Shooting In Manual
Will It Improve Your Images?
Simply Put: Shooting in manual will not improve your images.

I think most photographers feel or think that shooting in Manual (M) gives them total control of the image. While yes it can allow to control every aspect available for the capture you still have to know Exposure Values (EV) and Depth of Field (DOF). Of course, that is taking for granted, that you have mastered composition.

Although I do shoot in manual, my camera is usually set on "S" for shutter priority. But I never make an exposure until I have processed the data shown in the viewfinder of the EV & DOF mix. Since I primarily shoot for the desired DOF I want in the final scene, then that takes precedence in what the EV will be. I will adjust my shutter speed till I get the desired f stop and if it means tweaking the ISO to get there, then that also will be done.

As a back-up, I keep my camera in "S" just in case I grab it up quick and have to shoot without having any time to set up the EV. That way I will at least get a decently exposed shot and it wont be blurry since I would have previously used the camera at a hand holdable shutter speed.

Having the camera already on 1/60 of a second and then letting the meter determine the f stop is standard Shutter Priority operation. I also add to the process by determining in my mind and with the DOF Preview button to see if it is the desired DOF I want in the final scene. If not, then I will adjust the shutter speed and the ISO if needed to allow the camera to record the capture at a good exposure using the f stop I desire.

Every aspect about my exposures is as thought out or planned just as if I were shooting in manual. The super advantage is when just made a capture in manual and then wanted to quickly take a few others without having the time to "match needles". Even if I want to over or under expose the scene, I will simply move the camera to where it has an EV that I would rather use, then press the EV lock button and re-frame the scene and make the capture at an under or overexposed EV from what the camera suggested I should use.

A Walk-through of The Process
In this example image, I start with a casual walk around the Fire Truck noticing elements that I wish to capture. My camera is set on Shutter priority and at 1/200 of a second from the last exposure I had made.

After I framed up this scene, I notice that the EV is going to be slightly underexposed at 1/200 @ f/4. And I really don't want to shoot at f/4 anyway, so I turn the shutter speed down till I am just getting to the mid range of the lens apertures at about f/9.

After I press the DOF Preview, I can see this is about where I want the DOF of this image.

Since I use average metering most the time, with some priority given to the focus spot in the viewfinder, I see that this scene will in fact meter the truck correctly and leave the background areas not only out of focus but also quite a bit lighter.

In a quick recap ...
after composure of the scene
I basically determine the DOF I want, then adjust the shutter speed and ISO if needed, until I get the aperture I wish to use. I also process in my mind as to what in the scene the camera meter is going to balance properly at the 18% neutral gray. If I feel I need to exposure more to bring out a particular shadow detail, then I will move the camera towards the dark and lock the exposure once i see it change to the values I would prefer. Or if I need to make a bright scene darker, then I will point the camera to the light areas to lock those EV values.

You will be no more knowledgeable photographer using the camera in "manual" than you will be in "auto" mode if you do not have a understanding and good knowledge of the factors of an EV. If you don't know the results from an image shot at f/4 compared to shot at f/14, then manual mode is useless to you. If you don't know why you would shoot at 1/30 of a second or 1/1000, then manual mode is useless to you. If you don't know how to adjust for subjects in bright sun or some other difficult lighting combinations, then manual mode is useless to you.

You can however, make adjustments to your camera in manual mode to make those certain EV attributes happen... but that is based on you knowing and having the knowledge first.

As a result ...
It's not about you using the camera in manual mode, but it's about you knowing your camera, knowing how to change Exposure Values in your mind, and just using your camera the best way that suits you to capture at those values.

Learn Light, Learn Exposure Values & ISO Speeds...
You will master your camera and your craft far much more than shooting in manual because you think it means something special.

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