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7 Reasons Why Professional Photographers Use Manual Mode

7 Reasons Why Professional Photographers Use Manual Mode

Before we see why Professional Photographers use Manual Mode, have you ever thought what you lost these many days or weeks or months or years by not taking leap into the Manual Mode?

It drives several people crazy to think outside Auto Mode. Why? May be there are too many options which are overwhelming? May be the concepts like Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed is going over the head? May be some other reason…

Remember that, nothing comes for free. If you have to grow as a photographer, then you have to learn Manual Mode. If it overwhelms you, then start with Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority and build on top of that. Get out of the Auto mode first…

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Whether you are into Landscape photography, Bird Photography, Wildlife Photography, Macro Photography or Portrait Photography, you have to take control over the Camera to create those unique and artistic photographs.

You might want to debate that some of awesome effects are possible with Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority Mode. For sure, it is possible. But the problem is you do not have complete control over your creative aspects in both these modes.

That is , Shutter Priority gives you control only over Shutter Speed which makes you to lose control over the Depth of Field (DOF) and the ISO.

On the other hand, Aperture gives you control only over Depth of Field (DOF) which makes you to lose control over the Shutter Speed and the ISO.

You can safely say that Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority are subsets of Manual Mode.

The 7 reasons that I describe here will just give you a hint on what you can achieve by using Manual Mode. There is no bound to what you can do with Manual Mode. That is the main reason why Professional Photographers choose the Manual Mode. Their main aim is to create unique and artistic images to stand out of the crowd.

Reason #1: The Milky Effect in the Waterfall Photographs

This one reason is more than enough for you to choose Manual Mode over Auto Mode.

The milky white effect in the waterfalls is achieved using long exposure technique:

  • Slower shutter speeds like 1 sec or 2 sec and so on depending on the speed at which water is falling

  • Smaller aperture values like f/8 to f/11 to create Deep Depth of Field to keep everything in focus

  • Smaller the ISO value better it is, to reduce the noise 

In summary, you need to control Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Don’t forget to use the Tripod and Neutral Density filter.

Manual Mode and Slow Shutter Speed gives milky effect to Manabezho waterfalls in Porcupine Mountains

Manual Mode with Slow Shutter Speed gives milky effect to Manabezho waterfalls in Porcupine Mountains.
Nikon D7100, 50mm, f/9, 1/2 sec, ISO 100

Check out 7 easy tips to create stunning photographs of waterfalls.

Reason #2: The Magical Seascapes with Long Exposure

Another important reason to choose Manual Mode over Auto Mode.

Most of the seascapes you see and love are having serene waters isn’t it? There are no ripples in the water and the brilliant colors of Sunrise or Sunset are reflected from the water to make it more magical.

It is indeed very simple to achieve that effect. Just use long exposure technique:

  • Slower shutter speeds like 1 sec or 2 sec or even 15 sec to get rid of the ripples in the wave

  • Smaller aperture values like f/8 to f/11 to create Deep Depth of Field to keep everything in focus

  • Smaller the ISO value better it is, to reduce the noise 

Don’t forget to use the Tripod and Neutral Density filter.

However, you may have to get up early and stay late for Sunrise and Sunset though 🙂

Sunset at Lake Superior. Magical Seascape Using Manual Mode and Long Exposure.

Magical Seascape of Sunset at Lake Superior using Manual Mode and Long Exposure.
Nikon D7100, 50mm, f/11, 1/5 sec, ISO 100

Reason #3: The Motion Blur in Action Photographs

The waterfalls and the seascape that we discussed just now, also have the motion blur. The water is basically blurred in both the techniques.

The motion blur I am referring here is about action photographs. For instance, you want to create motion blur of a moving vehicle or flying bird or running animal or sports.

The idea of creating motion blur is to select slower shutter speed than the actual speed of the action 

For instance, if the subject is moving at 1/125th of a second, then any shutter speed less than 1/125th of a second will create the motion blur. It is that simple!

You may have to take several photographs to really know how fast the action is, so that you can create reasonable motion blur. Using too slow shutter speed may mask the entire action or using too high shutter speed will freeze the action.

