When should you use manual mode?

I have heard photographers talk about manual mode as something you have to use in order to be considered a “pro”. I wouldn’t look at it that way. Rather than being an end unto itself, or a right of passage, manual mode is really just another way for you to get the perfect exposure.

Below are a few situations I picked out to get you thinking about how to use manual mode on your camera.

Difficult lighting situations

Let’s say you’re indoors at a concert and you’re photographing the band on stage. There are lots of flashing lights and such in the frame as you’re shooting. Do you want to prioritize exposing correctly for the varying brightness of the stage lights or for the people on stage? If you answered “people on stage” then you got it right. In this case you will definitely want to use manual mode to expose for the rock stars rather than their stage lighting. Otherwise you’ll end up taking pictures of nice bright lights and unrecognizable silhouettes of people.

Consistent light equals consistent exposures

Now imagine you’re outdoors in nice consistent light. For example, you’re shooting a person in the shadow of a building. Since your subject is always in shade in consistent light you never need to change the exposure. But depending on where you point the camera the background might be brighter or darker, and in those cases auto exposure likely will cause the camera to miss-expose the subject of your photos. Remember you’re not photographing the background, you’re photographing the subject, if the exposure is right for your subject it doesn’t need to change.

Flash photography

When you’re using a flash manual mode is pretty much a given for a variety of reasons. Using auto exposure with the flash can lead to inconsistent results. It’s better to manually pick an exposure value that gives you the shutter speed you need and set the flash to TTL. The flash occurs after the exposure values are set by your camera. So if you use auto exposure you’re kind of invalidating the point of making your own light.

Final thoughts

There are many other scenarios in which it is beneficial to use manual exposure. What are some situations when you like to use manual mode on you camera? Let us know in the comments below.

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