Manual Settings vs Auto Settings On Your DSLR: What's The Difference?

So you've probably heard some older photographers say things like "Back in my day we had to expose all of our images ourselves! There was no program mode or aperture priority mode. These new photographers don't know how to properly take photographs.The camera does all the work for them!!"

Some of you are probably thinking to yourself "but how can they say that when I shoot in program sometimes and my photos still look great.If I can get good a picture regardless if I manually exposed the image or if I let the camera do it then what's the difference between the two? "

There's Levels to This

Like what those old grumpy photographers said shooting manual is having to manually set the settings on your camera to capture your image. Settings like your shutter speed, aperture value, ISO sensitivity, your flash power (if you;re working with one), and your white balance temperature. There's a few other automated settings that we can change in our DSLR but these are the main ones people talk about when they mention shooting "manual."

Now you would think since 'manual' and 'automatic' are antonyms of each other that means shooting in auto is basically the opposite of what I just mentioned above. It's not that simple actually. There's levels to the amount of settings you can let your camera do automatically. If you take a look at the dial thingy on the top of your camera you can find some exposure modes like:

- Program (P) where the camera decides both shutter speed and aperture size.

- Aperture priority (Av/A) where you decide how big the aperture is opened.

- Shutter priority (Tv/S) where you decide how long the shutter is opened for.

In your camera you could also automate settings like:

- ISO Sensitivity

- White Balance

Oh, you don't feel like changing the ISO all the time so you let the camera worry about that one setting? Go ahead dude! You know the room's colour temperature is 4500K and you like shooting at f2.8 so you want to keep it there? No problem girl, let your trusty camera handle everything else. Congrats, you just bought your new DSLR and have no idea what anything means so you want to let the camera take the wheel? Sayyyy lessss fam. 

When should I shoot manual?

It's a good idea for when you want to keep the exposure of your photos consistent that way if you're going to be doing some batch editing in Lightroom afterwards the process will be much more streamlined. 

If I know that the lighting conditions won't change for the entire time I'm shooting then I'll set the settings myself. Some situations where I'm likely shooting manual are when I'm shooting indoor sports like powerlifting, when I'm doing studio work, or when I'm doing a photoshoot inside of a gym

Another situation where I prefer setting the exposure myself is when I'm in a nightclub shooting with an on camera flash. It's a club, everything is dark so the only major light source in the club should be your flash (even though there's beams of light of all different colours bouncing around everywhere the brightness of your flash should be bright enough to over power them.) 

When should I shoot auto?

There are going to be times when you're on the go with no time to assess the lighting and take test photos to get your settings down. Street photography is a great example. So much is happening all at once so you need to be ready for when the stars align and that perfect moment comes. I like having the freedom of only having to worry about nailing the shot and nothing else so sometimes I'll shoot on one of the priority modes with all the other settings automated. 

Also to make my life easier if I need to constantly move from indoor to outdoor or if I'm outdoors shooting sports where the cloud cover is sporadic I'll automate my ISO and my white balance. It's super annoying having to constantly adjust ISO a few stops or make your image warmer/cooler by a couple thousand Kelvin, so to save me the headache I just let old Niko (that's short for Nikon. I know I'm lame) worry about it. 

If you're new to photography and hope to one day master shooting manually then I highly suggest learning from one of the priority modes. Let's say you're on shutter priority mode, watch what happens to your aperture and ISO as you make changes to the shutter speed. Once you realize how the camera is reacting to your shutter speed and changing other settings to compensate then you can easily do the same thing the camera is doing in manual!

Aren't You Less “Pro” If You Use Auto Settings Though?

No lmao. Being good at photography is being able to create good looking photos. That’s it. Clients don’t care if you manually exposed the photo or if you shot it in program mode. All they care about is getting the job done, so do what you need to do to deliver the best looking photos possible.

Would my mom be a better driver if she knew how to drive standard? No, she’s still going to impede the flow of traffic driving 15km/h under the limit and she’s still going to take forever to turn left at the intersection. So do you boo boo.


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