Mallard Duck Bathing. Motion Blur using Manual Mode with Slow Shutter Speed.

Wings of a Female Mallard Duck causes a Motion Blur due to slightly Slow Shutter Speed.
Nikon D7100, 300mm + TC 2.0, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO 640

Reason #4: The Bokeh Effect or Shallow DOF

Needless to say bokeh effect is always desirable in portraits. Whether it is human, birds, animals/pets or anything, shallow Depth of Field really makes the subject stand out.

 Choosing the maximum aperture value with the lowest possible ISO makes the portrait photographs or wildlife photographs look great. Remember that lower ISO value matters a lot since the entire frame is filled with the subject and any noise can ruin the photograph.

Green Heron perching on a fence. Manual mode with maximum aperture causes Bokeh Effect or Shallow Depth Of Field

Manual mode with maximum aperture causes Bokeh Effect or Shallow Depth Of Field with low ISO preserving all the details on Green Heron.
Nikon D7100, 300mm, f/2.8, 1/2000 sec, ISO 100

Reason #5: The End-to-End Sharpness or Deep DOF in Landscapes

On the flip-side, landscape photographs need deeper Depth of Field. You want the foreground, middleground and the background in perfect focus.

You can achieve this using the smaller aperture values like f/9 to f/11, however remember that very small aperture values like f/16 to f/22 tend to have these problems:

  • makes the entire photograph softer

  • introduces distortion artefacts due to smaller opening of the lens 

Many photographers believe that if you choose smallest aperture values like f/22,  you will get the maximum depth of field and maximum sharpness. It is far from truth. It is a separate topic.

To really get the deep DOF, you may have to take multiple photographs by focusing on foreground, middleground and background. Later stack them up to create one photograph.

In such cases you need to have the perfect exposure for all the photographs which call for Manual Mode.

Road to Lake of Clouds. Deep Depth of Field makes foreground to background look sharp

The Road and the beautiful fall foliage look sharp throughout the photograph due to Deep Depth of Field. Note that I have used only f/9 aperture value.
Nikon D7100, 50mm, f/9, 1/8 sec, ISO 100

Reason #6: The HDR (High Dynamic Range) Landscape Photographs

High Dynamic Range is created by combining two or more photographs taken at different exposures.

Several times, it is quite possible that the Landscapes have too much of a contrast that Camera Sensor cannot record in single photograph. In such cases, if you take only one photograph, you will either underexpose the darker areas or overexpose the brighter areas.

In order to capture the real contrast that exists in the landscapes, you have to expose once for darker areas and once for brighter areas. Sometimes, may be more than two to capture various vibrant colors.

This calls for Manual mode since you have to manually change the exposure but keep the Aperture and ISO constant.

Lake of Clouds HDR or High Dynamic Range Image using Manual Mode

HDR or High Dynamic Range Image of Sunset at Lake of Clouds. I made this photograph with 2 exposures
Nikon D7100, 50mm, f/10, 1/6 sec, ISO 100

Reason #7: Using Your DSLR for What it is Worth

It is very important to note that your DSLR is much more worth than just the image quality. Point taken that, the DSLR auto outsmarts the point-and-shoot and the smartphones.

DSLR is made for creating professional grade photographs. It is a way of tapping into your creative potential. Embrace it today and you will never look back.


Manual Mode lets you use the real potential of a DSLR. Don’t let your creativity die down just with the Auto Mode.

Have fun with the Manual Mode. Push yourself to create something unique and magical. Tap into your creative potential and wow yourself from today.

Learn photography at your leisure. [thrive_2step id=’2953′]Beginners Guide to Photography. Free eBook on Photography for Beginners. Best Photography Free eBook. Written by PrathapDownload Beginner’s Guide to Photography.[/thrive_2step]

Convinced? Want to learn how to use manual mode? Great!

If you are a Nikon User, read 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode in Nikon DSLR Cameras.

If you are a Canon User, read 8 Easy Steps to Learn Manual Mode in Canon DSLR Cameras.

How long have you been using Auto mode? Have you tried to switch to Manual Mode anytime? Do you have more reasons to switch to Manual Mode? I would be glad to listen…

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Prathap is a professional nature photographer and founder of Nature Photography Simplified blog. He aims to simplify every photography concept to help beginners and amateur photographers.

