera to camera.

For sure, on my D850 (and anything from that era I suppose), I can set the ISO range (minimum and maximum) and the minimum shutter speed (if using A or P mode).

Aperture mode or Shutter mode

Sometimes you want to control for depth of field -A mode-

Sometimes you want to control for motion blur -T/S mode-


Also, you usually don't want to adjust ISO to fix over/under-exposure. Shoot to your camera's native ISO unless you literally don't have enough light or your exposure is super off. Try to use the lowest or closest to native ISO as you can, and use the cameras built in metering adjustment feature (e.g. if you're under exposed tell it to over-expose by a stop or two...)

Cameras have a min and max ISO, not a "native" ISO.

Yes they do have a native ISO. It's generally whichever ISO produces the greatest dynamic range.

Camera sensors have a base sensitivity that will capture an image without additional voltage applied to it. Adding voltage allows the sensor to capture more information, at the cost of additional noise. The lower ISO values are also not usually the native, instead they are simulated in camera. The camera algorithms are pretty good these days, but they can still end up with clipping sensor data that you might want.

The native ISO isn't usually published along with typical product specs, but you can usually find it by searching online.

That's not entirely accurate. The native ISO ("base sensitivity") just means no analog gain is applied. This is a fairly complex area, but to simplify - for non-dual gain sensors - the sensor captures the same amount of information regardless of ISO setting. The ISO setting then determines how much analog gain to apply, and also how much digital multiplication to apply (if the ISO setting is outside of the analog gain range). No additional information is captured at higher ISO values.

If someone is new to photography it can be very useful to know what happens when you do have full control over aperture, shutter speed, and so on. Knowing what all of the components do and how they interact is part of the fun, in my opinion.

In a practical sense, however, I completely agree. I shoot on aperture priority and just keep an eye on shutter speed to make sure it's reasonable, adjusting ISO as needed.

Yeah, shutter-priority and aperture-priority are where it's at in my (limited) experience. It's still important to understand how it all works, but you only have to optimize one of the factors and the other two are automatically balanced to hit the exposure compensation setting.

Agree on everything. Plus shoot RAW and limit auto ISO depending on your camera's ISO performance for a headache free post processing.

Unless of course if you are shooting sport. In which case 'T' value takes priority over'A' vaalue.

Sorry, can't edit my previous post, posting from mobile app.

It's useful to understand how manual mode works, even if you never use it. The best way to understand it is to try it.

There are times where you absolutely must use manual mode if you want to get the best image.

Low light or twilight scenarios is just one. For example higher ISO adds noise that you need to take into consideration and can make the decision to opt for a darker image and bring it back to life on the edit, but without the crazy noise.

The same thing happens with action/movement. You may sometimes want to actually blur some movement and not freeze the action entirely or hit that spot where the focal point is sharp but the background is moving. (ie. taking an up close pic of a dude kayaking some crazy river)

Dumb question: with the first example (twilight), wouldn't raising the exposure in post be functionally equivalent and have the same amount of noise? You are taking the same signal and boosting it to a desired gain, whether in camera or in post. right?

Honestly had to research a bit before answering your question, and there is debate on this. I am adamant on staying below 200 or maybe 400-600 on every picture though :D My best pictures are all on super low ISO because that's what makes them "creamy" and sharp (and I dig that).

Often when I take a high ISO (relative) I find myself also adding an extra layer of edit ("remove noise") which I think just hurts the image. Adjusting exposure alone I feel does less damage.

I really don't find adding exposure on post (when RAW) damages as much as adding ISO and adding noise.

ISO is really just boosting a sensor sensitivity to light which I feel is not optimal and adds it's own set of artifacts. I would always prefer to add more exposure and me being the one adding the artifacts and playing with the edits, rather than the camera.

But then again, I just shoot for hobby and not a PRO! You can check out some of my pics at @franciscojgo

Not necessarily. It first begins by depending on what your settings are (ISO, aperture, shutter speed). With all settings neutral, if I add an extra stop of light, i’m going to get more blown out exposure from letting more light in (f/4 -> f/2.8 — this will open the lens wider, therefore letting more light hit the sensor) but no additional grain since my ISO may be set at my bodies base of 100-200 ISO for shooting outdoors.

