Here’s why you need to learn and understand manual exposure

Mar 19, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Here’s why you need to learn and understand manual exposure

Mar 19, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The whole manual vs auto thing for me isn’t really much of a debate. And whether you prefer to use auto or manual, you’re still going to need to understand the underlying principles of photography and how your camera “sees” a scene in order to get the most out of it and the best possible images you can that achieve your vision.

Coming to you from Paul at Photo Genius, this video compares the differences when shooting multiple scenes using both manual and auto exposure controls. It’s a good illustration of why automatic isn’t perfect for everything (or potentially even most stuff, depending on what you like to shoot) and how understanding manual can get you that control you need.

Manual exposure isn’t a magic bullet, but you do need to understand how it works to get the most out of it. I’m certainly not going to tell anybody they have to shoot manual, but I think everybody calling themselves a photographer needs to at least learn it and understand it in order to be able to get the most out of their camera for any given situation.

But automatic exposure are the same way if you want the best results, too. Even in auto (or the various semi-automatic exposure modes), you still need to understand the settings the camera’s spitting back at you. You need to undersatnd what aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation do so that you know how you might be able to adjust to compensate when you get results that aren’t as you expect.

I shoot manual probably 95% of the time. For the other 5%, I’m either in “P” mode if I’m location scouting and just need a record or “A” (aperture priority or “Av” for the Canon shooters) when I want a set depth of field but the shutter speed isn’t important. But if I want to make sure those fully or semi-automatic exposure modes give me what I want, I still need to understand what it’s doing.

Don’t you want the best results you can get? Even if you shoot auto?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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3 responses to “Here’s why you need to learn and understand manual exposure”

  1. Amateur Photographer Association Avatar
    Amateur Photographer Association

    We were just discussing this in our group ;)

  2. Zlatko Podhraški Avatar
    Zlatko Podhraški

    This is like you say – here is why you have to learn to breathe.

  3. Albin Avatar
    Albin

    I usually shoot in aperture or shutter priority mode depending on depth of field or subject motion conditions, and to control ISO. There’s no shame in looking to the problem sky and asking “What would Auto do?” but then decide for oneself. I’m anticipating the day when serious (mirrorless) cameras with great sensors and optics will use multi-shot algorithmic HDR as phones are doing so brilliantly with tiny sensors and poor optics – that would deal with conventional (not creative) exposure situations automatically.