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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.

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