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I know some amateur photographers who's been taking photos for quite some time and feel they're "cool" because they use manual settings. They also bash newbies who buy expensive DSLRs who just shoot in auto mode and say they're better off using point and shoot.

They make sense but then I once had a small talk to a real pro and said he occasionally uses auto. So my question is, do pros use auto on professional work?

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possible duplicate of What advantages does manual mode have over aperture priority mode? –  mattdm Aug 26 '12 at 15:18
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Duplicate of photo.stackexchange.com/q/18668/7603 –  Olin Lathrop Aug 26 '12 at 16:17
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There's also the basic question of what exactly makes a "real pro". The needs and use patterns for someone who needs to get a paycheck are very different from those of an artist or advanced enthusiast camera. There's not a scale where "newbie" is at the bottom and "pro" is at the top — those are orthogonal axes. –  mattdm Aug 26 '12 at 17:33
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I wouldn't say newbies who buy expensive DSLRs are better with a point and shoot. I would say they are probably better putting the DSLR in auto mode, at least the DSLR sensor is significantly better than most point and shoots, and the camera is quite sophisticated and in many situation does make great choices. –  dpollitt Aug 31 '12 at 3:32
    
there's a commercial for sony nex, where they go around asking people with Canon DSLRs if they are using full auto, and everyone that made it to the commercial said yes, and then they were urged to just get a nex instead. –  Michael Nielsen Apr 4 '13 at 22:04

8 Answers 8

"Auto" can mean a wide range of things.

Most DSLRs offer a "full auto" facility that tends to manage shutter speed, aperture, ISO and more. But most of the modes on a DSLR that are other than absolute manual mode offer a substantial automated component. And even "Manual" may have auto features lurking in the shadows (literally in some cases).

Your friends are correct to the extent that you will definitely be missing out on achieving the most that a camera system can offer if you use auto always — and certainly so if you are unable to use any other mode — but there are occasions when auto or something close to it makes sense for many people.

Full Auto:

Some professionals use "auto" a large portion of the time. They would be in the minority.

Some use it occasionally, but seldom.

A hard core few would never use a full auto mode. You may well learn things from them but in most cases probably do not want to copy them — a Grand Master black belt 1st class may be wedded to the pure artistry of pure manual — but a top pro will use whatever tool does the job best/easiest/cheapest/quickest (choose some) and if that's full auto in some cases, so be it.

A postcard photographer with a tripod mounted camera, who sells photos to tourists may very much be a true professional (by definition) and if the modern magic toy's full auto mode invariably delivers the goods, then using may be sensible.

A high profile web equipment reviewer and advice giver and shoots-photos-for-$ man (who I will not actually name) said some while ago that he always used auto mode as the cameras have got so good that they know best. I was very surprised, and this may not reflect his reality.

Semi-automatic:

Most modes that a modern DSLR offer are semi-automatic, with some of the settings being adjusted by the system. If the camera can adjust at least something independently of the user's actions then it is at least partially "auto" - see below.

Aperture priority mode allows the user to manually set the aperture and then adjusts the shutter speed to suit the required exposure. ISO may be set by the user or the user may specify a range of acceptable ISO values, allowing the system to adjust ISO within this range. Some systems also allow the minimum auto-settable shutter speed to be controlled. Your don't-use-auto friends probably do not count all that as auto. It certainly is.

Similar applies to shutter priority where you set the speed and the system manages aperture and other settings.

"Manual mode" MAY allow dlighting or dynamic range optimisation to be carried out on a manual frame.

Sony's top APSC camera - the A77, allows "dynamic range optimisation" in manual mode. (I just tried it to see). DRO is auto with a vengeance - comple signal processing is applied variably as required across the frame - that's "auto". The A77 it also allows in-camera 3 frame HDR — that's also auto.

I bought a Nikon D700 yesterday :-) ... quick check ... You can adjust the DLighting setting on manually setting frames after the photo is taken — suggesting that they are indeed applied at the time.


Personal comment: I'd perhaps be described as semi professional — if you don't count my time as worth anything then the obsession comfortably pays for the equipment. This does not make my wife too much happier :-). I take photos for my enjoyment and if others enjoy them too I'm pleased. If people enjoy what I do and how I do it enough to pay me to take them at an event etc for $ then I may agree. Works for all of us, so far.

So — I almost always use aperture priority mode — sometimes with auto ISO, but usually I prefer to have ISO under my control. It can be changed VERY rapidly on the A77. I also use memories for gross setting changes - which is also automation, even if the settings are manual ones, and then "play" around the memory produced settings. This allows eg rapid change during a wedding reception between ambient light no flash mode (large aperture, higher ISO, appropriate white balance) and flash photos (smaller aperture, lower ISO, white balance change.) Manually swapping between those memories is essentially an "auto" feature.

