Do Your Camera Settings Define You As A Photographer?

I noticed a question somewhere in the photography community asking if camera settings define the photographer.

In a way I have to say yes camera settings do matter and in a way they also do not.  Here is why.

AUTO: Photographers who leave their cameras on full automatic are basically giving all control to the camera’s operating system.  For that, I think it definitely defines the photographer.  It might mean the photographer has no passion for the art, or simply does not care how the photographs turn out.

P: Program mode is kind of like automatic but with a few minor exceptions.  In this mode, the camera’s exposure is determined by the operating system.  However, the photographer has the ability to change the ISO setting, whether the flash will fire or not, and other settings specific to the camera.  A photographer shooting on P mode is likely lazy and does not care about their shutter speed or aperture.  It is also possible that a photographer like that does not realize what their camera’s ISO is set to, or has it on Auto ISO.

Auto ISO: Speaking of Auto ISO – this is a setting where your camera’s operating system will decide the best ISO to use in any given situation.  That means during a long exposure it could bump up the ISO to shorten the exposure.  Makes sense for that to happen, right?  Not so much. Take control over your ISO and turn it off Auto ISO.  Unless of course you are shooting an event because then Auto ISO could come in handy.  So really, my point is to know your craft, understand the setting and use it when it can be beneficial.  If you are using Auto ISO without caring then that says a lot about your photography.

Do Your Camera Settings Define You As A Photographer?

Photo via Nikon.com

A: Aperture Priority can be very useful for certain situations, just as Auto ISO can.  In this mode, the camera will determine the best shutter speed to use based on the aperture that you choose.  This can be useful for HDR,  event photography and even product photography (when on a tripod). However, this is not helpful for every type of photography.  So again, know your craft and when to use Aperture Priority.

S: Shutter Priority can also be useful like Aperture Priority.  In this mode, the camera will determine the best aperture to use based on the shutter that you choose.

Hopefully if you are using either Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority then you know what is necessary to capture the photograph and do not mind relying on the camera’s algorithms to determine exposure.

M – My mode of choice for practically every situation.  Shooting on manual removes the camera’s operating system from the exposure equation. Of course many photographers will continue to rely on the camera’s exposure meter to determine exposure but handheld meters like the ones from Sekonic can be beneficial in determining perfect exposure.

What do camera settings mean for you?

So what do the camera settings mode mean for you as a photographer?  Some might say that Manual Mode means a photographer is a control freak or that Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority makes for a lazy photographer.  I personally feel as though Auto ISO, Program and Auto mode make for a lazy photographer.

Here are some thoughts from friends:

I am 98% a manual mode shooter. Part of that way of working stems from my days of shooting film and wanting to produce the best negatives I could. That has carried over on to the digital side of things. Does that define me as a photographer? I am not sure. I would much rather be defined by the kinds of images I capture than the tools I use (and how I use them). – Seshu of Tiffinbox

Camera settings are the paintbrush in an artists hands. You are able to create a style that can not always be achieved via auto. The reason for this is a camera in auto mode defines “perfect focus & exposure” but that doesn’t always equate to the story you are telling. I always suggest that if a photographer is defining who they are they should define how they shoot rather than rely on equipment to make the decision. – Stacie of Colorvale Actions

I think it does contribute a bit to your style but obviously not exclusively. Some photographers use wide apertures most of the time so there images have shallow DOF often. Some are using high ISO and they like the grainy look. – Jasser of JAG Photography

Manual or bust! – Sandra of Forcoco

P is for professional. duh – Rachel of The Law Tog

In the end, the reason for someone to use any auto mode versus manual says a lot about the photographer. One photographer might use P mode with reasoning behind it. That’s strategy and technique. Another photographer might use P mode because it’s easy. That says a lot.

Please comment below and let me know what you think about camera settings.  How do you feel about shooting in any auto mode versus manual mode?

Thanks for reading and happy shooting,

Scott

New Jersey Photographer

Thank you for reading the Scott Wyden Imagery blog. I am a Manalapan, New Jersey Photographer sharing my passion for photography any way I can. I am also the Community & Blog Wrangler at Photocrati, teaching other photographers on how to increase business with their website.

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18 Comments

  1. Adam February 25, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Total amateur here. I usually have my camera on A or S (depending on the situation), unless I really do not like what the camera is trying to do. I even use auto-focus about 50% of the time. Does that make me a bad person?

    • Scott February 25, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

      Not at all. It just means you either do not understand full manual or don’t care to take the time to use full manual.

  2. Steve February 26, 2014 at 7:51 am #

    It varies hugely on the situation. When I leave home the camera is set to A, ISO 400 and f8.
    What I use after that depends on what I’m shooting.
    Auto ISO has its uses. If I’m shooting sport in low light I’ll often set the shutter speed to 1/1000th or whatever is required and then let the camera push the ISO up as far as required on the grounds that a little noise / grain is better than unsharp shots if the shutter speed is too low.

    • Scott February 26, 2014 at 8:39 am #

      I completely agree that every setting (except for complete Auto) has a usefulness. However, why not just shoot on complete manual?

  3. Kerry March 7, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Sure, if I had time to do camera settings before each shot, I could do full manual (and there are situations in which only full manual would work), but I agree with Steve on shooting sports in low light. I also set the shutter speed (and often aperture) to what is required and do auto ISO. I do not shoot on complete manual in these situations (assuming that means I set the ISO, too) because the lighting is often different on different parts of the court if there are windows in the gym.