Now if i’m shooting indoors and my glass doesn’t have a decent f-stop that shoots in lowlight, i can leave my aperture down and raise my ISO to maybe 1200, but when you do this, that is when you’ll get grainy pictures because you’re moving away from the cameras sensor base ISO that it’s calibrated for.

But if you want to adjust everything in post processing, you’ll need to shoot RAW because JPEG do not hold enough data that’ll allow you to adjust it accurately.

Increasing the ISO adjusts the gain earlier in the signal chain where less noise/error has entered. So the snr will be better vs adding gain at the end.

As a former photojournalist who has worked for newspapers and freelanced for major news organizations around the country, I shot manual 95% of the time, and a large percentage of my colleagues did as well.

Given that the video is Photography 101 level, I'm not sure that taking guidance from what professionals do is necessarily the best idea. Maybe fumbling around trying to control everything manually gives you slightly worse photos initially, but a better understanding of light and photography as you go along.

Just like if you just got a Raspberry Pi and you're writing some code to blink the lights on your christmas tree, you may not want to do it like the pros and write unit tests and develop features in branches that get merged by pull requests.

Yeah, you're super wrong about this. Manual mode helps you control the consistency of photos during a session. I've met very few wedding photographers (who incidentally work almost exclusively out of a studio) who are willing to risk letting the camera decide on exposure. You need to know what your shutter speed is so that you don't end up with blur from the subject or camera movement. You need to control ISO to reduce noise as much as possible (grainy black and white's aside). And most of the time, the aperture is being set in a very specific way to affect the depth of field.

Once you become accustomed to manual mode, it is much more reliable and equally as fast as other modes, with the benefit of knowing that the camera isn't interpreting some specular highlight in the background and under-exposing a bunch of images.

This all applies to the professional sports, news, and event photographers I know, as well as myself personally.

Further to this, there are many photographic effects (long exposure light trails and panning, capturing fast moving subjects etc.) that are done much more easily and don't often occur in a studio setting. I think that the technique you've suggested may be valid for a certain subset of shooters, but your understanding of the photographic profession in general is very shallow.

I used to live mostly in A mode, until I realized I can be in what I call "ISO mode" on my camera.

If I set ISO to auto I can manually pick shutter speed and aperture and the ISO automatically adjusts. I use exposure compensation to adjust as needed.

Technically speaking, it's not pure manual, but there are many times when I want to achieve a minimum shutter speed and let ISO compensate.

I also used to live mostly in A mode until I got dogs.

Nowadays, I find myself shooting in S mode a lot.

Having said that, I don't like shooting wide open on a fast lens except in certain circumstances, so like you, I sometimes prefer to set both the shutter and aperture and compensate with ISO. I guess this is a luxury with newer digital cameras than it is with the older ones that had a barely usable ISO 1600.

>I guess this is a luxury with newer digital cameras than it is with the older ones that had a barely usable ISO 1600.

Ha, my Canon 1D Mark II strangles itself around 800. This is quite a difference from a modern Nikon D5 that can shoot at a maximum ISO of 3,280,000. Picture at an ISO of 3mm - https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/image-comparison/fullscreen...

If you are shooting in Aperture or Shutter mode, you have as you say to apply exposure compensation [0] in situations where the subject is lighter or darker than the area of the frame where exposure metering is being applied. Exposure compensation requires a bit of thought about what is happening to the non-priority control (i.e. to the aperture when you are in shutter priority, and vice versa). So, if you are thinking about the other value as well, why not control it directly? In full manual mode.

I've also, on my Nikon D3S, decoupled the focus control from the shutter release button (there is a dedicated 'operate the autofocus now' button on the back). But that is a whole different story,

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposure_compensation

I am no professional photographer and most of the time I do shoot in auto mode and use Darktable get a little bit more out of my photos afterward.

But sometimes the auto mode is simply not enough. For example when doing night photography. The camera (at least my Canon) typically pushes the ISO beyond good.

Taking pictures of apartments is another case where the auto mode often creates subpar results. Most of the time you want to overexpose those pictures to let the apartment appear brighter than it is.

And I am sure there are more cases, where there are no alternatives to knowing how to handle the manual mode. Btw. some cameras also support those semiautomatic modes, where you can set some options and let the camera determine the others.

