When I first started out in photography and was teaching myself by reading tutorials online and books one thing I noticed was a large group of photographers all said to use manual camera mode all the time.
The idea behind using fully manual camera mode is most often that we are smarter than the camera and therefore we must have full control over the exposure since the camera’s light meter can be “fooled” causing either over or underexposed images. The question though really becomes: Are we really smarter? …all the time?
Before jumping into my insight and thoughts let me ask you all a question – what makes an amazing photograph?
Is it the emotion?
Is it the perfect exposure?
Is it the composition?
Is it the split second capture that is forever gone?
All of those thing can work together as well as individually to create a truly stunning photograph. Isn’t that what we are all going after anyways?
Which camera mode works best for your photography primarily depends on your photo style and what type of photography you perform. For us – being first and foremost wedding photographers we shoot the camera mode that lets us always be ready to capture a split second moment, quickly, without fumbling with too many dials and thus risking missing the shot – aperture priority mode. However, we are not just using aperture priority mode and not doing any adjustments, we are constantly using the “exposure compensation” button on our camera to manually tell the camera to override the camera calculated exposure by either adding or subtracting exposure. If you aren’t familiar with the exposure compensation dial check your camera’s manual and also check out this handy tutorial explaining using exposure compensation.
We use aperture priority mode exclusively when working in natural light conditions and when using flash we then shoot 100% manual, because at that point we want to be able to accurate control the balance between the lighting from our flash with the ambient lighting available. To see how we use flash check out this tutorial.
As wedding photographers who focus on candidly documenting the day it is crucial to always be ready to snap a moment as some of the most memorable and emotional moments can be missed if you are a second too late. Using our modified aperture priority mode enables us to work in conditions where light is changing constantly and quickly and we can focus on adjusting the exposure via the exposure compensation buttons with one click of a dial which with practice you will automatically begin to know when you will need to add or subtract exposure.
A real life example –
Scenario: You are photographing the bride prep in a hotel room and she is getting her makeup touched up near a window bringing in bright natural light – you are photographing her shooting towards the window, and exposing for the bride, thus overexposing the window, directly behind you the bridesmaids are cracking up over a funny joke, you instantly turn around and snap the moment…
Possible outcomes are –
…if you were in manual mode with no adjustments: photo of bridesmaids would be completely overexposed.
…if you were in manual mode and have to look through viewfinder to change camera settings for proper exposure, the moment/shot could be over by time ready.
…if in aperture mode, and recognize that going from back lit to front lit scene, and adjust exposure compensation back down to +/- 0.0 and letting camera pick shutter you will get the shot and have good exposure.
This real life example happens all the time and happened to us on one of our weddings earlier this year when the groom came to the door of the room where the bride was getting ready – the bride decided to have some fun with him by revealing her leg, the expression he had on his face was priceless, however, it was a fraction of a second capture. I had been shooting into a room with plenty of natural light and as such I was fairly neutral on my exposure compensation, however when the door opened suddenly I was shooting directly into a large bright light source, I knew I had to move quickly and move the exposure compensation dial to overexpose and expose for the subjects in front of the bright light. Is this image technically perfect from a exposure standpoint? No. But the moment captured is priceless and everyone loved the image and of course the groom’s expression.
The point I am trying to make, is if you want to be able to capture moments and candids and shoot in a photo-journalistic approach, especially with wedding photography – speed is crucial. Quality of the exposure also is crucial because it is terrible idea to think that you can “fix” the image after the fact in post processing – truth is, if an exposure is way off and especially if way out of focus, it is trashed and gone.
It is important to be able to shoot quickly WITHOUT sacrificing quality.
I am sure that many of you would find it hard to believe that one of the most notable and prominent celebrity wedding photographers, Joe Buissink shoots in “P” mode (Program Automatic) almost exclusively. Why? Because of speed and to Joe, capturing the “moment” is the priority as these are truly the images that will bring back the emotion to the bride and groom and enable them to relive their day. I can assure you that Joe doesn’t just set it on “P” mode and shoot without locking exposure and doing any adjustments when the scene calls for it, but nonetheless he shoots on “P” mode and lets the camera do most of the legwork so he can focus his attention to pushing the shutter at the most key moments. I was fortunate to have had the chance to see Joe speak to a room of only about 30 of us photographers and he is truly fascinating and inspiring to listen speak.
So it appears there isn’t and shouldn’t be any “one size fits all” type answer – there are some who only want to use manual, some who prefer aperture or shutter priority and even a big time celebrity wedding photographer using program auto.
As photographers we are artists and it is our eye that leads us to each and every one of our captures, the camera in itself is just the tool and learning which camera mode to use and when will only make technical side of the job easier and let you focus on capturing those moments!
Which camera mode or modes do you use and why? I’d love to know so please feel free to share in the comments below.