I’m on a massive email reflector (think it’s got 16K members) for photographers participating in Jasmine Star’s ReStart program.
Participants range from shooting pros to absolute newcomers. One of the most recent discussions came from a newcomer who asked what mode most people used when shooting weddings. Almost all of the discussion was about modes of shooting other than AUTOMATIC which is usually shown as a green square on the MODE dial and no professional would ever shoot on automatic. (Many do but nobody would admit to it online LOL.)
The basic nature of the question tells you that the writer was really, really new but we all had to start somewhere so lots of folks waded in with their opinions. Most of the commentary was pretty good but I think most writers missed a couple of important points.
So let’s look at MASP which stands for MANUAL, APERTURE, SHUTTER and PROGRAM modes. (Canon cameras show TV and AV for time value and aperture value. it’s a Japanese thing.)
First surprise is M, A, S and P all can yield an identical image when it comes to exposure. It all depends on how you want to get from here to there.
For example most wedding photographers (and a lot of pros shooting other things than just weddings) shoot in A (Av) mode as it allows the photographer to set the size of the lens aperture (and thus control the amount of depth of field which is the amount of the image that is in focus). You’ve seen tons of shots taken in aperture mode. The typical shot is one where the bride or bride and groom are in sharp focus and the background is not. This differentiation between what’s in focus and what isn’t is what makes the bridal couple seem to pop out of the photo background.
To get the correct exposure the camera tries to find a shutter speed that based on the aperture set by the photographer will result in a properly exposed image. Works pretty well most of the time.
When it comes to shutter priority mode, this is the mode that is favoured by sports photographers. In S mode the photographer determines what shutter speed to use. For example action sports photographers will want a high shutter speed to stop or freeze the action. But if the photographer is shooting a chess game, they might wish to use a low shutter speed to allow the camera to automatically adjust the aperture to keep everything in the image in focus. If you’re shooting your kids, you might want to be shooting in S mode.
Back in the old days, there were a bunch of New York photographers known as the f/22 group. They only shot at f/22 using box cameras with film. Shooting at f/22 even in daylight with slow film meant every shot had to be taken with the camera on a tripod (to prevent camera shake showing up and blurring the image) and long time exposures were the norm. As you can image the f/22 group didn’t shoot sports but mainly architecture as the buildings didn’t move during the 20 or 30 seconds needed for a time exposure.
But what about P (program) mode? Isn’t is just like automatic?
Well, yes and no. In P mode the camera does set both the aperture and the shutter speed in an attempt to find settings that will yield a properly exposed image. In P mode unlike automatic, the flash will not fire automatically and you have to tell the camera whether or not to add the flash to the shot. One advantage of P mode is you can vary the aperture/shutter speed combinations as there is no one correct exposure when it comes to setting you camera controls.
Let’s pretend the camera in P mode has set the aperture to f/8 and the shutter speed to 1/125 of a second. That is the equivalent to f/5.6 and 1/250 of a second. You’d also get the same exposure if your set the controls to f/4 at 1/500 of a second or f/2.8 at 1/1000. Notice I said you’d get the same exposure. In other words the brightness of the images would be the same but the depth of field would change in every image and so would your ability to stop action or allow it to blur.
Some photographers only shoot in manual mode. Why? Because they can individually control the aperture of the lens and the shutter speed of the camera.
They still have to set the controls to the right settings to get a properly exposed image and they don’t allow the camera to make any adjustments whatsoever when in manual mode. Some even use external hand-held light meters for precise setting control.
Why not always shoot in one of the automatic modes and let the camera help out?
For most shooting, this isn’t a bad idea. Letting the camera automatically set either the shutter speed (in aperture mode) or the aperture (in shutter speed mode) or both (in program mode) can be very helpful and speed up getting the right exposure for the scene you’re shooting but the automatic modes aren’t necessarily foolproof. (BTW Joe Buissink, the wedding photographer to the stars shoots almost exclusively in P mode!)
For example, if you’re in any of the automatic modes and your bridge and groom are standing in front of a large window your camera, on an automatic mode, is likely going to expose for the bright light coming through the window thus badly underexposing your couple. This is not a good thing and the exposure is likely to be so off so much that even Lightroom or Photoshop can’t save the shot.
But there’s another solution.
In the photo to the right there’s a circle drawn around the exposure compensation button.
The exposure compensation button overrides the automatic setting the camera is producing and allows you to modify the setting.
In other words you can make the image brighter (which would help with our backlit wedding couple) or darker (which you might want to do if you’re shooting a sunset) and thus save the shot.
One issue with exposure compensation is you must remember to turn it off after you’ve used it as it will continue to apply the compensation to all future shots.
This is one of the reasons some photographers only shoot in manual. The exposure compensation button doesn’t work in manual mode. Manual is manual and what you set is what you get and the camera can’t do anything to your setting. So for very tricky lighting situations where the lighting maybe varying a great deal (I’m thinking of a rock and roll stage show for example.) manual may well be the best mode. Lots of photographers who use flash on and off camera shoot in manual mode for that same level of total control.
Back in the days when I was a young man shooting for a newspaper, there weren’t any automatic professional cameras. The little point and shoots like the Kodak Brownie had fixed aperture and shutter speed settings and that’s why every box of film had an exposure guide printed on the side. Worked pretty good and was a lot simpler.