I shoot manual all the time.

During the day, I set the exposure once and change it when conditions change. That mostly works out but can be annoying when clouds and sunshine change often.

During golden hour or blue hour I want absolute control to get the lighting just right.

For astrophotography the camera's guess will completely wrong, so you have to shoot manual.

During night-time street photography, I dial the ISO up and set it to shutter priority mode. I want the time to be ideally over 1/200, otherwise movements of people start to streak. That often looks ugly. It can look nice but then it's an artistic choice and I set the exposure time accordingly.

So, long story short, I almost never use aperture mode.

It can be useful to learn and practice using manual mode. Once you start to get the feel for it, then use one of the priority modes (not just aperture).

Even if aperture priority mode is all professionals use, not everybody will always be taking photos for money.

In general, some of the worst advice comes in the form of "you should always ______", especially when suffixed with "because that's what professionals do". Learn the basics, learn what the professionals do, then figure out what works best for you. Most importantly, remember to try weird things and have fun!

I shoot outside with manual flashes. AP would do me no good without eTTL which my flashes don’t support. It’s not all that difficult to use manual settings outdoors.

I know almost no professionals who write their own sorting algorithms. Instead they use their language’s standard library.

However, I wouldn’t want to hire an engineer who can’t write pseudocode for sorting algorithms or explain space/time trade offs.

It is the same for photography. Many photographers never shoot full manual, but I wouldn’t want to hire a photographer who doesn’t understand what makes an exposure and wouldn’t be able to shoot manual if they really had to.

I agree. I generally shoot in shutter-speed mode since I like taking low-light photos, and in that situation, my ability to hold the camera steady at a slow shutter is the deciding factor.

Where quantity of light isn't an issue, and where I want to create a certain effect with depth of field, as you said, aperture mode is more than adequate, with the ability to change exposure and cap ISO, and let the camera figure out the best shutter speed.

I find I use manual mode whenever I'm using the camera with any other tool, whether that's a strobe or a tripod.

Beyond the parent comment, the key to getting the priority modes to work is separating focus and meter-- most modern cameras can put these functions on separate buttons. Fix ISO 100 outdoors and 800 indoors, and let the camera do the math.

...but if you want to learn manual mode, get a film camera without a meter and shoot two rolls.

I shot for newspapers for about five years, and virtually always used manual, as did my colleagues. The computer is good at calculating exposure but terrible at calculating my intent. And it also, if left on auto, often creates significant exposure differences between frames shot in the same situation, which is a pain in editing if you need to use more than one in the same spread.

Are you sure? I'm far from a professional, but I follow photography youtube channels and some of the Sony websites/message boards. I was under the impression that the majority of pros were shooting manual more often than not. I'm open to changing my perception on this though.

I mostly shoot in aperture mode with auto-iso (with a maximum set). I adjust exposure as needed.

I will go to manual in challenging light situations or when taking specialized pics like of the moon or something.

I do recommend using manual when learning so the learner sees what happens.

I am an amateur photographer that mostly shoots long exposures (milky way/catching lightning/night time time-lapses) and you can only shoot those with manual (or bulb) mode

Seconded on the Av mode.

Err... That's sort of an indicator that you do not know a lot of professional photographers or even prosumer photographers.

Fundamentally, cameras are terrible at picking a decent A/S/P values for scenes ( though they have much improved ) because the cameras cannot correctly analyze what important vs. unimportnat portions of a scene.

So if you are using your DSLR or mirrorless for something other than phone-like snapshots you should give your camera a hand, and that hand is semi manual mode ( the reason why it is a semi-manual mode is because you are still going to rely on/tweak what camera thinks you should do ). To achieve the technically best results ( not artistic, but just technical ), you should remember:

1. Tell the camera what to measure - if you are not looking at producing phone-like snapshots, switch the metering mode to spot metering or its equivalent. Use the crosshair/dot to point at the spot you want to come out correctly exposed. Just by doing this single little thing you would absolutely improve the automatic exposure. Compared to what you can achieve by switching the point on camera is pretty amazing.

