“You are a real photographer if you shoot in manual”
Seemingly innocent words and yet…..it implies two things.
To be a real photographer you must shoot in manual mode.
If you don’t shoot in manual mode you aren’t a real photographer
Yes, suddenly that sentence has all sorts of layers, and none of them pretty. If I had $5 for every time I have been told to shoot in manual, or that shooting in manual was easy, I would probably have enough to buy my new tripod head.
So what is it about this particular ‘myth of manual’ as I like to call it? Why is it considered the best or the only way to be a proper photographer? On asking, the reply usually given is “oh you have more control over what the camera does and can set it up exactly as you need it to be for the shot” or something similar.
Except…..the reason I spent several thousand dollars on my camera body is because I wanted to purchase the precision Japanese technology, engineering, design and development that went into making my camera a marvel of optical functionality. It is way smarter than I am at judging the right settings for the light levels and it tells me what settings it thinks should be used for a shot.
Confession time – most of the time I shoot in P mode, do most of my landscape work in Av cos I can set a fixed aperture, and occasionally dabble in Tv mode when changing the shutter speed is required. But for the vast majority of my work, P is where it is at.
Why? Because in P mode, the camera will pick the shutter and aperture, I set the ISO, exposure and white balance. The thing is, in P mode I can change pretty much ALL of these settings fairly easily for each shot, and often change the aperture. If the light is dodgy I will change the ISO as well. But looking through the viewfinder to see the settings means I can see what the camera things and use my knowledge and experience to make changes to suit.
Why the hell would I buy an expensive camera body and NOT use all that technology? Why would I assume that I can properly make the call on the settings required – settings that are all collectively related and impact on each other.
Why would I want to limit the way I shoot so intensely – if the light is changing quickly or the action is fast, shooting in manual means changing the settings for each image, that takes time to calculate and then program into the camera.
A few years ago I had a question about something, can’t remember the details, and asked on a forum and nearly every guy on there replied “shoot in manual”. My response was “I don’t know how” and back then I actually didn’t. In fact it wasn’t til I attended a workshop that had an outdoor photowalk component, and the tutor showed me how ie which knobs and dials control which function, that I actually discovered how to use my camera in manual mode.
Since then it has come in handy for dabbling in panoramas, having learned the hard way that you need to keep your exposure the same for each image, and the best way to do that is manual mode. Except what I actually do is this:
- set the camera up as as usual
- frame up the shot
- check the settings, and make my usual changes and check the image
- switch into manual mode and dial those setting in
- take the shots
Using a DSLR is complicated, with the combination of technology with using the hardware, and art with composing and editing the images. Is it because you have to know more about how your camera works to use it properly in manual mode that feeds the myth? Is it that the gear heads who have forced themselves to shoot in that way have to feel a sense of superiority over those of us who aren’t there yet, or choose another option?
While I am sure there are loads of photographers out there convinced that manual is the only way, I know there are just as many and probably more that manage quite well in a semi-automated mode.
So why does this myth continue to be perpetuated?
Why is it laid down as gospel to new photographers?
The reality is, what makes you a photographer is intent. If you pick up a camera or a phone, with the intent to create a specific image, to capture a time, a place or an event in a way that makes it uniquely yours, that is what makes a photographer. Not the gear, nor how you use it. If you choose to go out deliberately, to take photos of the world to share with people, then you are a photographer. No question.