Why Using The Manual Mode is The Worst Advice for Photography Beginners and What You Can Do Instead

I’ve seen it over and over again. Whenever I have a student join my one-on-one private workshop, I always start by asking them to show me how they shoot when they’re using their camera. Now, the students who join my one-on-one workshops usually have a Mirrorless or DSLR camera. They’re not using their cell phone camera. So, I am always interested in how they shoot their photos. In particular, I’m interested to know what shooting mode that they are using.

Almost all the time, I see them trying to use the manual mode unsuccessfully. I can see clearly that they are uncomfortable and frustrated when they are using the manual mode. When I asked them why they are using the manual mode, they often tell me that some “professional photographers” out there told them that if they are using the camera that they have now, they should be using the manual mode.

Using Manual Mode is Frustrating Especially for Beginners

This is a really, really bad advice especially for photography beginners.

Now, using the manual mode is great if you know what you are doing in photography. But when you are just getting started, this is the worst mode for you to use. In this article, I will tell you why you should avoid using Manual Mode when you are just starting out learning photography and what should you do instead.

Using the Manual mode is great because you can control all the variables on your camera. I’m talking about the important photography variables like aperture, shutter speed ISO and metering. However, when you are just starting out, dealing with so many variables at once can leave you confused and frustrated at the same time.

What’s even worse, you can miss a lot of shooting opportunities because you spend most of your time looking at your camera, fiddling around to get your settings right and miss capturing those important moment.

Does this sound familiar?

Nowadays, when people want to start learning photography seriously, they are upgrading from their smart phone camera to either a DSLR or a mirrorless camera. When you’re just starting out learning photography and you have a new camera, your first priority is to get comfortable shooting with your camera, not shooting in Manual mode. Manual Mode will not give you the comfort and confident that you need… yet.

So, how should you shoot when you have a new camera and you’re just starting out learning photography? Remember, the first priority is for you to get comfortable shooting with your new camera. You can do this by using the P mode or the Program Mode.

Getting comfortable shooting with your camera

I often call the P mode the smart auto mode. The P mode will set all the variables for you like an auto mode, but it also give you the option to change the variables if you need to.

Let’s say you want to shoot a landscape shots. You found a great location with the perfect light and you composed your shot. The P mode set all the variables automatically for you. But then, you noticed that it’s giving you an aperture of f/2.8. You want to get everything in focus and you want an aperture of f/16. You can easily change this setting by rotating a dial or pressing a button on your camera.

This combination of auto mode and the flexibility to change the variable as you see fit gives you a lot of comfort when you use your camera.

Please note that P mode is NOT the same as the green auto mode that you usually see on your camera. Like the P mode, the green auto mode on your camera sets every variables automatically but it will not allow you to change the variables when you need to. You’re stuck with what the camera choose for you.

How Do You Setup Your Camera Correctly to Shoot in The P mode?

I gave a specific, in-depth instructions on my Beginner’s QuickStart Guide to Photography course here. It’s a free course that you can take by signing up on this website. But for the sake of convenience, I will give you some briefs here.

If you are using a camera with a top dial you can simply find the P and switch it to that mode. If you are using a camera with the aperture and shutter speed dial, you can set your camera to the program mode by rotating the aperture dial to A and also the shutter speed dial A.

Next, set the ISO to Auto and set an upper limit to it. For cropped sensor camera, I usually set the upper limit to 3200 and for a full frame camera I usually set the limit to 6400.

Finally, set the focus area to Center or Flexible spot.

That’s all you need to do. Once you’re done, you’re ready to shoot!

How to Shoot Using The P Mode

Since you’ve setup everything correctly, all you have to do now is focus on the lighting and composition. This is your job as your camera’s partner. This is a job that your camera cannot do for you. You need to learn how to do this well through practice.

After you find the lighting and the composition that you like, you can use the focus and recompose technique to shoot the photo. This is a very simple technique that will give you a well-balanced, composed photograph with sharp focus most of the time. All you have to do is point the focus point to the object that you want to be sharp, press half press the shutter button and then re-compose the scene to get the shoot that you want. When composing your scene, only move your camera upwards, downwards or to the sides. Don’t move your camera forward or backward from your subject because you can lose the focus and end up with unsharp pictures. This is how you can comfortably shoot with your new camera if you are just starting out.

After you can setup and use the P mode correctly, all you need to do now is use your camera often so you can get comfortable shooting with it. Once you get comfortable shooting in the P mode, you can then learn more about your camera by controlling the variable one by one.

Practice shooting with the P mode

I’m not going to tell you to jump straight to manual but you can learn to use the semi-automatic mode on your camera. I’m talking about the Aperture priority mode and or the Shutter priority mode. After you can master those two then you can go and try manual mode. I’ve helped many photographers go from P Mode to Auto mode in my Camera Superpower course that you can find here.

So there you have it! In this article, you’ve learned why using the manual mode is the worst advice for photography beginners and what you can do instead.

So, what’s one thing that you can do now? Make sure you set up your new camera correctly using the P mode and get comfortable shooting with your new camera!

To learn more about how to get started on the right track when you’re just starting out in photography, check out my free course called The Beginner’s QuickStart Guide to Photography. This free course has helped many photography beginners from all walks of life when they’re just starting out learning photography.

You’ll learn how to properly set up your camera, what essential gears to buy and all the crucial information that you should know when you’re just starting out in photography. You can access the course here.

Hope you can get comfortable shooting in P mode with your new camera and I’ll see you around!