2. Look at what the camera tells you its settings are and use that as the base.

3. Unless you really know what you doing you ALWAYS want to shoot at the lowest ISO, which is why letting a camera set the ISO is pretty much never a good idea. What looks fine on a phone or on a camera display will look pretty icky on a large screen or printed. Most of the cameras now have ability to lock the max ISO. Use it. You should never go above ISO 800 without unlocking it.

4. The rule of the thumb is that shutter speed above 1/60 probably will introduce blur if the subjects are moving. If you are just starting you should keep the shutter at 1/60s of above.


Look at what the camera tells you about the exposure. If it is too low, first drop the ISO to the minimum your camera can do. Still too low? Start decreasing your shutter speed to 1/60s. Still too low? Start opening your lens by increasing the <number> on the f/<number> ( there are side effects in this and eventually you would recognize that for some scenes you want to stop at not the lowest <number> but for the exposure part it is not really relevant ). Still too low? Start increasing the ISO until you hit what the camera thinks is a good exposure.

Now the critical part: ( because the camera even now will probably be not quite right ). Take a shot. Go to histogram. Make sure that the histogram's breakdown matches your view of the scene. If it does, great! If it does not ( histogram of the image indicates scene is dark but the scene is light or reverse ) tweak the exposure ( using the same order or reverse depending on if you want to increase or decrease the exposure ) until the histogram of the next photo makes sense.


P.S. Remember, human eye gets a lot more light in compared to the lens that you are using. If you want to get a ballpark idea of how much light gets into a lens, squint

I'm a new/novice photographer... As a technically minded newbie I quickly mastered all the technical stuff like the exposure triangle, and efficient operation of the camera/lenses. By far the most challenging thing is being there at the right place and at the right time to capture interesting, well-composed images. Even subjects that never move change under different lighting conditions, and it turns out there's near infinite possibilities to how you can compose a shot of the same subject.

I read somewhere that a common saying in photojournalism is "f/8 and be there", and that's really the funnest part of the hobby IMO.

"f/8 and be there, for ages", would be my motto.

I've lost count of the times that I've got a great picture simply because I stuck around for half an hour or more, especially when photographing wildlife. Animals can exhibit some superb behaviours if you give them long enough and don't simply walk on after you've got the first shot.

With current digital sensors exposuring correctly doesn't even matter that much any more because of iso-invariance when under exposing photos. There's som uch information that wow. And yes, the auto exposure capabilities of the camera's are awesome if you have learnt how they work in different situations and how can you use them without fumbling.

Knowing the holy trinity (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) is still good to know and learning to use them in manual or in priority modes makes you understand the basic idea, how everything is related and what kind of settings are good for different situations.

I ended up being serious photography enthusiast. For me the currently most interesting thing to learn, is to try to make good photos with all-mechanical film Hasselblad without any automatics. That actually forces to think and plan a lot more about what you want before taking the photo. Also, really calculating holy trinity values in your head is fun (especially when you need to take into account additional nd filters and polarizers etc.

So if you photograph, try to shoot with different kind of gear and ways of photography. That teaches you a lot.

With current digital sensors exposuring correctly doesn't even matter that much any more because of iso-invariance when under exposing photos

It still matters a lot if you're not controlling the shutter speed and want to freeze action. Some cameras prefer 1/30 or 1/60 second exposures but faster shutter speeds with higher ISO is an improvement, due to iso-invariance or even just the ability to adjust RAW files.

It's amazing how amateur photographers seem to think there is something magic about pros... the difference between a Pro and a Keen amateur is almost never about the last 5% in exposure accuracy or focus accuracy. It's about getting to the right place and shooting the right subjects.

I am not a pro photographer but have been shooting lots of photos for years and have sold photos.

I notice most of the discussion here is argumentative and authoritative and tries to take the form of "always do it this way". "Always do it this way" is always dangerous and not very creative. I also notice the discussion here mostly does not differentiate between ambient exposure and flash/strobe exposure. It's important to keep in mind any time you are using a flash you're balancing two separate exposures.

I use manual exposure regularly even though I have a "Pro" camera that has great autoexposure built in. I less often use manual focus as well even though I've got a camera with world class focus capability.

I use Aperture priority the most. I rarely use Shutter speed priority. It almost never does what I want any better than manual mode. I will occasionally use it for certain types of intentionally blurred shots where P pan the camera.

