I have been shooting quite a bit of events lately. I do pre-shoot prep on my camera gear and check out the venue ahead of time to evaluate the setting and how the event will run plus light quality to see if I need to rent additional equipment (I don't own a light meter, just eye measure to get a feel for it)

I find it near impossible to go full manual during an event when everything is moving constantly and light situations change even faster and tend to use the P function mostly, while toggling only between manual and auto focus and touching up ISO settings here and there.

Is there a better way to go about this? Does it get better with time and gained experience? Is it acceptable to use a semi auto mode in such shoots.

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    I shoot a lot of "random" events like Air Shows and stuff like that. It does get better with experience. I use mostly auto modes, and only go manual when the camera isn't doing what I want, which is incredibly rare.
    – Jasmine
    Jan 14 '15 at 17:27
  • What advantage are you hoping to gain from using full manual, ignoring the camera's built-in metering and judging light by eye? From the question I get the impression that you believe that using precise and reliable metering is somehow going to result in worse pictures than just judging "by eye".
    – Szabolcs
    Jan 14 '15 at 19:51
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    @Szabolcs - Artistic control.
    – dpollitt
    Jan 14 '15 at 21:10
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    Does your camera provide a manual mode with auto ISO? I know for a fact this can be done with Nikon cameras, and many Pentax cameras have a "TAv" mode.
    – bwDraco
    Jan 15 '15 at 13:07
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    @TiaanRossouw I really don't see any advantage to use full manual exept in extreme situations when the camera's metering cannot be used (e.g. very long exposure, astro-landscape, etc.) It certainly doesn't give any "creative control" as some claim. There are three parameters that affect exposure: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. You can set two of them and let the camera adjust the third one. Then you have the choice to use matrix metering and leave the decision fully to the camera, or use spot metering, choose the spot to meter on yourself, and use exposure compensation. This is slower.
    – Szabolcs
    Jan 15 '15 at 17:13

Do whatever gives you the best results, don't worry about what may or may not be acceptable to others. I'd say shooting events fully manual is rare these days, though you might want to explore the aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes, each of which are very good for certain situations. I'd also investigate auto-ISO if your camera offers it.

My favourite method for events is to shoot in manual mode and let auto-ISO handle the fluctuating light levels. Most of the time the shutter stays at 1/100s (or 1/50s in very dim conditions) to remain in sync with 50Hz fluorescent lights. I adjust the aperture value on the fly to whatever I think I can get away with in terms of DOF (for single subjects I open it up, for groups close it down).

Everything improves with experience.

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    +1 There's a rationale for using manual to understand and appreciate what the CPU modes do, but when you're 'under fire' at a live event is absolutely not that time. Jan 14 '15 at 13:05
  • @Matt Grum thank you for your valuable input, I wasn't aware that fluorescent light had a great impact on photographic outcomes, but it does make absolute sense, as a photograph captures light or the lack thereof along with the quality of such light. I will most definitely experiment on that. Jan 15 '15 at 14:25
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    @TiaanRossouw Fluorescents do horrible things to your photos with fast shutter speeds, see: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/4115/…
    – Matt Grum
    Jan 15 '15 at 15:28
  • @Matt Grum I certainly am glad that I have never before run into that issue before, but after that read I will be better prepared to handle if, or when I am confronted with that situation. Thank you, that was a good read. Jan 15 '15 at 21:44

Here's a secret: nobody actually cares what mode you were shooting in so long as the quality is good. (Equally, nobody cares what gear you're using either). Therefore if you get good quality shots in program mode, full auto or anything else, go for it.

That said, program mode does take away a significant amount of your artistic control - did you want the shot of that person to be frozen (fast shutter speed) or blurred to show motion (slow shutter speed)? Did you want the background blurred out to highlight the subject (low aperture) or in focus to show the whole scene (high aperture)? How much are you prepared to accept noise in order to achieve those artistic effects (ISO control)? In program mode, the camera makes those decisions for you, so you get something - but it may not be what you're looking for in that shot. Decide what really matters for the shot you're taking (shutter speed, aperture, ISO), specify those and let the camera decide the rest.

