Auto/Program vs. Manual

Someone recently asked me why I don’t just shoot on automatic all the time if the camera is able to make technical decisions about a picture.  When I first started taking pictures of my kids, I always shot in the automatic mode.  Then, I got a really cool camera that had advanced options like action, close-ups, sunsets, or portraits.  I sort of have to laugh out loud when I say that because they’re really not advanced options at all.  They’re sort of advanced options of the automatic mode–none of which give me the control I need to take the best picture possible.

Since pursuing my love of photography, I have, sometimes painfully, learned how to manually create a good exposure–to use my built-in light meter, my histogram and to look for the light.  While my camera is extremely smart and can achieve an excellent exposure in situations where nice, even lighting is present, these are things the camera cannot fine tune.  I, on the other hand, can.

Here is a demonstration comparing Program Mode (left side) vs. Manual Mode (right side).

Ata-Girl Photography Co. | Auto/Program vs. Manual Mode
Ata-Girl Photography Co. | Auto/Program vs. Manual Mode

For the program/left picture, the camera chose the settings of 1/250 shutter speed, f-stop/aperture 4.0 and ISO 800.  I chose to shoot a very similar photo at 1/500 shutter speed, f-stop/aperture 2.8 and ISO 4000.  This gym has exceptionally bad lighting.  Ideally, I like to shoot all my indoor sports at a shutter speed of at least 1/640th of a second.

By telling my camera to let in more light (f 2.8 and ISO 4000), I was also able to speed up the shutter speed—capture less time/movement.  So, not only is my picture brighter, it has less motion blur in it.  Compare the things in motion in each picture:  the balls, hands, feet and shoelaces.  The picture captured in program mode has motion blur in all those areas, plus it is darker.  While my picture, taken in manual mode, will contain more noise/grain, I have stopped virtually every part of the picture except the hitting hand.  The left picture barely has any detail in the stands area, but I can see the faces of the Cotulla fans in the picture on the right.  My subject’s skin is even brighter.  This fine control is extremely helpful in situations like weddings, sweet 16s and quinceañeras, where there is little, if any, light.

If you’re a DSLR owner, I encourage you to get to know your camera and how to make a proper exposure.  You can start by test driving the coolest DSLR simulator ever!  Your pictures will thank you for it.

Until next time, be positive, be happy, be healthy, and don’t forget to be photographed.



san antonio wedding photographers ata-girl photography since 2010I started Ata-Girl Photography Co. in 2010 and I am one of the premier San Antonio wedding photographers who is available for local and destination weddings. In addition to wedding photography, I also specialize in high school seniors and family portraits in San Antonio and the surrounding areas. I am a professional photographer who enjoys documenting the important milestones and captivating moments in people’s lives. I firmly believe that the unique set of circumstances I have faced in life has prepared me to take a personal and genuine interest in my photography clients. When I’m not photographing a wedding, family or high school senior, I enjoy watching my daughter play softball, hiking, cycling and listening to Elvis!

4 thoughts on “Auto/Program vs. Manual”

  1. I started shooting manual this year at the football games. I used to just use "P" mode, but now that I have a lens the is capable of f/2.8, I am very happy with Manual. Thanks for the lesson.

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