I tend to use full manual for ambient in tough light situations that don't change. I am very very likely to use full manual for ambient exposure any time I am pulling out flashes, particularly for off camera flash. Aperture-priority mode ambient exposure + AE flash exposure is almost always a recipe for disaster.

Another case for manual is "expose to the right" (ETTR). I am more likely to do that with exposure compensation but it can be a good reason to use full manual if you are using a camera where ETTR matters.

Perhaps the most impressive technical thing pros do to me is getting shots of super fast songbirds, swifts, swallows, etc.. that takes some serious practice. It is not just cause they have "Pro Autofocus". I've got one of those cameras and I have a pro level super telephoto (barely big enough for an entry point for birds) and it is still very hard to get those shots in focus. It doesn't matter how good your camera is if you can't even point it at the bird because the bird is that fast! Say you have (or rented) a 400mm, 600mm, 800mm super telephoto that costs as much as a car... it probably isn't a zoom. Good luck pointing that thing at the spot of action when stuff is moving, it's very hard.

I agree so much with the first statement. I got the cheapest Nikon DSLR on amazon and won a surf photography contest the first day I took it out to shoot because I was in the right place at the right time with perfect lighting. The others in the contest were pros and had way more experience and more expensive equipment. Knowing the subject you are shooting also helps a ton.

Shutter priority mode is my go to for surf pictures because it matters a lot to make sure you take shots at the right time during a wave.

"f/8 and be there" is the somewhat hackneyed phrase which covers this in the documentary photography space - the subject is much more important than the technical details.

I usually shoot in full manual with Live Exposure Preview and Live View (I use mirrorless so the viewfinder supports this as well). My camera (Sony A7) supports something called zebra, which hatches in areas that are overexposed.

Generally I use manual mode because I know exactly what kind of shutter speed I need given my motion and lighting (avoid blur), while attempting to stay under ISO 500, as the images become poor for pixel peepers over that.

I think if I were to be forced to use an Auto mode I would probably want to be able to specify "optimization priorities" to the camera. Maybe "Keep the ISO low at the expense of aperture" or "Get a fast shutter speed at any cost". But then it's hard and unnatural to set up, than to flick a few dials and see what the screen shows.

It also helps that I shoot with post in mind, so sometimes I under or overexpose on purpose when I know I can recover those highlights and shadows in post. It helps to take pictures at diff exposure levels and play with detail recovery to get a sense of how the sensor behaves with noise when boosting shadows or recovering highlights, and correlate that to what you see in live view.

I thought this was going to be about using manual mode on your smartphone camera. Is that even possible?

There's a variety of apps that give you manual control. Apple has provided RAW access to sensor data for a few years now and I think some Android manufacturers beat them to it. You're still dealing with a tiny sensor but you can practice and get your mind around the concepts.

Manual mode is available on many Android phones: https://www.androidauthority.com/how-to-take-photo-manual-mo...

I use Moment for iOS, and for awhile, I put its icon where I normally put the stock Camera app (in the rightmost position of the dock). But to be honest, I found myself rarely using it. I'm not sure if Moment's interface is clunkier compared to its rivals, but it's just much harder to adjust and access settings from a touch screen compared to a full-bodied camera's physical controls. And making manual adjustment often doesn't feel right or necessary for 99% of the impromptu photos I take with my smartphone.


Halide on iOS is one of the best ways to shot in manual mode on your iPhone. You get full control, a histogram, and even manual focusing options. It's a pretty amazing app and totally worth the one time purchase price.

Some third-party camera apps allow you more control (e.g. Samsung camera).

On iOS get ProCamera

Like many skills, learn to do it for yourself and then you'll be able to make much more informed decisions about when to use the computer to automate things for you.

For those saying they have to use Manual because of unevenly lit subjects or background light: I use a combo of spot metering + lock exposure toggle.

I can then recompose and keep shooting. No need to dial my SS or ISO manually.

The only time I play with shutter speed is if I want to introduce motion blur or freeze action.

Or when doing night photography on a tripod, I don’t want the camera raising the ISO because it’s trying to compensate for motion blur that doesn’t exist.