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    I have upvoted but must call BS on the lack of control issue, in full program mode (Nikon at least) allows the control dial to adjust the aperture/shutter balance and the menu lets you set the range of auto-iso adjustment (if there isn't an ISO button). Jan 14 '15 at 13:02
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    In program mode on my Canon - one wheel adjusts the aperture/shutter balance and the other adjusts exposure (auto ISO is not available on my model) - so I have full control even in program mode - but the camera does all the maths for me. No point having two powerful processors in the camera and not letting them do some of the work.
    – dav1dsm1th
    Jan 14 '15 at 13:49
  • I find all of the above valuable comments and agree on most to some extent Philip Kendal, James Snell, @dav1dsm1th. I shoot with Canon 40D, which in Program allows me to make adjustments to the AV or TV after composing the shot, but just find that by the time the adjustment is perfected sadly the moment has passed. I will further investigate if my model supports auto ISO, but for specific artistic control I'm going to stick with AV or TV modes to help stay ready for those in the moment shots. Thank you for the contributions. PS. Program = My setting of choice for live events. Jan 15 '15 at 14:35

Is it possible to take two cameras?

When I go out to casually shoot something in my own time, I take one camera and shoot on manual: the usual mode of operation, I assume, for most occasions.

When at an event, however, it can be useful to carry two: one is set up fully (or mostly) automatic in order to allow you to quickly point and shoot at interesting, quirky, unmissable etc shots. This camera should be in your hands 90% of the time while moving, but likely less than 25% of the time when deliberately shooting. eg it's always ready, sometimes used, but not the preferred option. It allows you to capture as much as possible of the day, and never miss an opportunity.

This first camera is set up to be as automatic as possible, with a fiarly middle-of-the-road lens: something like a 55-300mm, to allow you a decent amount of scope to capture anything that comes up within a couple of seconds. An optional flash would be preferred. Your aim with this camera isn't to capture perfect shots, it's to capture context and "supporting" shots. Your post-processing will help.

The second camera is your manual/mostly manual/semi-automatic (depending on how you like to shoot) camera, presumably also your better unit. This is the one you swap lenses, set up specifically for each shot, and use for your set pieces. You carry various lenses, flash options if needed, and you know this camera inside and out. This is the camera you use whenever you know you've got a moment to set things up, for the family and group shots, and for the "showcase" front cover, big photos... the "wow" stuff that people come to you as a photographer for, the artsy photos of the cakes, the beautiful photo of the couple under the trees etc etc

This allows you a great combination of the highly professional shots you're hopefully known for, along with lots of context shots from which you can choose the best, capturing the spirit of the day as well as the highlights. It also means you don't miss the comedy shot of the groom and his nephew sliding on his knees down the hotel foyer at the reception, with the bride looking on with a perfect "Oh well, it's too late now" look on her face

  • That surely would be ideal and I do agree, sadly I can't afford that just yet. My vision is to carry on with my 40D until I can afford a full frame such as 5D(MKII or MKIII) and then use the 40D crop (that delivers very nice quality) for the secondary with on the go settings. Good feedback, I will get there. Jan 15 '15 at 14:39
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    If nothing else, then, perhaps consider taking a decent point-and-shoot, but you can probably pick up an older DSLR as the secondary? I got my Samsung for £120) And for now I'd aim to shoot semi-automatic to improve your speed: eg using a something-priority mode, set to something suitable for the venue, and adjust the other settings as needed
    – Jon Story
    Jan 15 '15 at 14:41

Someone said to me once that I had invested in a powerful computer (in relative terms anyway, it is a secondhand Canon EOS 40D) but am not using any of the capabilities I had paid for: ie the ability to let the camera make reasonably good judgements about the scene.

I almost always shoot in manual mode, mainly because when I was first learning photography it was on a 30yr old film camera and I was learning about aperture and shutter speed etc from the start. As @Matt said, do what gives you the best results. Also, do what you feel comfortable with but don't be afraid to push the boundaries. Go to a fast paced event as a visitor and give it a go. As an intermediary step, the shutter priority and aperture priority modes would be well worth investigating and experimenting with too.

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    I so happen to have the EOS 40D myself =) along with a 17-85mm USM, 50mm f1.8 and speedlight 580 The combination of which has taken me very far, but on odd occasions I do rent lenses. I will take the advice thank you for your input. Jan 15 '15 at 14:20
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    @TiaanRossouw do you use it in auto mode? Remember the speedlight adds an extra factor into any adjustments you need to make. If the camera is on full manual mode, I would probably additionally set the speedlight to manual as well (ie: disabling TTL), then you can start to get an idea of how each variable affects each other variable (primarily aperture, shutter speed, iso, flash power). If you increase any one of these by 1 stop, then you can pick any other one to reduce by 1 stop to get the same exposure, but remember they all have different effects on the image Jan 15 '15 at 17:41
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    @TiaanRossouw and don't forget that one stop isn't necessarily one 'click' of the dial. The camera can be set for half-stop or third-stop increments for shutter speed and aperture, but the ISO increment I think is a whole stop. Also, the flash increments may be different again Jan 15 '15 at 17:43

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