Very occasionally I try full-auto — usually "just to see what it knows" in a given situation.

I use AF largely but will drop into manual focus when apposite — either for one frame with AF/MF button or for a series of shots when needed. AF is "auto".

I usually use multi segment metering but may swap to center weighted or spot if appropriate. All those are "auto". The Sony Pellucid mirror cameras have the best live view in any DSLRs (the A77 utterly trounces my now 4 year old D700) and I frequently adjust lighting level on the fly with exposure compensation between shots based on the appearance of the live view screen. Sony make this extremely easy with control placement. Doing this is a MANUAL action standing on top of auto.

For critical focusing on the A77 I may swap to manual focus, then press the AF/MF button which autofocuses the camera, then release AF/MF so I am in true manual focus mode and use the focus magnifier to produce focusing as the lens is capable of - a superb capability. All that is a true manual MF mode sitting on top of an auto AF platform.

I'll use full manual mode on occasions when nothing else works. Occasionally things change so rapidly in a complex way that the brain is best at keeping up - and sometimes things change so little that manual is best. (Tripod and portraits.) Some years ago we did a large amount of driving in Europe. With several drivers in the car I was able to spend most of the time taking photos of the sights. We could not stop at all the places I would have liked to take photos of - this was a practical necessity in a most enjoyable situation. SO even when driving through eg a small German village that was not on our can-stop list I had to make the best I could of the situation. I had a top camera with the equivalent of a live view LCD AND an electronic EVF (and in real terms then cost more than the top ADSC DSLR now!). In the countryside I'd use aperture priority semi-auto. In villages I'd use full manual - aperture, shutter speed (and sometimes focus). Delve (optically) down a dark alley way - shutter speed to minimum safe, aperture to suit, zoom into alley, click, cafe table in sunlight - go on shutter up, aperture down, zoom back, click click, next ...

A mix of manual and auto used to advantage. You want to get to know your camera well enough to do this. Then use it on full full auto mode when it suits :-)

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There is a significant difference between the full auto mode and any of the priority auto modes. With priority the photographer is asking themselves what aperture or shutter speed would fulfill the purpose of the photograph best. –  Phil Aug 26 '12 at 17:19
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With the DSLR I use, in "program" mode, you can usually turn a control dial to adjust aperture and exposure on the fly. (In full auto mode, you can't) –  RedGrittyBrick Aug 26 '12 at 19:58
    
@Mattdm - To some extent, what one editor adds another taketh away, I note. –  Russell McMahon Aug 27 '12 at 0:25
    
@RussellMcMahon — hopefully converging on perfection. :) –  mattdm Aug 27 '12 at 0:27
    
yep, Av with occasional AF or A-iso is my default state as well. most of the time the DOF is a creative choice you need to make yourself, weighted against getting the shutter in the right usable range. and my cameras cant shoot raw in full auto anyway. –  Michael Nielsen Apr 4 '13 at 22:07

Yes, professionals do use auto mode.

Professional paparazzi use auto mode almost exclusively and will sometimes even tape up the controls on the camera to prevent any settings being accidentally altered. You don't have to know how to shoot manual to make money out of photography, if for example you know which restaurants which celebrities go to...

Other professional photographers may use automatic shutter speed, or aperture control and almost all use autofocus to a degree. And occasionally conditions call for full auto, e.g. when either you don't want to think about anything other than composition or your timing.

The derision people apply to auto mode is based on allowing the camera to make creative decisions for you. But there are cases when either there are more important decisions, or there is no creativity to be gained by choosing camera settings yourself. So there are extenuating circumstances that mean there is no stigma attached to using auto modes.

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Automatic anything is just another tool in the tool box. Someone who's good at what they do (as opposed to someone who does it for a living) knows when to use which tools. –  Blrfl Aug 26 '12 at 20:05
    
The way I see it is that a Pro knows what the auto/program mode is doing for them (should they decide to think about it) and they're using it knowingly as a labour saving device when they do. –  James Snell Apr 4 '13 at 20:24
    
Full auto is probably a bit less useful though, because on bodies that have a flash, it will pop it up in low light and meter accordingly, something you don't usually want. Isn't P mode is probably what the paparazzi end up using most of the time? –  Chinmay Kanchi Apr 4 '13 at 21:22

I have to speak out of personal experience and working a little bit with professions:

  It all depends on what you're trying to acheive

A lot of photographers that photograph fast moving scenes, such as at parties, races, wars, etc. do not have the luxury of time in order to get amazing placement and right timing to adjusting the values in the cameras. If a professional is working in a studio or just in a setting that will allow them to take their time to adjust the settings just right, then they will most definitely take the advantage of being able to tweak the settings.

