Camera Manual Mode – Is It Required To Be A Professional?

(Last Updated On: August 26, 2019)
Manual mode for professional photographers
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Is Manual Mode Required?

Do you need to use your camera’s manual mode to be considered a professional photographer or taken seriously?

The Modes

There are four traditional exposure modes – M P S A. For those of you who use a Canon or maybe a Pentax camera you will see a Tv (Time value) or an Av (Aperture value). M represents manual mode and P represents program or as I refer to it — P for PANIC mode.

If you’re not sure what to do, then put your camera on P and let the camera figure it out for you. Typically, the program mode sets the shutter and aperture settings in combination with available light and your ISO setting to give you a proper exposure.

As mentioned, the M represents manual. In this mode, you figure out which is the best shutter and aperture for the exposure that you want.

If you’re not quite ready for full manual, you might want to consider a priority mode. For example, S for shutter priority mode. You select the shutter and the camera selects the aperture. The other option is A or Aperture priority, which means you select the lens aperture and the camera selects the shutter.

It’s common for new photographers to ask which priority mode they should use. Aperture Priority or shutter priority? The fact is there are good reasons to use each mode. Quite often the default answer is Aperture Priority, however, I disagree.

I prefer shutter priority. This is because I want to be in control of the shutter more than the aperture. There are times when I want to show motion in my images, sometimes I want to stop action or let in more ambient light.

However, if I’m on aperture priority, yes, I can control the depth of field. Yet, there are situations where the shutter will slow down so much that my camera images are blurry without a tripod.

Still, if you want to be in full control of your image depth of field, then aperture priority is a good way to go. It’s a good option if you’re outside where there’s plenty of light and you’re not worried about the shutter slowing down too much.

Remember both shutter and aperture priority settings are averages. If you really want more accuracy, you need to set your camera on manual mode for additional control or use one of the icon settings if you’re not 100% ready.

Icon Mode Settings

There are a number of different types of icon settings depending on the camera you use. Often there is a sports selection, which will set your shutter speed as high as possible to stop action.

You may see an icon with mountains. Such icons represent landscape mode, meaning the camera is going to give you the largest depth of field possible. There is a common icon for portraits, which gives you a shallow depth of field behind your subject.

Depending on the type of camera you have, there are program and automatic modes which go above and beyond the basic program option of controlling the shutter and aperture. These other modes can control your ISO or even the type of exposure metering.


Back in the days when film was king, we purchased film based on the ISO. If you load 100 ISO speed film, you used 100 ISO until you were done with that roll of film.

Unlike today’s cameras which allows us to adjust ISO for each photograph.

If you need more light sensitivity, such as, photographing inside or at dusk, you very well may have to use a higher speed ISO film such as 800 or 1600.

The general rule is you get more grain the higher the ISO. The grain (metallic silver, or dye) is able to capture more light in lower light situations. However, it also shows up in our images.

So, if you want higher quality images, you use a lower ISO film such as 100. This film has less grain. As a result, you can print your images larger.

The same is true in a similar, yet, different way with digital photography. Instead of grain, we refer to it as noise (pixels). Like grain, the higher your ISO, the more noise you’ll see in your images.

Traditionally, 100 ISO will give you better quality images than higher ISO’s, such as 6400. Still, you may need 6400 in a low light situation, so the higher ISO very well may be the best choice. It’s up to the photographer to figure that out.

When you use manual mode, that’s what you’ll do, make technical choices.

The photographer has to figure out what are the necessary options for the situation or the environment in which they are photographing. If you’re using the program mode, then the camera will decide for you. And you very well may not agree with the result.

Can You Ever Use Program Mode?

There are situations when using program may be the best option. These are generally situations where everything is fast-paced, you don’t have time to make adjustments, so you depend on the camera.

Generally, this is an event or maybe a photojournalistic scene. It’s a situation that you’re unfamiliar with and you want to make sure that you get the shot. You know you can make adjustments later and Lightroom or Photoshop.

However, most of the time I think you want to be in control of your camera.

Answering The Manual Mode Question

To answer the burning question Do you need to use manual mode to be considered a professional photographer? Well, here’s the bottom line. The mode you use has nothing to do with the value of the photographs you create nor if you should be paid for those photographs.

However, when you use manual mode, it gives you more control over your camera. Manual mode helps you create your vision or your clients’ vision much easier.

As a professional photographer, it is your job to be able to create your clients’ vision or your vision of the project that the client wants from you.

When you understand manual mode it gives you an advantage over photographers who use the program mode. The other standard modes give photographers an average of the situation and average exposure of the scene.

People hire photographers for their consistency. People pay for a photographers consistency or ability to create a consistent vision or style. If a camera is on automatic mode, the camera may make adjustments that are counter to your image vision.

If you’re on an automatic mode, you’re dependent on the priorities of the camera. Honestly, I often disagree with the priorities of my camera. This includes focus priorities, as well as exposure priorities.

The Secret To Exposure

Here is the secret, there is no proper exposure, there’s only an average that the camera can base off an algorithm. Your image is a series of under and overexposures in your frame. If everything in your frame is properly exposed your photographic result is a solid 18% gray photograph.

The reality is you can overexpose part of your scene and underexposed another part and it can still be an incredibly powerful photograph.

This is because the vision, the emotion, and the overall look that you’re going for came through in the image. The photo gave the desired impression or invoked a reaction from the viewer. Yet, if you just create an average well-exposed photograph it wouldn’t be the same powerful result.

You don’t have to use manual mode to be a professional photographer, but I highly recommend it.

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