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Aperture Priority or Manual?

Jonathan Jones , Jan 02, 2010; 12:01 a.m.

Over the past 2 years I have moved to more manual settings rather than using the aperture priority during my weddings. I would say I am about 50% Aperture Priority and 50% Manual, and my question is do I slowing things down by going with manual settings? I do spend a little bit of time metering and getting the right settings, but I find I get better results when I shoot in manual mode VS Aperture prioity.
How often do you use manual setings vs aperture priority/shutter priority?


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C Jo Gough - Carmel, CA , Jan 02, 2010; 12:44 a.m.

manual only :: 100%

Richard Cochran , Jan 02, 2010; 12:44 a.m.

It depends on what's changing from one shot to the next. Is lighting changing? Is subject reflectance changing (like switching between having a white dress occupying much of the frame to having a black tux occupying much of the frame)?

If neither is changing, then any mode works fine, and it really doesn't matter. If the lighting is changing but subject reflectance is constant, then auto exposure is wonderful. If subject reflectance is changing but lighting is staying constant, then manual exposure is wonderful, because you can set it once and forget it, whereas autoexposure would require adjustment of exposure compensation to compensate for varying subject reflectance.

In the real world, both factors will eventually change. So the really most important thing is that you always be aware of which mode your camera is in, and how you've got exposure compensation set if it's non-zero. So develop some sort of system and stick to it, and periodically double check your camera's settings. In some ways, it was easier back in the days when all cameras were fully manual, not because manual exposure is inherently better, but simply because in the days before autoexposure came around, you never forgot what mode your camera was in!

If you're in manual mode when the sun passes behind a cloud, and you absent-mindedly think your autoexposure is going to catch it and make the adjustment, you'll have a problem. Or if you just used autoexposure for a bride photo and dialed in +1.5 stops to make that dress white, then you'd better remember to readjust exposure compensation when you shoot those black tuxes on the next shot of a bunch of groomsmen.

Jonathan Jones , Jan 02, 2010; 01:01 a.m.


I think my question is I have to constantly change settings while shooting in manual slowing down my flow or is this normal for most manual shooters. I feel I get a little obsessed with settings while I'm shooting manual, but that may be the nature of the beast.

C Jo Gough - Carmel, CA , Jan 02, 2010; 01:04 a.m.

"do I slowing things down by going with manual settings? I do spend a little bit of time metering and getting the right settings, but I find I get better results when I shoot in manual mode "---

.........quality vs speed ~! I still use a hand meter :[)

David Schilling - Chicago, Illinois , Jan 02, 2010; 01:42 a.m.

Most of the time I'm shooting in manual, when lighting is changing quickly I'll often move to P mode.....shutter priority occasionally and rarely aperture priority. Between chimping and using the histogram, the process has become uber-easy with digital. The only time I'm pulling out my meter any more is to check my ratios for my studio lights.

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Jan 02, 2010; 02:12 a.m.

Shooting manual only slows you down if you are not sure where to put the settings. If the light is changing constantly, you most certainly will be slowed down unless you know what settings to use to follow the changing light. For instance, if a session has 'static' lighting, I use manual--either I know what the settings are without metering, or I meter. When in bright sun, I don't need to meter.

When I have changing light but the changes are the same, such as bright sun to cloudy bright to bright sun and back again, I meter for the cloudy bright (I know the bright sun exposure), and I change accordingly, usually using aperture as the crux of the change.

If I have fast and unpredictable action with the subject going in and out of changing light, I use aperture or shutter priority, whichever is appropriate. There is no way I could even think and move as fast as is required to keep up with that kind of action, particularly when I need to concentrate on where I have to move to next to catch the action, or try to anticipate the subject's next move. This is where you need to be familiar enough with your camera meter's response that you can pretty much work the compensations accordingly.

When I am inside using flash, I am using manual, to conrol shutter drag and the ratio between ambient and flash EV.

Luke Smith , Jan 02, 2010; 05:39 a.m.

I use manual 100%.
Before each sitting or after any change, I'll check my meter, adjust, shoot, check the histogram, then adjust if necessary before continuing.
I just want as much control as possible. If the camera is making the decisions, all I'm doing is composing the shot and that's not all I'm being paid to do. I know Joe McNally and a lot of other big name guys are having the camera make shutter speed decisions, or aperture width decisions, but they can afford to. I wanna be able to take full credit for my images however humble they may be.

Robert Scrivener , Jan 02, 2010; 06:57 a.m.

All of my strobed shots are in manual, with rare exception. If I'm in one room with constant lighting, I've generally taken to shooting manual, unless I feel there is a compelling reason that would keep me from accurately exposing an important series of images if I stayed in M.
When shooting available light I'll drop into usually aperture priority, or shutter priority every now and then.
Outdoors I might even move to program and just adjust exposure compensation. Unless I'm using a strobe, in which case I move to shutter priority.
Everything is where I need it - since the settings for each mode stay the same, I can change my game quickly and usually be on top of the exposure no matter which mode I pick. As long as I've 2x checked my settings in each new scenario, that is.

C Jo - I agree with your summary of quality vs speed. I do challenge the concept of 'quality,' as implied here though. Without speed, or at least a quick eye and good reflexes, it's hard to consistently capture emotional moments while working a wedding. I would much rather capture a technically flawed image that makes people gasp, or smile, or laugh, or cry, than get a well-exposed but boring capture five seconds too late.

Marc Williams , Jan 02, 2010; 07:25 a.m.

Manual indoors with flash.

Aperture Preferred outdoors in most cases. I sometimes use AE lock in changing conditions by metering a mid-tone area and locking it.

I hectic conditions, where I am not trying to create a shallow depth-of-field, I will occasionally resort to Program (modern cameras are pretty smart at figuring out complex settings in a nano second).

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