Manual vs. Auto – Questions answered


I am not really a teacher, but I think I am qualified to correct several misconceptions.  Many newbies and some experienced at photography, including some of my friends,  believe that if you change your camera settings from AUTO, that you will be shooting manual.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  To be shooting in manual, you have to set your camera to the M, which is true manual.

Okay, let’s see what you are getting into if you decide to shoot in M (MANUAL).  First you have to measure the light, so you can decide on your shutter and aperture settings.  How do you measure the light?  You can use the built-in light meter in the camera.  Aim the camera at a neutral scene, or the palm of your hand, or a gray card, or at the blank blue sky about 90 degrees away from the sun.  Any of these can give you recommended settings for your shutter speed, and aperture, depending on how you have set your ISO.

ISO??  Yep, your camera meter needs to know about your film (or digital sensor) speed.  You can pick from a number between 100 and 6400, (most cameras.)  So after you obtain the settings recommended by the meter, then you have to know how to change the settings in the camera.  Your manual should show you how to do that.

If the recommended shutter speed is to slow or fast for your liking, then you can adjust, but then you have to re-adjust your aperture setting to compensate.  Remember,  Aperture means how much light you should let in, and Shutter Speed means for how long a time period that you want to let that light.  If you change Aperture to a large opening, you have to cut down on the time, so you go to a faster shutter speed to compensate.  You will still end up with proper exposure for the picture.

Now after all of this work, do you really want to shoot “MANUAL”?  I don’t think so.  After spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for a modern camera designed to make the job easier, why would you want to.  Heck, count me out.  But I do have the basic knowledge if I ever need to.

I began shooting seriously about 60 years ago, when I took a course through the New York Institute of Photography.  Then, manual was the only way to go.  Ugh!  It was work.  But it made me a better photographer as I learned the basics.  Cameras were all manual, except some had a built-in meter to measure the light.  Otherwise, you used a hand-held light meter.

Now with the modern camera, shooting AUTO is for the beginner, who is unfamiliar with the settings, and/or who just want to get pictures easier until they learn more.  There is nothing wrong with that.  The camera is designed to give you good photographs that way.  But you will get good photos only under ordinary conditions.

So getting back to changing from AUTO, I believe most individuals who turn that dial away from AUTO, think they are shooting in manual, when they are really not.  Most usually go to Av  (aperture priority), or Tv (Shutter priority).  One of these modes is what most photographers, including pros, shoot.  But, circumstances can come up where they need to know how to use the true Manual.  But please know, that just because the dial doesn’t say AUTO, doesn’t mean that you are shooting in Manual.

So let’s get back to changing from AUTO to one of some other settings.

ISO – set the camera between 100 and 6400, or Auto, in most cameras.  The higher the number, the more sensitive the film or digital sensor is to light.  If you set the ISO to Auto, you don’t have to worry.

P (Program)  (EDITED AFTER INITIAL PUBLICATION.)  This is nearly Auto, but you have a bit more control.  You can change the Aperture, and the Shutter automatically changes to the right speed.  The same if you change the Shutter, the Aperture will automatically change to the correct opening.

Av (Aperture Priority).   You set the aperture manually that you want, the camera will read the light and give you the right shutter speed.

Tv (Shutter Priority).  You set the shutter speed manually that you want, and the the camera will read the light and give you the right aperture.

There are other settings on some cameras to make things easier, too.  These are actually more Auto settings, but you can make adjustments if you need.

– A little flower symbol means macro or close-up photography.

– A running man symbol indicates fast action.

– A mountain or trees symbol indicates landscapes or scenics.

I rarely shoot in full Manual anymore.  Personally, when I am shooting birds, I shoot in Tv (Shutter Priority) with the ISO on auto most of the time.  Why??  Because if I shot in Manual, I wouldn’t have the time to measure the light and make the right settings.  By then it would be supper time and the birds would be gone. (Well, that may be an exaggeration.  But it would take more time.)

By shooting Shutter Priority, I know that will I have a high enough shutter speed to catch the action if the bird takes to flight.  I usually set the shutter at about 1/1600 of a second average.  Difference in light can dictate what figure I use.

If it is a really bright day, I may shoot Aperture Priority.  By setting my camera to a real large aperture opening, I will be assured that the camera will give me a fast shutter speed.

There are other fine tuning adjustments that can be made as you go, like adjusting the EV (exposure value), for darker or lighter situations, but that may come in a future “lesson”.

I hope this advice helps you a bit more.  But, like the doctor said, “if you still need help, take two pictures and call me in the morning”. 🙂