A couple of years ago, I wrote that we should kill the myth of the "M" manual exposure mode. This struck a chord for a lot of people.
Two years later, the myth is still going strong... still doing damage to many budding photography enthusiasts.
Recently I put out a survey on mastering exposure. Reading hundreds and hundreds of surveys from photographers struggling to understand exposure, I feel the need to revisit this myth and do what I can to take it down.
Fact is, I still see so many people in pain, because some old lion told them that the "proper" way to make an exposure was to use the "M" exposure mode.
Can we tear apart and destroy this myth once and for all?
I don't like seeing people in pain, continually getting disappointing results.
I don't like seeing people frustrated with photography.
This is supposed to be FUN!
You don't need to shoot in the "M" mode in order to be a "real" photographer. You don't need to live in manual to be a worthy, talented photographer.
Yes, the "M" mode has its place. Don't get me wrong. It's important to know generally how it works and not FEAR the manual exposure mode. For me, it certainly comes in handy when shooting with studio lights, and in a few tricky situations.
But 99 times out of 100, I find I get better results... yes, BETTER results, and have a lot more fun in the process, when I trust the Evaluative mode (aka Matrix mode) on my camera.
WIth today's technology, my pictures are rarely too dark or too bright. And shooting Camera Raw files, I can easily tweak the few that do appear a bit under or over exposed.
By trusting the amazing modes Canon, Nikon and the others have developed over the past 15-20 years, I often get great exposures and, what's more, I catch many more "decisive moments". It's a lot faster to use the semi-automatic modes such as Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority.
Note: I never use the fully automatic modes (the scene modes or that little green rectangle on my Canon). And I stopped using the shiftable "P" program mode over 20 years ago. I knew the day they came out that the fully automatic modes were a terrible way to shoot as I never know what settings my camera was selecting for me. And using the shiftable "P" mode often added an unnecessary step of adjusting the settings that the camera first selected for me. So I stay away from the fully auto modes and the "P" mode.
Almost exclusively, I stick to the "Av" Aperture Priority mode and keep my ISO as low as possible. In the Av mode, I select a small f-stop number if I want small (shallow) depth of field, and a big f-stop number if I want big (deep) depth of field.
Usually, that's my #1 concern.
And if my main concern is freezing movement with a fast shutter speed, I choose a small f-stop number, knowing that, when I keep my ISO locked at 100, this will result in the fastest shutter speed.
If I want to blur motion and get that cotton-candy effect (when photographing a stream or waterfall or traffic, for example), I choose a big f-stop number, knowing this will result in a slower shutter speed.
It's that simple.
Some old lions may grumble when they hear me recommending the semi-automatic modes. My theory is that when these old lions first started in photography, it was a different world.
When they first got going, they, like me, invested many painful spent learning how to take every single photo in the manual exposure mode. I remember writing down each combination of exposure settings in a pocket notebook and using these notes when bent over slides on a light table, linking the results with the settings I chose when I first made the exposures.
Come to think of it, many of us were also stuck with manual FOCUS too. No autofocus to help us catch those fast action shots!
And here's the thing... many old lions, learning in the crucible of adversity, became attached to their pain, attached to the frustration of learning the hard way, attached to their manner of doing things.
I say: it's a new world.
It's time to let go of the past.
The past does not equal the future. The past doesn't even equal the present!
We now have extremely well-developed tools. We have fast, reliable autofocus and we have AMAZING Matrix and Evaluative exposure metering.
It's time to trust the tools we use and put our focus on making CREATIVE choices... deciding whether we freeze or blur motion, or whether we isolate or extend depth of focus.
Let's stop being bogged down by the old mechanics.
I say, the best way to master anything is through practice. And the best way to practice is to do what you love and enjoy doing it.
Isn't it more fun to get great pictures WHILE you're learning the art of creative photography? Why put off the joy?
I hereby give you permission to trust your camera's semi-automatic exposure mode and ENJOY YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY AGAIN!
Let's all stop deferring the joy of photography until some future date, when we are such a talented, official, "real photographer" that uses the "M" mode all the time.
What say you? Do you really need to shoot in manual?
Do your pictures really turn out too dark or too bright often?
Do you shoot Camera Raw files (files that give you more latitude)?
Do you think that if you do pick one semi-automatic mode, master it, and concentrate on making the most creative exposures you can - rather than just a correct exposure... do you think you'll have more fun making photos, and maybe even get more outstanding pictures in the process?
Click the "Comment" link below and share your thoughts. I'd love to hear what you have to say about this.