    And even complete Auto has a usefulness for me… when I give my camera to my 3-year-old, I want to reduce the number of variables he has to deal with, since he can’t read.

    • Scott March 7, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

      Having a legitimate reason for using a priority mode or Auto ISO is perfectly fine. So more thumbs up for having a reason.

  4. J. Dennis Thomas March 25, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    So P mode is only for “lazy” photographers who have no passion for photography? You overlook a major feature of P mode that nearly every camera has. Nikon calls it “Flexible Program” and Canon calls it “Program Shift”.

    P mode isn’t a completely “dumb” mode. You can adjust the shutter speed and apertures to equivalent exposures by quickly rotating a dial.

    I often have my camera set to P mode when I’m riding my motorcycle because I sometimes see things I want to shoot and I need to do it fast. I may not have the time to think about and decide what exact settings I need to use. I know that P mode will usually strike a good balance between depth of field and a relatively fast shutter speed. If I do have enough time to make an evaluation then I can simply shift the exposure to get it where I need.

    Making sweeping generalizations about people based upon what setting they use is a “lazy” way to judge a person.

    • Scott March 25, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

      As long as you have a reason for using any specific mode, then it means you are thinking ahead. If you were putting it on P because you didn’t care then that would be a different story.

      • J. Dennis Thomas March 25, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

        Part of being a good writer is expressing yourself clearly and concisely in what you write. This is what some people would call “lazy” writing. The fact that you have to explain what you really meant in comments means that you didn’t take the time to write the blog post to properly represent what your intended meaning was.

        As a professional photographer and a professional writer I try to explain things up front and clearly when I intend on putting it to a mass audience. I recently wrote an article about using Auto modes and instead of talking down to the readers I took the time to explain how they can be used as an advantage instead of a crutch. What you did here was basically talk down to your readers. This helps nobody.

        Here’s the article if you want to check it out. http://www.dpmag.com/how-to/shooting/get-with-the-program.html

        • Scott March 25, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

          I am sorry you feel that way – I look at it as having a strong opinion and driving conversation. Which is obviously is doing. Enjoyed your article by the way.

          • J. Dennis Thomas March 25, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

            You can have a strong opinion and not be dismissive about how people choose to create their art.

            There are two ways to drive conversation, negative and positive. Making people feel bad about using P mode is negative. TEACHING people about what P mode does and how it can be used to their advantage is positive.

            Saying people are lazy doesn’t encourage them to learn. It drives them away. When I said you’re writing was “lazy” that didn’t sit well did it? It wasn’t supposed to. I said that not to demean you, but to give you a little taste of what it feels like when someone criticizes how you do things.

            I don’t expect you to know the nuances of writing photography articles. But hopefully next time instead of making your prospective readers feel dumb, you’ll offer them some insights. A little glimmer of light into a muddied concept can mean a lot to someone who’s just learning.

            Writing about photography isn’t the same as knowing photography. It takes a little finesse, and you may know lots about technique, but your presentation can use some work.

            I’m not trying to be mean or be dismissive of your work. I’m just throwing a little advice your way. You say yourself that “those that have a passion for something should teach it”. I have a passion for photography and for teaching photography. I’ve been shooting for almost 30 years ,I’ve been teaching for 15 years and writing about photography for about a decade now.

            A bit of levity goes a longs way. Make your readers excited about what they do, not embarrassed.

            If you wanna send me an email to talk about this please do.

  5. J. Dennis Thomas March 25, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    And I know I made a your/you’re mistake, but forgive me. It’s late…

  6. PBlais April 3, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    It is possible to understand all the controls well yet still use various modes. When you really get into knowing the camera you will know how the auto settings are going to work and can decide if it’s what you want or make adjustments. Knowing the light meter is not going to be correct takes some experience! Once you combine with flash it gets to be even more complex. Layers of complexity to be unwound quickly.

    The speed with which you can set up a shot really is knowing by your eye what you need in the camera. Changing settings is perhaps the real chore of shooting given you want the best shot you can get once you know what you really want. The human eye is better than the camera and with enough experience you can beat the machine!

    You can’t always get the shot right shooting in any mode but knowing more lets you make good choices rather than blind choices. A lucky guess still counts! Personally, I feel it all comes down to knowing when to pull the trigger. It’s the best shots you ever will take with rare exception.

    • Scott April 4, 2014 at 7:33 am #

      It definitely comes down to knowing when to pull the trigger, but it always requires knowing what mode or setting to use and when. Because as you said, light meters are not perfect. So if a camera is simply left on auto then a photographer won’t always know how the photo will turn out.

      Thanks for the comment.

  7. Marcus May 24, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

    It’s either A or M. A, when I am shooting Street for example and M for any photography where I have time to plan the shot. With the modern Auto-ISO that takes the focal length into account, A is close to M.

    • Scott May 25, 2014 at 9:52 am #

      Many street photographers also use aperture priority due to the speed of things changing moving and changing on the street. Thanks for sharing, Marcus.

  8. Alvin May 25, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    I didn’t find anything offensive about this article and in different ways it’s been said before. Constructive criticism can be hard to here, but it can be the fuel to propel someone forward.

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