What Does Manual Mode Mean And Do I Have To Learn It? (Yes You Do)

What Does Manual Mode Mean And Do I Have To Learn It? (Yes You Do)

Lots of opinions on manual mode. In this post I will give the sensible answer to this question. This is the facts.

Manual mode is the mode where you set the aperture, shutter and ISO when you take a photo. You decide all the camera settings, not the camera. You should learn how to use manual mode as there are times when you will need it, and understanding manual mode helps you learn the exposure triangle.

OK – so yes you do need to learn how to use it, but the good news is that you do not have to use it all the time.

I will expand on this, and answer some related questions.

But first, where did this question come from?

Well, let me give you an extract from my weekly email on the subject – more on how you can receive a weekly email from me later on in this post.

“Why am I writing about this now? Simple. I saw something this week that annoyed me. And this is still one of the most frequently asked questions, which I would like to answer here, explaining why I am absolutely correct in what I am saying.

Should I Shoot In Manual Mode?

If you want to yes. If you do not want to, then no.

It is that simple.

There is a still an amount of disinformation and snobbery about manual mode, yes people still say that to be a “real photographer” you have to shoot in manual mode.

I do not shoot in manual mode, so according to these people I am not a real photographer. Whatever. If people want to think that, then up to them. I really do not care.

And neither should you.

What about AV/ TV?

Sorry – AV is aperture value mode, aperture priority mode, AV Mode – choose the aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed. TV is time value mode, shutter priority mode. Choose the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture.

Manual mode? Choose the aperture and shutter speed. Not a huge difference then is it?

If you take photos in manual mode and use the camera’s suggested metering reading, then how much difference is this from using AV Mode, where you select the aperture and the camera selects the shutter speed?

Not a lot really, is it? You are using the camera to help you. Do one less thing.

But Manual Mode still has more credibility???

Manual to AV/ TV is not a huge leap, they are virtually the same. And if you use exposure compensation with AV or TV Modes you are making the same adjustments that you would/ could do in manual mode, you are doing pretty much the same thing, just in a different way.

Manual Mode is as valid as AV Mode, which is as valid as TV Mode. Not more valid. Not better. Just another way of getting the exposure. Just another tool to be used when needed, or wanted.

When should you use manual mode?

When you want to – if you love using manual mode that is great. Knock yourself out and carry on.

In tricky lighting – sometimes you just need to use manual mode. The lighting is tricky, and fooling the cameras meter, and you are just not getting the results you want.

To get a specific effect – want to overexpose a scene by 5 stops? Manual mode might be the thing for you.

But let’s not forget, you can, most of the time, get the same results with AV and TV Modes.

Why you should LEARN manual mode

Learning manual mode is a great way to practically learn the exposure triangle. And I am all for that. We should all know how to use manual mode. And we should all learn the exposure triangle. You never know when you might have to use manual mode. I am saying have to here, for whatever reason.

But you do not always have to use manual mode. Learn it sure, but use what you want to when you want to.

I don’t use manual mode. I do if I need to, which is not that often, or if I want to, which is even less often. I am happy using AV Mode, and Program Mode when the fancy takes me.”

That was an extract from the email sent to my subscribers. That answers the question but there are some other, related questions that I want to answer as well. Which I will do right here.

How do I learn manual mode?

Practise. It is that simple. Practise. Set your camera to manual mode, go out and take photos of stuff. And when you start to do this wonderful things can happen.

Start by taking a photo using camera settings suggested by the camera for the correct exposure. Have a look at what you get. And then play around, change the aperture or the shutter to under and overexpose photos. Take a load of photos at different exposures. Experiment. Play. Learn.

Change the shutter, the aperture, whichever you like. Up to you. Or one then the other.

When you get back to base, put the photos where you work on them and look at what you have got. Study the photos and you will see that the “correct exposure” selected by the camera might not be the best exposure.

This is the beginning of the journey into creative, photography, technical photography, perhaps even advanced photography.

And it starts with just doing this.

And do you know what – I am going to write about this very question next week. How do I learn to use manual mode?

When should you use manual mode?

When you want to, or when you need to. Again, up to you. I said in my email, you might want to overexpose a photo by 5 stops. Now I can’t imagine why, but the point is that the camera meter tells you what the camera settings are for a correct exposure, but in manual mode you can do whatever you want.

Whatever you want.

Does the camera meter work in manual mode?

Yes it does. But all it is doing is telling you what the camera settings are that you have selected, and if the exposure for those settings is correct, or how much underexposed or overexposed the photo will be with those chosen settings.

The camera meter has no influence over the settings that you use, no influence on how correct or not the exposure is.

Do photographers always use manual mode?

Some do. Some do not. And that is just fine. There are so many different situations, so many different subjects. Some suit manual mode, some do not.