Download his highly recommended FREE eBook "Bird Photography – 10 Mistakes and Solutions" which has been instrumental in helping thousands of bird photographers.

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This Post Has 20 Comments
  1. Good article of things you can do, but the title of the article is misleading. Recent polling and surveys have shown that MOST professional photographers DO NOT use manual mode. Most use aperture priority or shutter priority. Manual mode is great if you are shooting something different than the norm. The other modes are great when you are shooting something that is usually consistently the same, where this is the case with most professionals i.e. a professional portrait taker can get the results they want consistanly by using aperture mode only since the subjects don’t change much, a landscape photographer can get proper results with shutter priority mode as well as a sports photographer with shutter priority. Only if there are serious variables in their usual equation will they go to manual. It is just too time consuming to make all the adjustments.

    1. Thanks a lot for detailed comment Mark 🙂 I can understand your concern about the title. However, here are few points that I want you to consider.
      1. Professional photographers who are into portrait photography, have to manually set the exposure as the studio setup will generally have many light sources like Key light, fill light, and catch light sources.
      2. The sports photographers may rely more on the shutter priority for their tasks.
      3. Wildlife photographers have a mix, with many of them using Aperture Priority (including me now-a-days). However, manual mode is a must to know and use during the sunrise and sunset photographs.
      4. Landscape photographers have to use the manual mode most of the times. Most beautiful photographs of sunrise and sunset needs slower shutter speed, minimum aperture values combined with low ISO.
      All said, it is individual’s choice at the end of the day 🙂 I am definitely not denying your comments. But I feel, the serious professional photographers and the masters of photography have always relied on Manual Mode.

    2. I totally agree with Mark Z on this subject… everything said is 100% accurate.. However, The response that Prathap gives is very tactfully stated and 100% true also.. With that being said, I think the title should in fact have been called something like ” 7 Reasons why Professional Photographers Use Manual Mode ” simply leave off the “ALWAYS” because always is not accurate.. That’s my take on the title… The title was in fact the only error I saw in the whole article, there may be many photographers that shoot only in Manual mode but there are far more that often utilize the very sophisticated and awesome exposure meters that are out there now days..GREAT ARTICLE by the way!! 🙂

  2. hi sir,
    your photography very nice.
    I like bird plz suggest me.which camera /lens better.
    plz reply me

    1. Hi Santosh,
      I would recommend you to consider buying a decent cropped sensor camera and a lens that can go upto 300mm to begin with. If you read my eBook and my articles you would see that I usually recommend using the camera and lens that you already have. As you get more and more practical knowledge with the current set of equipment, you will be able to define the requirements for yourselves. That way, you are sure what you want and you know that you are investing in the right gear. I hope this helps. Good Luck.

  3. I always use Manual Mode for my wildlife photography as you can change your shutter speed very easily if you find that the exposure meter shows either over exposed or under exposed. I have the D7100 and use either a 70-300mm lens or my 80-400mm lens. I usually have my aperture set to F7.1 and find that it gives a good depth of field to ensure that the bird/animal/insect stands out. Depending upon the conditions with light, e.g. whether it is sunny or cloudy, I set the ISO to as low as possible in order to get a noise free shot. I think you are quite right to suggest to people that they use Manual Mode as it does give you so much more control. Thank you for your interesting article.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! Rosie Kind. I have used Nikon D7100 for quite some time. It’s a fine camera. Are you getting good bokeh with f/7.1? I guess not. I believe you are stopping down to get sharper results? I would suggest you to try with wider aperture and sharpen it in post to see if it helps. This will allow you to get faster shutter speeds in low light. Setting the ISO to low is the best thing you can do with cropped sensors. They are notoriously noisy.
      Thank you!

  4. Prathap, as a new unexperieced photographer, I find your blogs extremely helpful. Thank you for the advise and as of today, I shall be looking out for more blogs from you.

  5. Thank you Prathap your information is eye opening I don’t have any experience in photography although I’m owning Canon 1100D with lens 18-55mm. Now Im planning to upgrade since Ive got basic knowledge. God bless!

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