8 Situations When Manual Exposure Is the Best Choice

Some photographers still believe it’s important to shoot in manual mode, no matter what situation they find themselves in. As long as the correct exposure is obtained, it does not matter if this is done manually or partly by the camera itself. But sometimes the manual is indeed the best choice.

Modern cameras provide the ability to automatically set part of the exposure settings. This allows you to get the correct exposure much faster. If you wish, you can also make all settings yourself in manual mode. The camera displays an indication if the correct exposure is reached or how much you need to adjust to get the exposure. All of this is based on the measurement by the camera itself.

In a way, manually setting the correct exposure turns your modern camera into an old camera. You use the camera like the first cameras with a built-in light meter. It will be necessary to dial in the aperture and shutter speed until the settings match the light being measured.

Automatic or manual exposure, the result is the same

Instead of dialing in each parameter yourself, it’s much easier and faster to use an automatic mode. Simply choose the aperture and let the camera set the corresponding shutter speed for you. Or choose a shutter speed and let the camera set the aperture. With modern cameras, it is even possible to use auto-ISO if desired.

There are cases where the amount of light measured does not show the best possible exposure. Just like in manual mode, automatic exposure modes give you the option to fix things. This is exposure compensation, giving full control over exposure, just like in manual mode.

Photography is about creating a beautiful image, not about setting the right exposure. By leaving some settings to the camera, you will have more time to find the best way to photograph your subject and choose a good composition.

Yet there are also situations where manual tuning is the best choice. I have eight situations in which the manual exposure setting does indeed offer the most control over exposure.

1. Learn more about the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO

If you’re a beginner photographer, you might want to learn more about the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. By using manual mode, you have the opportunity to practice how one parameter change can be compensated for by the other.

Just be sure to only practice if time is available, as it will take longer to get the right exposure. If you don’t have time, just use one of the auto exposure settings. Don’t be ashamed to do it. It’s more important to get the picture, instead of how you set the exposure.

2. When using the flash indoors

Using the flash indoors is perhaps one of the most important reasons to set the camera manually. To understand this, you need to know the basics of flash photography.

Exposure settings will determine how much ambient light will appear in the image. The flash will take care of the exposure of the subject.

If the room you are in has a constant amount of light, you should adjust the exposure to ambient light once and leave it there. This way exposure settings will not be influenced if a bright window appears in the frame.

It’s the same if you’re in a studio. In this case, you don’t want ambient light to appear in the image. Since the flash is the main source of light, you must adjust the exposure to the intensity of the flash. The best way is to set the exposure manually.

3. Indoor shooting without flash

If you don’t want to use the flash indoors or aren’t allowed to, a manual exposure setting is often the best choice. Indoors, the light is usually constant, which means you can set the exposure once and maintain it.

Again, the settings will not be influenced if a bright light source or a very dark area appears in the frame. But you should be aware to check the exposure for each room you use. After all, the amount of light can be different.

Again, when shooting in a wide variety of rooms, switching to an automatic setting can prove more flexible. This can avoid having to change settings again and again.

4. Panning

The amount of light depends on the angle to the sunlight. If you are shooting panoramas, this angle can change a lot and the light meter may show a different reading between shots.

To avoid a different exposure setting between different images, it is best to determine the average exposure and set it manually. Although the dynamic range of modern cameras allows for some flexibility, it is recommended that you keep a manual exposure for each panorama you shoot.

5. Night Photography

Depending on the location, it may be necessary to switch to manual mode when shooting at night. If there is enough artificial light available you can probably use one of the automatic settings, but in dark environments the light meter will try to expose for a mid gray leading to overexposed images.

If you want to shoot star trails or a set of images to stack, a fixed exposure setting is also the best fit. The last thing you want is a change in exposure settings if the light meter is influenced by a random light source.

6. When the light can change suddenly

As we all know, an automatic adjustment will act on any light change at once. This is one of the advantages of automatic settings. But if you don’t want the exposure to be influenced by a sudden change in light, you should switch to manual mode.

An example of this situation is light painting. Fireworks are another great example of these situations. By switching to manual mode, you can set the best possible exposure, and it won’t change if light is added to the landscape.

7, long exposure photography

Most cameras still have a 30 second limit, although nowadays some offer 60 seconds or even longer. If you need an exposure that exceeds this limit, you need a special manual setting. This is the bulb setting.

The bulb setting allows you to take the extremely long exposures that are necessary with a neutral density filter. When the exposure time does not exceed the limit, automatic exposure adjustment may be possible. Still, it might be a good idea to switch to manual. This gives you more flexibility and control, as does the situation where the light changes during exposure.

8. Just because you like using manual mode

I saved this one for last. You don’t need any reason to shoot in manual mode. If you like this way of operating the camera, you should. There’s no need to justify your choice, and you don’t need an empty excuse like having total control over your camera.

Simply adjust your camera as you wish. The only thing that matters is the result, no matter how you got it.

How do you prefer to set the exposure? Do you use the possibilities that your camera gives you or do you still use the old-fashioned camera? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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