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Why do Most Photographers Prefer Manual Over Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority?

Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority offer the benefit of speed and convenience in shooting. They are advantageous when shooting moving subjects such as in Sports Photography, Wedding Photography  or Events (birthdays, baptism, parties, etc.). Still, a number or even a majority of photographers in certain segments such as Landscape or Commercial Photography still prefer the Manual mode.

Let’s look at the various reasons why Manual mode is often preferred:

  1. 1.       High Contrast Scene

This is a situation where the subject may be facing the camera and the light source is behind him. This creates a shadowed subject with the back ground too bright. A sample of this may be a subject sitting by the window inside a room and the sun light filtering in through the window. Or perhaps a beach or a desert scene with the sun behind the subject.  Using an Aperture Priority, the camera meter is often fooled by the bright backlight and will wrongly expose the scene. This can be compensated using Exposure Compensation. But often a Manual setting maybe faster to use.

  1. 2.       Using External Flash/Strobe

In a studio setup or areas where the light source is controlled using flash or strobe, Manual mode has to be used in order to dial in the exposure correctly. An Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority will not work since the camera meter is only reading the ambient lighting. So in Commercial Photography — product, food, and other subjects that use a lighting setup — the camera is set at Manual setting.

  1. 3.       Silhouettes, Low Key or High Key Shots

Manual setting is more convenient to use when shooting certain creative shots so that a special desired outcome will be produced — such as under-exposing or over-exposing a subject to produce a low or high key image. You can still achieve this through Aperture or Shutter Priority by dialling in the compensation.

  1. 4.       Creating Panoramic Photos

When shooting a series of photos to be stitched together to create a panoramic photo, the images must be exposed evenly. By using Manual mode, the exposure is locked in the desired setting. However if you use Aperture Priority, then the exposure may change as you move the camera position. This is because the lighting may also change when you move to a different position. When you stitch the image together, the adjacent photos may have a different lighting or exposure which makes the final image undesirable.

  1. 5.       Using ND Filters with 9 Stops (Like Lee’s Big Stopper)

When using this type of filter, it is best to compose the image, focus, then compensate for the 9 stops difference in Manual mode and only then place the filter. If the camera is set on Aperture Priority, the camera will have a hard time reading the scene’s exposure due to the 9 stop difference.

  1. 6.       Trained in Manual Setting

If you have been trained in Manual setting since the start of your photography hobby or career, then it would be hard to change this habit– specially if you are comfortable using this mode. Shifting to a new mode will take some time to adjust to, as you get used to changing the Exposure Compensation while shooting.


In summary, the main reason why most photographers prefer Manual is to have total control over the shooting scene.  And total control over a shooting scene means having consistency of exposure over the final output.

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