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?

  • \$\begingroup\$ possible duplicate of What advantages does manual mode have over aperture priority mode? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Duplicate of photo.stackexchange.com/q/18668/7603 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 17:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 3:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Need to be careful here. In the Nikon world, there is P (program mode) and Auto mode. P mode takes full control of aperture, ISO and shutter speed, but still allows you to change metering mode, autofocus mode, white balance, exposure compensation. Full Auto mode does not allow you any of these. So while many professionals might use P mode, I would expect fewer would use full Auto mode. \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeW
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 22:57

10 Answers 10


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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    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Blrfl
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 21:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChinmayKanchi in addition to Full Auto mode there usually is a Flash Off mode, which is almost the same but without flash. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruslan
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 13:07

Update - December 2022: As an example in this 2012 answer a then top of the range Sony APSC A77 camera was used as an example. While a lot has changed in the subsequent 10 years the answer is just as valid, or more so. Even in apparently "full manual" mode a modern camera (full frame or APSC) has many features which partially automate the photo taking task unless the photographer strives very diligently to disable them or to avoid using them.
Shooting in Manual mode and RAW probably comes closest to "true manual", but even then it is hard to avoid automatic features.

  • One example only - focus has become an even more "auto assisted" feature in the past 10 years.
    Is focus truly manual? - is this maintained between frames or
    is tracking used?
    Eye focus? Animal eye focus?
    With "manual focus" is focus acquistion indicated by the camera or is a split screen or brain judgement used?
    Central spot focus or zone or multi region? Animal eys focus?

  • Is ISO always set to one value by the photographer?

  • Is image stabilisation used in body and/or lens?
    This is so common now that seeing it as "automatic" may seem strange - but, it allows a degree of camera assist that has utterly transformed the number of "keepers" that can be obtained 0 especially in low light.

"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 full auto 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.


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 (in 2012. In 2022 maybe A6400 or A6500), allows "dynamic range optimisation" in manual mode. (I just tried it to see). DRO is auto with a vengeance - complex signal processing is applied variably as required across the frame - that's "auto". The A77 (and later Sony APSC cameras) also allow in-camera 3 frame HDR — that's also auto.

I bought a Nikon D700 yesterday :-) (August 2012) ... 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 :-)

  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phil
    Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ 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) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 26, 2012 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mattdm - To some extent, what one editor adds another taketh away, I note. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 0:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon — hopefully converging on perfection. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 0:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 22:07

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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think it's not so much about fast moving scenes as it is about preparation time and unpredictability of the environment. Races, parties involve fast moving things but the environment is fairly predictable; you can usually figure out what the conditions are like and set at a minimum an appropriate aperture or whatever. Wars, unfolding public events etc would likely require rapidly changing environments and the need to adapt to situations without any preparation. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 1:03

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.


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.)


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)


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.


As others have pointed out, the questions of what is auto mode really and how do you define a professional photographer as opposed to a amateur has been pretty well covered.

The question that wasn't asked and I feel should have been. "Why do photographers that have mastered the craft of photography use auto modes?" That might have been a more accurate question.

Photographers that are skilled in photography will use whatever tools are at hand for any given situation. There are a number of "professional" photographers who only use "point and shoot" cameras but the skill used in the craft is on par with "professionals" using the latest and greatest pro DSLR.

The camera is a tool, photography is the craft and you combine the two to create great images!


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.


It depends on the style of photography.
Manual mode of course gives you the ability to be more creative and improvising with the photo.

There are a few basics factors that affects the image in photography which are "The depth of field", "focus zone", "blurriness", "color", "noise"...etc and all of these factors should be controlled manually because the camera only produces a "right exposure" photo which is not enough for a quality photo, or not be able to express the meaning that we want to do.

You are falling into the term too much, a professional isn't necessarily an expert of photography. And also,shooting with manual mode is training us to become an good photographer, an good photographic artist indeed.


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