When you are working in a studio you might well use manual mode. You are in a controlled environment, and should have time, and also full control over the lighting. This means that you can use manual mode to get the exposure 100% bang on.

And that is the aim with every photo that we take by the way – to get the exposure the very best that we can.

But if you are taking photos of fast moving subjects say, you might choose shutter priority mode.

I say might in both examples because this is not an absolute, this is an option. It is down to the photographer. You can photograph fast moving things using manual mode, you can take photos in a studio using AV mode.

Do professional photographers shoot in auto mode?

Some do, some do not. Again, it depends what you are photographing, and the circumstances in which you are photographing something.

All the camera manufacturers have many different modes for a reason, to give photographers the tools they need to get the photos they want. These different modes help photographers, and each mode has a time and a place to be used.

As does manual.

I don’t use the basic zone modes, I only ever use aperture or shutter priority.

Do wedding photographers shoot in manual?

Some do. Some do not. I didn’t for the wedding I did. I used AV Mode (yes I checked my Lightroom catalogue). But yet again it depends. In consistent lighting you are fine in manual mode, and a seasoned pro will probably use manual mode whenever he/ she can. But there will be times when manual mode just does not make sense.

In variable light you have to keep an eye on things, and that is where aperture priority and shutter priority can come into play.

But it really does depend.

What is the difference between auto mode and manual mode?

Well there are many auto modes, fully auto and semi-auto. In all of these modes the camera has an influence over one or more of the camera settings selected.

In manual mode it does not. In manual mode the camera tells you how much underexposed or overexposed a photo is and no more.

Is manual photography better?

No. Not necessarily. It is not better. And it is not worse.

You can take exactly the same photo using aperture priority or shutter priority modes.

Sometimes though you need manual mode, and using manual mode you can get a better photo. A better exposed photo.

Do you have to use manual mode to be a real photographer?

No. This is the one that really bugs me, the myth that to be a real photographer you have to use manual mode. But you should know HOW to use manual mode.

Do I have to set the white balance in manual mode?

No. You can use Auto if you want to. Or you can set the white balance yourself. Again it is up to you.

What do I do?

For my commercial work I use AV Mode most of the time. I set the ISO myself, normally to 100, giving me the highest quality. I set my camera to AV Mode, meaning that I set the aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed to give me the correct exposure.

If the lighting is tricky I will tend to adjust the exposure using exposure compensation.

And I will use manual mode, if I need to.

Why do I not use manual mode all the time?

Simple. My priority is image quality, and correct depth of field. What I am photographing is not moving, and my camera is on a tripod. So aperture priority works for me.

And I need to get the photos as quickly as I can as my time on site can be limited. I am talking on construction sites by the way. Or in people’s homes.

There is little point me using manual mode, all it does is give me one more thing to do, as in choosing the shutter speed, which will change according to the lighting.

When do I use manual mode?

I will use manual mode when the lighting is tricky. And also when I want to. And that is for my personal work, when I have time to think and create stuff just for me, taking photos for pleasure with no commercial pressures.

That is when I may use manual mode. But I might not.

The video of the blog post

Yes, there is a video for this blog post which you can watch right here on my You Tube Channel.


I hope that you have got this by now. Manual mode is just a mode to use to take photos where you set things. You take control and responsibility away from the camera. You choose the camera settings, The success or otherwise of a photo is down to you. Well it is but you will probably be guided by the meter in the camera anyway.

Manual mode is a tool to be used by photographers when needed. Aperture and shutter priority modes are equally valid tools, just different, working in a different way.

If you want to use manual mode all the time great. If you do not then great too.

But learn manual mode, so it is there for you when you need it. And at some point you will trust me.


I started off this post by saying that I wrote about this in an email to my subscribers. If you want to subscribe to receive weekly musings from me by email then fill in the box on my website, or click on this link.

And for entrusting me with your email address I will thank you by sending you my splendid Lightroom thing, “My Top 20 Tips To Help You Work Smarter and Faster In Lightroom“. And it really is rather good, if I do say so myself.

My podcast

Yes I have a podcast. It is the Photography Explained Podcast. Check it out on all good podcast providers, and also the Photography Explained Podcast website.

Please, any questions get in touch via my website. It would be great to hear from you.

Cheers from me Rick

Rick McEvoy
Rick McEvoy Photography
BIPP qualified logo ABIPP

Rick McEvoy

I am Rick McEvoy, an architectural and construction photographer living and working in the South of England. I create high quality architectural photography and construction photography imagery of the built environment for architects and commercial clients. I do not photograph weddings, families, small people or pets - anything that is alive, moves or might not do as I ask!! I am also the creator of the Photography Explained Podcast, available on all major podcast providers. I have a blog on my website where I write about my work and photography stuff. Rick McEvoy ABIPP, MCIOB

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