Spot metering is one way to do it, but you might find it's actually slower than using full manual once you get enough experience in a particular area (for example backlit stage shows). In full manual, you'll set your exposure and adjust on the fly in a single click as the light changes. Spot metering is slower because you have to find a decent spot to meter, then lock exposure, then go on to actually focus, frame, etc. It takes an extra few seconds and 2+ movements just to spot meter where adjusting your ISO is a single movement is much quicker (and can be done while you are framing for example).

We actually had to learn about and do a small manual photography project for my wildlife biology class in school. The idea was that we needed to learn to take proper pictures for samples and other things under different conditions. It actually ended up being pretty fun and made me appreciate more the work that goes into taking really nice pictures.

Does anyone have a recommendation for a good (affordable?) camera? I was thinking about the BlackMagic camera but I am not sure if it's worth the $2K for it's amazing video functionality since I rarely take videos. A budget intro camera would be awesome!

Blackmagic has 4K and 6K cameras now, which in my opinion is close enough to megapixel counts sufficient for stills. One of the main reasons I love the design of them (disclaimer I do not have one, opinion from web only) is

1) Touch screen UI that doesn't seem that bad 2) Power over USB-C and charge at the same time 3) Record to external SSD. I don't like trusting SD cards so this is a huge one.

With this said, if these features aren't important to you and you're just starting out, a Sony NEX can usually be had for like 150 CAD $ or so, and will produce quite good shots and can shoot RAW.

>> I know almost no professionals who shoot on manual mode outside of studio settings.

Small sample size. Also greatly varies depending on the particular gear, shot, genre, etc...

Completely agree that aperture mode is an amazing and effective tool/method.

I only use manual mode. Would never shoot in anything else.

You have complete control.

Iso, shuttered speed, and aputure need to be adjusted according to the situation.

All profession photographers I know shoot manual exclusively.

Is it just me or now everytime the word shooting is mentioned I always think a mass shooting and more bad news ?

I'm not a professional by a long shot, but I agree with the other commenters who say that half-manual modes (A and S) are very useful in all situations. The video was good, but I don't think he went into enough detail how the 3 settings are related. But first some history...

I took photography in high school when we had Pentax K-1000 manual film SLRs. The ISO was fixed at whatever film you put in, usually 100 or 400. Then you had to set your aperture and shutter speed for the correct exposure. There was a needle (essentially a volt-meter hooked to a photo-diode) in the viewfinder that indicated when the exposure was correct for the film ISO. Typically you would choose a speed or aperture for the scene you wanted, and adjust the other to get the exposure needle correct. To be honest, it was annoying and fiddly, because if you chose the speed wrong, you'd have to take your eyes off the viewfinder to set the dial. But it was really good for understanding how the 3 settings were related.

What I found much more convenient were cameras that had the half-auto aperture-priority mode where you manually set the aperture, and the camera sets the speed. As explained in the video, having aperture-priority means you are actively choosing the depth-of-field and you can change it for each shot if you want. You can increase the depth of field to make everything sharp, or you can reduce the depth of field to put bokeh in the foreground or background. For example, if I'm in the mountains and see pretty flowers in the foreground, I can quickly take 3 shots, one with the mountains in focus, one with the flowers in focus, and one with both--to see which is the best.

Shutter-priority is similar, where the shutter speed you choose determines the motion blur. For example, if you're shooting your kid on a bike, you can choose a high speed to make everything frozen, or you could choose a low speed and follow the subject to give a background motion blur--and you can take both shots within a second of each other.

As the other commenters say, this is what has carried over into DSLRs and can be really useful. Once you learn the trade-offs and choose A or S mode, you have a lot of control over the image. The inner ring of the lens usually controls the aperture in aperture-priority mode, so you have exposure control on your left hand holding the barrel of the lens. And with auto-ISO, the camera will increase the ISO so you can still shoot at 1/60 indoors to avoid motion blur. You never have to take your eyes off the viewfinder while adjusting the exposure and you have a lot of control over the outcome of the photo. With practice, the hand motions become automatic, and you can make split-second changes to capture a beautiful shot of that fleeting moment.

Did anyone else disagree with his explanation that ISO was like " camera generated light"?

It's actually very clever I think. I know exactly what it does, but I have had a hard time explaining it to people who don't know about analog gain, noise floor and such things.

I usually resort to "high ISO makes your camera more sensitive in low light, but the images get smudgy if on too high an ISO".

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