When to Use Manual Settings, and When to Trust Your Camera

Well, it’s nearly the holidays. So instead of fighting over politics, the news, or drama—let’s change up the narrative and argue over something else, shall we? The age-old question; when should I use manual settings on my camera, and when should I just trust my camera to do its job?

If I told you there weren’t a million thoughts on this topic, I would be lying right to your face and eye. And I would also be inaccurate if I told you one side was “more right” than the other. Because, to be honest, they both have their points—and it all boils down to knowing what you want, and what you need to accomplish.

The Benefits of Shooting in Manual

Shooting in manual is no easy task, so before we discuss when is a great time to do this, just know that you’re probably going to mess up a LOT of shots before you get things just right. So be patient.

Manual is great for doing something auto never can – personalizing shots.

Let’s be honest, auto-settings HATE photos that have dark backgrounds, out-of-focus subjects, or silhouettes. But what is that is exactly what you’re going for? If so, you may have no other choice than to use your manual settings if you are going for more of an “artistic” approach to your work.

Also, some photographers simply enjoy darker or lighter photos, and manual settings may perfectly fit what you’re going for. So experiment what your settings, try out new techniques, and take your time with adjustments. You’re probably not going to get things right the first, second, or third time. But it may result in just what you’re looking for.

NOTE: Trying to take a bunch of photos in rapid succession, maybe at a sporting event? Manual may not be your best choice.

Why It’s Okay to Trust Auto Settings

If you think I am going to get on a pedestal and pretend that people who use manual settings are in any way better than auto—you’re wrong. In fact, in some cases, shooting on auto is actually HARDER than using manual.

Why? I am glad you asked.

With auto settings, you have to trust the environment around you, as your camera will photograph just that, and not take much else into account. It will make adjustments the best it can to take a quality photo, but not care about a unique focus effect, dark shadows, or anything else beyond a standard snap. So if you’re going to go with a personalized shot, this isn’t for you. But it does have its place.

Auto is perfect for a few things. The most obvious is if you have to shoot many shots in rapid succession, especially shots you cannot miss. Think of a sporting event, or even a wedding. You may have only one shot at, well, the shot. So if you’re manual settings are off and you mess up? Uh oh….

In these cases, trust your camera, trust the auto settings, and do your best to fix it in post. It’s the perfect safety net.

For a rather intense topic for photographers, this is a rather concise blog—and for a reason.

I have given some of the most obvious reasons for both of these settings, and when I personally use them. For instance, the photo attached to this blog? Manual…or auto…I can’t remember. But anyways, there is a time and a place for both tricks, just read your situation, think about what you want to do, and if you have the advantage of time for adjustments.

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