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It really depends on the situation and style of photography.

If I had a (non-cooked-food) still life to take, I'd definitely take my time with lighting and figuring out just what I want to do with aperture and shutter speed et al, but on the street I may lose valuable shots by doing so. In an urban setting (especially here in Auckland, where in the blink of an eye the lighting conditions can change dramatically due to our erratic weather), doing street photography, I'd be likely to be using some kind of auto or semi-auto mode. Likewise if I was photographing a kids' party.

Compare this question to, say, "Do professionals ever use autofocus?" or "Do professionals exclusively use studio lighting?" and it'll become clearer; the settings and modes, or for that matter the choice of camera or lens itself, are a few of many choices that the photographer makes, and some choices are judged as more professional than others within certain settings.

What's always infinitely more important than photographing in a certain way because "everyone does it this way" is focusing on how to get the images that you (or your client) desire. And if that means using auto mode (and, honestly, if you run the RAWs through Lightroom afterward, people aren't going to chide you for letting the camera decide and adjusting exposure for effect in post just as they aren't going to chide you for changing color temperature in post instead of using a filter), then by all means use auto mode.

The "newbie with an expensive DSLR" hate seems to stem from a feeling of waste for the better photographers who can't afford such a camera, or from a "they look like a pro but they really aren't" sort of elitism. But your camera, and these people should know this by now, says even less about your skill than your preferred shooting mode does.

Don't worry about appearing to be a novice. Enjoy the process, get photographs you're happy with, and they will speak for themselves.

(And boy, is it a wonderful feeling when you're comparing images with someone who's done nothing but smirked at your clearly inferior gear or technique or something all day and your shots are clearly the better ones.)

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Although the general sentiment of "pros definitely use auto mode in certain situations" definitely applies, I want to add on a bit to this.

Someone who has never used any mode other than auto will probably miss out on important photography concepts, such as how aperture/shutter time/ISO affect exposure, how aperture affects depth of field, and so on. Pros need to understand these concepts, and using aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual modes is the easiest and most fun way to learn them. Everybody should at least take test shots using a variety of apertures, really fast and really long exposures, turning auto ISO on and off, and in a variety of lighting conditions and with both still and moving subjects. Few pros use all their modes on a regular basis, but all pros know how and when to use them all.

Once you firmly understand the concepts and how and when to use each mode, there is no shame in switching to auto mode, especially in a shooting scenario with quickly changing lighting conditions. Take a look at your preview screen, zoom in - if results are good, keep shooting auto, and if they're not (for example, you get too narrow or too wide depth of field, or motion blur) then switching modes can help. Photography is a feedback process: you take pictures, make adjustments, and take more pictures.

I'll also respond to the idea that "people who buy DSLRs and use them in auto mode might as well not have bothered." This is fallacious - the big advantages of DSLRs over point-and-shoots lie not in the flexibility of their controls (many P&S have quite sophisticated controls) so much as in their high-quality interchangeable lenses, their sophisticated autofocus systems, and their larger sensor size. And as always, artistic talent matters more than all of the above.

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I think that pros use whatever mode fits them best!

I'm far from a professionnal but I've been that guy who felt superior because I was using manual. Nowadays, I primarly shoot Aperture priority or Program because for my type of photography, shutter speed isn't that important.

So I think that it all depends on the type of shot you are looking to achieve (as many have said below)

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When shooting weddings, I tend to use Auto (P) but monitor it closely and change mode as needed. For the most part, a modern Automatic mode on a high end DSLR will give you a lot of control while in auto through both the EC (exposure compensation) and by having one of the dial's bound to alter the aperture for the next shot.

In general, the camera does a pretty good job these days and being able to focus on what is going on and capturing the right shot at the right moment is easier without having to worry about it, but if I know I need a particular depth of field, then I'll bump it over to Av real quick to ensure the camera doesn't screw around.

There isn't really much of a reason for a professional not to use Auto if it is giving the results they want, but the way a professional uses auto isn't going to be simply to ignore it. They are going to understand what it is doing, why it is doing it and why they agree or disagree with it. They are also going to take over control when the disagreement is sufficient enough to justify taking the additional time to adjust it.

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It depends on use. Auto mode is designed to make the operation easier.
Paparrazi use auto mode because they need to be quick and fast, settings all those stuffs takes time. Sports photographer, because of fast moving subjects, use auto focus.
Concert photographers, because of low light scenes use auto ISO. It the action is a fast moving action, the important point is that you capture the event, auto mode is very useful. It is not bad if you shoot in auto but it is not a good idea to just stick and rely on it.

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